DMAIC, PDSA, Lean Six Sigma, the Quality Gurus - fake Quality News part 1. etc.


What is in a name! I call this 'fake quality news' for good reason! Six Sigma and Lean advocates collectively herald the  acronyms, words and names I have put in this title as if they are the latest thing in Quality. If there was no damage done this would not be a problem but unfortunately they do enormous damage because all of them are seriously misleading. What they do is to distract those who seriously want to improve both the performance of their businesses and the job satisfaction and abilities of their employees from far better and stronger approaches that if implemented properly would dramatically improve performance way beyond the capability of any of these concepts individually.

Let me explain…

The terms DMAIC together with the term 'Six Sigma' were originated in Motorola in the late 1980s. The object was to jazz up their company wide performance improvement programme. It worked and they won the American National Quality Award, the Baldrige Award, as a consequence. There was no problem with this. Everyone inside Motorola knew what it meant and for as long as these terms remained in the company, no harm was done. They were all part of an overall programme related directly to the teachings of Dr Juran. Companies all over the world did this sort of thing and the effect was to personalise the programme in the same way that Toyota labelled theirs 'The Toyota Production System'. They did not do this sort of thing in order to peddle their approach to anyone else. It was always for internal reasons. They know perfectly well that every organisation is different. What is right for one is not necessarily right for another. What is important is to understand the business performance improvement process in great depth and then to modify it to suit ones own needs.

What most people do not know is that the term DMAIC, is in fact a derivative of what is possibly a better acronym SREDIM. This was developed in the 1920s/30s as part of Method Study and was well explained in the International Labour Office Handbook on Work Study in those days. SREDIM stands for Select, Record, Examine, Develop, Install and Maintain.

How is this any different from the much trumpeted 'DMAIC process? 

In DMAIC, the D stands for Define. In SREDIM the S stands for Select. What is the difference? In both cases, it is required to Isolate the issue intended for investigation and to outline the terms of Reference for the project, the hoped scope of the Problem, its impact and also the hoped for gains. So, nothing different here.

In DMAIC, the 'M' stands for 'Measure'. In SREDIM the 'R' stands for Record. OK, Measure the details of the process involved or Record the details, again you would do the same in both.

In DMAIC the A stands for Analyse. In SREDIM, the E stands for Examine. Analyse/Examine? Again what is the difference? The tools and techniques to be used are the same either way.

In DMAIC the next character is I. Interesting, it is also 'I' in SREDIM too, meaning Install. Actually I find using this  acronym flawed in both cases because somehow, it seems to suggest a jump from 'Examining/Analysing' to magically coming up with a best possibly solution. In my experience, there can be multiple possible solutions each with their own merits and disadvantages. The work involved in this activity over and above Examining/Analysing deserves being registered as a step in its own right. 

Then finally in DMAIC there is the 'C'. In SREDIM there is the 'M'. In DMAIC, this M means Maintain. No problem here but the 'C' in SREDIM means Maintain! Control/Maintain, what is the difference? So, in this respect what has Six Sigma brought to the party? Absolutely nothing. It is merely a different choice of words from those that had been used for the sape purpose for the previous 50 years. Big deal! But, it is heralded as being some sort of magic dust. What else is there new in Six Sigma?  Absolutely nothing. All of the so called Six Sigma tools have also been there since the 1920s and some very much earlier than that, dating well back into the 19th Century. Anyone who is doubtful about this would do well to check out a 19th century monthly journal in the USA entitled Bimetrica. The Six Sigma, Deming believer should be warned that they might need some Prozac after digging in there! Both the Classic model for Design of Experience with 't' and 'f' tests etc were well used in those days as were 'orthogonal arrays' similar to the Taguchi method. 

PDSA. Some will know this by its original name PDCA. So, in one case we have an 'S' and the other a 'C'. What is the real difference? Well actually very little. One means 'Check' and the other means 'Study'. Check/Study? are they so different? No, not at all. In one case somebody does some work and then afterwards it is 'Checked'. If it is OK and is in accordance with the plan then the Action is to pass the work on its way. If it is not then it could become the object of an improvement project.  In the case of 'Study', again, somebody does some work and then either they or someone else 'studies it'. Well, presumably you could study it for ever but this does not imply that you do anything to it or with it or to improve it. Personally, I am much happier with the word 'Check'. So how did we end up with the two terms.

Well, Shewhart originated the acronym PDCA back in the 1930s. It served its purpose very well. However, in the 1940's Dr Deming went to Japan and explained this concept. Many thought that he had created it which of course he had not. However, he did very much enjoy the publicity. Well, if you would like to be credited with something that someone else had created before you, maybe you could change it a bit so that you can claim credit for the variation? It is a very common form of plagiarism. Whether this was deliberate or not I have no way of knowing, but, I do see that the effect worked very much in his favour. His acolytes are very happy to continue the myth.

I am going to cut short here as it is getting too long but I will continue the story in other blogs as there is more, much more.

In conclusion, having mentioned the Quality Gurus in the title line, I will just mention them here and then pick up in another Blog on the topic of MITI.

Another part of the Fake Quality News is the role of the Gurus. I do not want to take anything away from them because each of them did a fantastic job but the fake news has got way out of proportion. The truth is usually more helpful than a pack of rubbish beliefs that detract from reality so I hope to put the record as near straight as I can.

Apart from Dr Deming who I have referred to,  the so called Lean 'Experts', for their own reasons, or possibly in some cases, laziness, because it is far easier to simply re-iterate the claims of others than to find out the truth, especially where it suits them, to place a number of good people on pedestals, and elevate their importance, to God like proportions, that nobody in their right mind would believe. They would be quite right, it is unbelievable. One bit of history either they do not know or choose to ignore, probably the former, is the role of the Japanese Ministry for International Trade (MITI). The impact of their policies is at the core of Japanese Post war development.

This will be explained in Part 2 of this Blog. I hope that this gave you food for thought. Thank you for your indulgence.