Life Lessons from "Design for Lean Six Sigma" - Explore (Part 3)

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By Kolawole Ayinuola, PhD

This week, we are continuing our journey through the DMEDI (Define, Measure, Explore, Develop, Implement) methodology of the Six Sigma process by looking at the Explore phase. (Read my first post on the Define phase.

So far, we have looked at the Define and Measure phases of the DMEDI approach of the Six Sigma methodology. In Define, we outlined our proposed endeavor, its size and scope, and how we'll track success. In Measure, we sought to establish Critical Customer Requirements (CCRs) that are essential to delivering the highest value to our customers (successful realization of our mission). Today, we continue to Explore, the creative hub of the DMEDI process.

In the Explore phase, we employ brainstorming, benchmarking, and other problem-solving techniques to generate several design concepts for our finished product, from which the high-level design that is most strongly linked to the previously identified CCRs will be selected. To generate concepts, we ask the question: What does this product do, and what are the different ways we can deliver that function? This is called Functional Analysis. In focusing on this question, we are letting the product function drive our ideation process toward the best high-level concept for the finished product. This is a subtle but powerful shift because there is a distinction between function and requirement.

In the Measure phase, we gathered the Voice of the Customer (VOC) and translated it into Critical Customer Requirements (CCRs) using the Quality Function Deployment (QFD) tool. In the Explore phase, we employ another component of the QFD, Functional Analysis, to help us make the leap from a requirement to product function. We are not just interested in meeting individual requirements; we are looking to deliver an outcome to the customer. Focusing on requirements without considering the overall desired outcome is often the bane of “technology push,” where an idea is hurriedly developed and commercialized without an understanding of the underlying customer needs.   

Personal Functional Analysis

In the same way, our life mission is a series of functions—a collection of well-defined tasks. It should not just be about garnering experiences or skills; it's about how we employ those experiences (requirements) to fulfill our mission (functions).  A sense of purpose that is rooted in self-awareness must guide our immersive experiences, else our life become a portmanteau of disjointed episodes. As Ian Cron asserts in his book on self-discovery, Ignorance is bliss, except in self-awareness. We cannot adequately respond to what we are not aware of, so true functional analysis begins with a knowledge of our self. Two exercises that have been highly beneficial for me in this regard are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Enneagram. Both exercises are indicators that helps us understand our preferences/type in how we receive and process information. MBTI is based on Carl Jung's Personality Theory, while the origin of Enneagram dates to ancient times. There are no good or bad types, and all types have potential strengths and pitfalls. Knowing my type has helped me zone in on how to use my strengths and strengthen my weaknesses. For instance, although my Intuition preference (MBTI) informs my love for the ideation process and the passion with which I share my ideas, I must focus on developing my execution skills so that my ideas are not left unrealized.  My Enneagram number (7 - The Enthusiast) describes me as a spontaneous, super fun, sunny optimist, distractible and scattered.

Based on an understanding of my personality type/preferences, I must be intentional about seeking experiences that foster organization and execution, as I work towards my "high-level design". A sense of purpose

Creating Room from Boundaries

In the book Boundaries, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend enjoin us to take ownership of our lives by understanding what our job is and what it isn't; what we should be doing and what we shouldn't. This understanding is at the heart of a personal functional analysis. Gaining experiences that do not enhance our mission will leave us stressed out.  In addition to all that's outlined in Dr. Cloud's book, I believe boundaries afford us more room. To truly arrive at our high-level design concept, we need mental bandwidth to execute our personal functional analysis. Expending mental energy on things that do not enhance our life mission drains us of that bandwidth.

Explore is where you get your creative juices flowing and let your imagination run wild, but you do not want to live there. Develop, the next phase, is where we roll up our sleeves and set those creative ideas into motion.

Have you ever taken the MBTI or Enneagram personality type assessments? How have they helped you develop your leadership and communication skills? Please share your experiences.