Strength-Based Lean Six Sigma: A book review by Bob Morris

Strength-Based LeanStrength-Based Lean Six Sigma: Building Positive and Engaging Business Improvement
David Shaked
KoganPage (2014)

How and why one approach to Lean Six Sigma “is more natural to work with and more sustainable in the long run”

Where to begin?

David Shaked provides an abundance of valuable information, insights, and counsel that will help almost anyone build positive and engaging business improvement. He organizes his material within five Parts whose titles correctly suggest an on-going process that begins with “Define” and (in terms of the book’s narrative) concludes with “Deliver/Destiny.” Here is what he has to say about what differentiates the strengths-based Lean Six Sigma approach to process improvement:

“Instead of focusing on what is broken and inefficient [e.g. first pass yield, cycle time], it helps management and staff identify what is already working efficiently and generates value in existing processes and systems (this is called ‘strength focus’.) They then define ways to grow and expand those parts and implement good practices elsewhere. This focus on the search for and growth of existing efficiency enables new ideas to emerge and supports implementation of process improvements by raising confidence and energy levels.” This approach “is more natural to work with and more sustainable in the long term. The deficit focus of traditional Lean tends to weaken the system — even when it is successful — because it instills doubt and despair by giving unbalanced attention to waste and by amplifying inefficiencies.”

I presume to add one other significant benefit of this approach: It enables an organization (whatever its size and nature may be) to leverage what is effective and efficient when competing for sales and profits as well as talent in its marketplace. Organizations as well as individuals thrive when in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi characterizes as “flow”: optimal performance. Obviously, flow is not a permanent state. However, strengths-based Lean Six Sigma is the approach most likely to help it occur, and, most likely to increase frequency and duration.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Shaked’s coverage.

o The benefits of the strengths-based approach (Pages 4-5)
o Six Sigma, and, Lean Thinking (17-20)
o Three strengths-based approaches (24-31)
o Appreciating all my skills and building bridges between [and among] them (41-45)
o Appreciative Inquiry (47-51)
o Solution Focus coaching (51-55)
o Introducing the Appreciative Inquiry principles (64-66)
o Additional principles to consider from Solution Focus and Positive Deviance, and their meaning to Six Sigma (69-70)
o Exploring the best of Six Sigma (74-78)
o Exploring the best of Appreciative Inquiry, Solution Focus and Positive Deviance (78-81)
o How do I define Strengths-based Lean Six Sigma (91-93)
o Shifting to a new paradigm — key assumptions to reconsider (100-103)
o How to apply strengths-based thinking to scorecards — a few pointers (108-112)
o The Strengths-based Lean Six Sigma Tools (127-140)
o The Strengths-based Lean Six Sigma Process — classic frameworks with a fresh twist (141-153)
o Developing strengths-focused eyes (167-171)
o Defining the topic of inquiry(185-191)

With regard to the last passage, Shaked suggests, “all strengths-based changes begin with the first question.” As is almost always true when making such observations, it is far easier to state them than to apply them and this is especially true of process improvement initiatives. This is what Peter Drucker had in mind decades ago when asserting, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

The success of Lean Six Sigma programs depends almost entirely on asking and then answering the right questions about the right problems that, in turn, suggest the right opportunities. Hence the critical importance of developing the right mindset that can — and will — “see” what otherwise may not be recognized, a mindset capable of then making correct decisions about what to do as well as what not to do.

I commend David Shaked for providing just about all the information, insights, and counsel almost anyone needs to build positive and engaging business improvement.

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