Life Lessons from "Design for Lean Six Sigma"

 Successful mega-projects like building a wind farm are possible because of disciplined application of time-tested processes like Lean Six Sigma. Dr. Ayinuola, the author, argues that these processes can be applied in personal situations as well.  Photo courtesy:  Pexels.com

Successful mega-projects like building a wind farm are possible because of disciplined application of time-tested processes like Lean Six Sigma. Dr. Ayinuola, the author, argues that these processes can be applied in personal situations as well.

Photo courtesy: Pexels.com

By Kolawole Ayinuola, PhD

I believe the principles of success is the same. Therefore, with the appropriate correction factors, we can apply measurable business concepts to accomplish life goals. I recently completed my Design for Lean Six Sigma (DFLSS) Green Belt (GB) certification. It was a fruitful experience for me for many reasons. Aside from the many applications to my current role in product development, there are vital life lessons that I gleaned from the one-year journey. Six Sigma methodology is a data-driven approach to problem solving in business processes. As the name implies, the goal is to minimize waste and improve efficiency (3.4 defects per million product/process iteration) by reducing process variation.

There are several approaches to DFLSS application, depending on the field and objective. In all the approaches, each succeeding step of the process depends on data garnered from the preceding steps. There is no room for gut feeling or spontaneity.

Now, this kind of thinking was a struggle for me at first because, you know, spontaneity is the spice of life! Most of us believe that life is much more fun when things aren't overly regimented or structured. To some extent, that is true. But in those critical business processes, when you need to drill down to nail the root cause of a problem, spontaneity does you no good. 

Just as Thomas Sterner believes, all of life is one long practice session. I, too, believe that our life is a continuous project that should consist of a collection of well-defined tasks. We have no idea when the project may end, but we can be intentional about what kind of tasks we include in our “life project.”  Indeed, we are the architects of our dreams.

For my GB certification, we employed the DMEDI (Define Measure Explore Develop Implement) approach, which is a creative Six Sigma approach used to develop new processes. I will attempt to talk through each of the steps and the life lessons I've learned from them. Today we will start with Define.

Define:

This phase, although self-explanatory, is fundamental. Here, we seek to define a project or business opportunity. What is the scope of the problem, or the size of the opportunity, and how would we measure success? For us not to box as one beating the air, we must define our life's goal.

One of the documents produced at the end of the Define phase is the Project Charter. I love that the Charter is a “living document,” meaning it is subject to change as we garner more information or get a better understanding of the business environment. I believe we need a Project Charter for our life as well. This document should encompass our personal mission, values, and goals. Now, although the spirit of our personal mission and values do not change, their form changes as we gain more knowledge and life experiences. I get a clearer sense of where I'm heading and how to best add value the longer I'm alive. Andy Andrews, the New York Times bestselling author, has a great action plan that helped me draft my personal mission statement. It is available for free from his website.

"When you ask good questions, you discover what really fills your life with a sense of passion, purpose, and direction.” - Andy Andrews

Apart from the Charter, we also come up with a high-level project plan in the Define phase. I particularly like the Multi-Generational Project Plan (MGPP) tool, which helps you break down a big daunting project into several small iterations that build up to the larger project. For instance, we could develop an initial rendering of a product to serve a small customer base in order to get initial market penetration, while continuing to gain valuable market insight as we develop a bigger product platform. An MGPP, for me, is like short-term and long-term life goals—laying bricks and layers to get you closer to your life's mission. I am a big picture guy. I catch fire and keep running in a specific direction. My biggest struggle, often, is defining the day-to-day tasks that build up to the big picture I have in my mind's eye. But with an MGPP, I can have a six-month or a one-year life project that gives me focus in the short term, while still leading up to the bigger product portfolio that is my life's mission.

 

What big picture projects and goals are you working on that would benefit from being broken into short-term, smaller project phases? Check back in the future for the rest of this series.