What do you do with a “variance”?

Lesson Learned #35

carpedia-lessons-learned-35When Six Sigma arrived on the management scene many years ago, it caused quite a lot of confusion for both us and our prospective clients. How is Carpedia different from Six Sigma?

One insightful client explained it to us in a way that eventually helped us improve our own methodology. He said, “You keep trying to define yourselves as an alternative to Six Sigma, but you’re thinking about it wrong. Six Sigma provides a problem-solving methodology that you guys conveniently ignore. You have a good approach for giving managers tools to figure out what resources they need and then to schedule them appropriately. But what about when they don’t meet their schedule?  What does a manager do with a ‘variance’? It’s fine when you have a bunch of consultants running around with nothing to do but problem-solve, but what about when they leave? I need my managers to know how to fix problems.”

It was an interesting observation, even if it was critical of our approach. Over the years we have learned that a key to sustaining results and continuous improvement is to have managers who are good at problem-solving. Well-designed management systems provide targets and identify variances, but other than that they are inert. Managers have to register the variance and then physically do something about it if anything is to change. Companies have long had variations of quality-based problem-solving methodology, but Six Sigma re-energized the approach with some useful analytical tools. So we shamelessly adopted what we thought were the best ideas and tools from Six Sigma, as we have from Lean, the theory of constraints, and various other thoughtful methodologies. The one caveat we would suggest is that often it’s not that managers lack tools or methods to problem-solve, it’s that they lack time or necessity.