In Lean Transformations, Does This Chart Have Any Meaning at All?

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Review of: total quality management
Total Quality Management:
Pete Abilla

Reviewed by:
On June 16, 2014
Last modified:September 2, 2014


The way total quality management is taught is sometimes confusing and based on wrong assumptions. Read how I dissect a chart based on the wrong assumptions.

Total Quality Management has been around for a long time. If you look at the history of continuous improvement, it formally goes back to Frederick Taylor in the late 1800’s. I believe some even estimate aspects of quality management to back even further. If you think about, wherever there has been operations (such as building the pyramids), then quality will undoubtedly be an aspect of proper management.

Which brings me to this chart that I hate. But, I have to admit, I have a hard time articulating why this chart, which I’ve seen many, many times – irks me so bad. But, let me attempt to give you a few reasons why this Chart, which is peddled by lean and six sigma consultants everywhere – is absolutely wrong.

total quality management, continuum chart

Why This Continuous Improvement Model is Wrong

Okay, let me try to articulate this for you. I don’t promise to make much sense, but this chart just feels all wrong to me. I’m a bit emotional  right now, so bear with me.

1. Placing Design for Six Sigma at the top of the pyramid is messed up

At all the companies that I’ve consulted and worked at, I can tell you that DFSS is often compared to using a chainsaw, when using scissors is good enough – and even better in most situations. In other words, Design for Six Sigma is rarely needed and often waste time, resources, when a quicker more iterative model would work better.

Yes, I understand the metaphor of “low hanging fruit” and that as operations have less wastes in them, it’s harder to identify and eliminate the variation. I get that. Still, the model as shown above gives off the impression that DFSS is the top methodology and that the others are just stepping stones. That’s wrong.

2. Michael George has really created a lot of havoc

Michael George, the author of the book “Lean Six Sigma” is the root cause of the many misconceptions about Lean and Six Sigma.

Yes, I understand he has two first names and if we transpose them, we get George Michael. That’s besides the point.

Here’s the kicker: Michael George claims that Six Sigma is about quality and Lean is about speed. That misunderstanding has made it into so much Lean and Six Sigma education that it has really impacted everybody’s understanding, teaching, and, sadly, application.

Lean is clearly about quality. So is Six Sigma.

If the Above Model is Wrong, then What is Right?

Great question. I have some ideas, but I want to hear from you. What do you think? If you want to draw an alternative model, then mail it to me at and I’ll post it for debate among my audience. You can draw it on a whiteboard, napkin, or any piece of paper. Take a picture of it and send it to me and I’ll post it. Send your bio along with it too, if you want and I’ll post your bio along with your proposed model.

What do you think?


  1. says

    Hi Pete

    First, I’m not sure that the chart above is a “Continuous Improvement Model” per se. It’s missing so much (Hohsin kanri? Team design? Leader standard work? Alignment of incentives?) that at best it’s a “Lean Six Sigma getting started guide”. As such, it’s Mr. George’s chart, nothing else. There is no wide consensus in the Lean community that this is the prevailing CI model.

    There is nothing wrong with a company saying, “this is how we will implement” and creating a step-wise chart starting with 5S (rarely a bad place to start) and progressing to Six Sigma at a later stage. This happens all of the time and they are all flawed, but OK as long as they are continuously improved.

    The apple tree makes sense from the point of view that it takes much less training and overhead to run any number of small kaizen projects than it does to run one full Six Sigma project. Therefore the low-hanging fruits are better picked up using the kaizen approach rather than the Six Sigma approach in terms of cost, speed and broadening people’s involvement in CI.

    In my experience, DFSS is left for later because even though design decisions have 85% impact on the cost of the product, design / R&D / innovation departments are traditionally black boxes that shun “process” and “efficiency”. It takes considerable proof of concept of Lean Six Sigma in production and other areas before the VP of R&D can be cajoled into giving it a try.

    As a LSS model this LSS chart is ludicrous for its omissions, but also for including “Continuous improvement culture” in the same set of bullets with “WIP control” and “procedures and instruction” and “statistical tools” and “QFD” and such. If anyone has found such a neatly packaged “CI culture” LSS method bullet, please share. If anything, CI culture is the blue arrow going through the whole chart.

    I’m interested in your definition of TQM (Total Quality Management). A purists might argue that based on the title of this article you are treating TQM with the kind of liberty as Mr. George did for Lean and Six Sigma.

    • says

      Thanks Jon.

      I appreciate your thoughts. Yes, my comments were glib and not articulated well. As far as the post title goes – being compared to Mr. George sucks but is well-deserved. Truth is that I chose the title because it was catchy; so, not liberal treatment of TQM at all – just marketing instincts took over.

  2. says

    A model like that is not so much “wrong” as it is “meaningless.”

    Two of three bullets under “5S” and “Kaizen” are not 5S or Kaizen… they are varying levels of “Lean Lite” if you will.

    I agree that Mike George has done a great disservice by teaching “Lean is about speed, Six Sigma is for quality.” This “gospel truth” has been repeated ad nauseam in the “lean sigma” world, to the detriment of many…

  3. says

    I agree with Mark that the bullet points under each section actually have very little to do with the section they’re in.

    More importantly, the chart ignores the fundamental question that should be asked before using any of these tools: “What problem are you trying to solve?” 5S is a great tool, if hidden abnormalities and certain kinds of waste are an issue for you. It’s not so great if the problem you’re dealing with is, say, lack of alignment among divisions.

  4. Wang HZ says

    DfSS sits on top of the pyramid is due to it is fragile. Any non-controlled vairation might cause the model built by DfSS looks ridiculers.

    For my understanding, for any issue, if it can be settled by lower level method, e,g, 5S or Kaizen, it should not climb up for higher level method. Only for those issues that all the low level methods are not able to solve and with the low level methods all the variation are carefully controlled, we can use the DfSS methodology to solve it.

    So you should not try to use chainsaw before you tried scissors. The design for six sigma is rarely needed before the first 4 methods be systematic introduced into the organization.

    Please don’t laugh at a scientist when their assembly speed is slower than your operator and you still need to pay much higher salary to him.

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