The Six Sigma Steps—DMAIC

In the first week of our class preparing us for the Green Belt Six Sigma exam, our instructor Bob Mehta introduced the 5 basic steps of the Six Sigma method of quality improvement that are summed up in the acronym DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. These steps are summed up in the table below the diagram.


Six Sigma Step


1. Define Define customer and organizational requirements. Select the “Y” responses to be improved.
2. Measure Measure what is critical to quality, map the process, establish measurement system and determine what is “out of specification” or unacceptable. Measure the “Y” response variable.
3. Analyze Now develop a baseline (the process capability), set objectives, identify the “X” independent variables that are the root causes of defects or “out of specification” measurements of the “Y” response variables.
4. Improve Improve the process by reducing variability in the process or eliminating the cause of the defects or out of spec measurements.
5. Control Establish a system to monitor and control the process to sustain the improvements in the long term.

As you can see, the DMAIC approach takes the requirements of the deliverables to be improved, whether they are internal (organizational) or external (customer), maps the processes that create these desired responses, then analyzes them to identify the root causes or any defects. These root causes are improved, which then improves the responses, and thus increases the satisfaction of the requirements. By showing how the system of causes, responses, and requirements are linked, as in the schematic diagram below, you improve the satisfaction of the requirements (increasing quality) by eliminating the root causes of defects.

This, in a very summary form, is what the DMAIC steps to Six Sigma are all about.

Business Process Management and Six Sigma

In our first week of our Green Belt Six Sigma class, our instructor introduced the concept of business process management or BPM. BPM analyzes, manages and improves business processes so that they consistently add value to the products or services they create for customers.

This sounds like other quality process improvement schemes, but what distinguishes BPM is that it uses technology to apply a system of metrics at three levels of the business in order to achieve the desired improvements to the business.

At the Business Level, you have metrics that are summaries of operations which sustain the business, or that measure the financial status of the company.

At the Operations Level, you have metrics that increase the efficiency (less cost and time) of the operations as a whole. Identification of root causes starts here.

At the Process Level, you have metrics that measure, control and improve the key factors (or inputs) such as manpower, machinery, and methods of manufacture.

This technology is not necessarily a part of Six Sigma methodology, but can be coupled to it, and the two working in tandem are very powerful. The idea that should be familiar from Six Sigma is that you must have the cooperation of different levels of the organization to make the system work.

You have to sponsors and champions who are aware of the business level, black belts who are aware of the operations level, and the green belts who are aware of the process level. This is why it is referred to sometimes as a holistic management approach because it aligns all levels of an organization.

My Six-Month Blogiversary–what have I learned so far?

On April 9th, 2012, I decided to seriously start blogging on subjects that were of interest to me such as

  • Globalization, including summaries of Economist Intelligence Unit webinars about various global hot spots
  • Integral Theory, which promotes problem solving through looking at a problem from multiple perspectives
  • Toastmasters
  • Project Management
  • History (of Middle East in particular)

and other sundry topics, such as the Transformation Fitness program I am currently going through.

I got a few hits here and there, but my readership really started taking off this summer.   I took a project management certification prep course put on by PMI-OC, and I found that the blog was useful for putting the notes from our study group online so the ones that couldn’t make the group meeting any particular week could still reference what we had gone over that week.

However, I was soon getting people interested in Project Management and the other subjects I talked about from different parts of the United States, and then from different parts of the world.   Today I checked my statistics and over 5,000 people have read my blog, but the statistic that delights me even more is the fact that these people come from 100 countries.   Most readers come from the US, but the next countries that have the most readers are India, Canada, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

In terms of how far this blog is reaching, it has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.  But producing a blog post every day has been a discipline that has paid tremendous dividends.   I tried a blog post or two when I first started towards the beginning of the year, but then on April 9th, I just decided to commit to the project and do a blog post every day.   I have an “idea journal” where I sketch out ideas for posts in the upcoming weeks.

Most of the posts in the past months have come from the courses I have been taking in project management (during the summer) or the Green Belt Six Sigma class (which I am taking now).

However, I try to also include articles about the Toastmasters program, or my Transformation fitness program, or other topics that come up from time to time.   The ones that get the widest readership are those that have to do with reports on global hotspots such as Myanmar, Africa, or the countries of the Middle East that are experiencing the “Arab Spring.”  So I try to keep it balanced between my professional interests, and more personal interests.

There are bloggers out there that have been doing this for 6 years, not 6 months, and these are the people whose prose just blow me away from time to time because they are such good writers.  Just like in Toastmasters when you hear a great speaker, reading a great blogger can inspire you to improve your craft.  But you can only imitate their style; the real thing has to come from your own voice, and you won’t know what that is until you practice tapping into it on a regular basis.

Good writing doesn’t require that the subject be controversial, such as a political blog.   I think the most challenging thing for me in writing about project management was trying to explain a concept to people in our class that were having a hard time grasping the answers to questions.   Their non-comprehension forced me to think of creative ways to explain the subject using metaphors or diagrams that would be more intuitive than the prose contained in the textbook.  And when I would come up with something that made the proverbial light bulb go off, I had a sense of satisfaction.

So incorporating visual elements such as diagrams or tables to explain concepts is another element of blogging that I have learned about that I hadn’t considered at first.   It’s like an illustrated magazine article rather than a newspaper article, to use an analogy with old school technology.

The other thing I learned was editing in a hurry.  My father was a reporter, and he would always be against some sort of deadline.  You would like to craft a really good piece, but the time constraint is always, always in the back of your mind.  So you end up making decisions in a hurry.   Every once and a while, you catch yourself saying “I could have done a better job on that post …”, but that perfectionism now is usually squelched by the thought, “yes, if I had more than one day to do it, but I didn’t, so it’s okay.”

The last thing I realized is that the vast stretches of time on a weekend are your friend.  You can prepare articles ahead of time so that when you get to a time during the week when you are going from 5 AM to 10 PM and literally have no time to blog, you still are able to publish an article every day by preparing ahead of time and using articles you prepared on the weekend.

In short, blogging has been an investment of time over these past 6 months, but I have learned so much about the world in general and the professional world of project management, and other topics related to manufacturing during that time.   I hope that in trying to express what I have learned, that it has been helpful to some people out there.   The more than 5,000 people who have read what I wrote are hopefully a testament to my faith that it would be a worthwhile investment.

I can wholeheartedly say that it has been, and I look forward to continuing with the blog no matter what I decide to write about!

Six Sigma and the Balanced Scorecard

I am taking a Green Belt Six Sigma course that is being put on by ASQ. In the first week of covering the introductory concepts of Six Sigma, the idea of a Balanced Scorecard was introduced. The Balanced Scorecard is a strategic performance management tool which takes the vision and strategy of a company (“where are we going?” and “how do we get there?”) and translate into performance measures or metrics that be monitored.

The 4 key perspectives of the Balanced Scoreland are as follows:

Here are the key questions these perspectives ask:

Each of these four scorecards need to have the following four elements:

In 1997, it was found that 64 percent of the companies questioned were measuring performance from a number of perspectives in a similar way to the Balanced Scorecard. It remains a useful tool, mainly for small to medium-sized enterprises, to develop ways to measure the effectiveness of their corporate vision and the efficiency of their corporate strategy.

Green Belt #SixSigma—An Overview

In the first week of our Green Belt Six Sigma class sponsored by the American Society for Quality, our instructor gave us an overview of what Six Sigma is. I thought I would use this post to present his one-paragraph overview, and flesh out each of the elements in it with a little further explanation.

Six Sigma is a structured process and management strategy which utilizes statistical tools and project work to address and resolve process issues, thereby achieving breakthroughs in profitability, improvements in quality and customer satisfication.

Here’s a little more detail on the elements of this admittedly brief overview statement.

Six Sigma element


1. Structured Process This is the problem-solving process of Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control or DMAIC.



2. Management Strategy The management strategy involves all levels in the company in the process so the internal politics works for, and not against, the improvement of quality. Specifically roles are assigned to the upper management (executive sponsors, champions), management (process owners), and team members (black belts & green belts) to coordinate the DMAIC process.


3. Statistical Tools The M and A of DMAIC are measure and analyze, and statistical tools are used to do these parts of the process.


4. Project Work The project of applying the DMAIC to a particular project is treated as a project to be run using project management.


5. Process Issues The deliverables of the project work are in the form of improved quality.


6. ↑ Profits, Quality, and Customer Satisfaction The results of the deliverables are summed up in the three generations of Six Sigma objectives:

Generation 1: Improved quality from focus on defect reduction

Generation 2: Greater profits from focus on cost reduction

Generation 3: Greater customer satisfaction from focus on incorporating the external perspectives of the Voice of the Customer (VOC) and Voice of the Market (VOM).

These are the elements that our class will be exploring during our exploration of the ASQ’s Six Sigma Green Belt Body of Knowledge. I am looking forward to exploring it together with you!

Lean Six Sigma vs. The Toyota Way–two different cultures of quality

I recently started a class preparing me for the Green Belt certification in the Six Sigma methodology that is being put on by the American Society of Quality (ASQ). In the first week, a general description of Six Sigma was given as a means to use statistical methods to uncover and remove the causes of variation in manufacturing in order to reduce the defect rate. Lean manufacturing is the reduction of waste rather than variation, and the two are often used in conjunction to reduce costs and therefore increase revenues for a company.

Having worked at Japanese companies before, I asked our instructor Bob Mehta about the Toyota Way and how it differs from Lean Six Sigma. He said that in reality, both the Toyota Way and Lean Six Sigma can ultimately trace the origins of many of their key ideas to the pioneers of quality W. Edward Deming and Joseph M. Juran.

It is a simplification to say that The Toyota Way is preferred by Japanese companies mainly because it was developed by the Japanese company Toyota, and Six Sigma is preferred by American companies mainly because it was developed by Motorola, but he said there is some truth to this statement.

Sometimes it is hard to get Japanese companies interested in Six Sigma methodology because they use the Toyota Way methodology, he said. The opposite is true to a lesser extent regarding American companies being willing to look into the Toyota Way methodology. Much of the reluctance comes from many of its key concepts being expressed in their Japanese original such as kaizen (incremental improvement). But he did say that more and more of these Japanese terms are being used in American and other businesses, showing that they do have an impact on the quality community here.

And certainly the Six Sigma concept of using Green Belt, Black Belt, and other such designations for certification in the methodology are obviously derived from the martial arts, which is a big part of Japanese culture (although not strictly limited to Japanese culture, of course).

He did go on to say that many South Korean companies are adapting versions of the Toyota Way because of some similarities in culture between the Japanese and the Koreans (although cultural rivalry makes them sometimes loathe to admit it). The real challenge he sees is not the inability of the Japanese and the Americans to accept each other’s quality methodology, but to see how well the Chinese adapt the quality methodology embodied in the Toyota Way and/or Six Sigma. Their culture is very different from that of Japan and could be said to be closer in some ways to that of the United States.  This subject of cultural dimensions and their effect on quality management will be discussed further when we get to chapter 3 and the discussion of the ideas of Prof. Geert Hofstede.

In the meanwhile, he said just be on the lookout for ideas within Six Sigma appearing in different guises under other methodologies.

It was a fascinating discussion, and I wanted to relate it in this blog post for future reference as a subject to come back to.

#Toastmasters Speech Contests—5 Tips on being a Great Contest Master

I have been in half a dozen Toastmaster speech contests all in all, so I know to a certain against the nervousness and confusion about rules, etc., that has a contestant has to contend with.

I have a dual club membership and participated in the Club and Area level Speech Contests for my home club and Area. However, I was asked by the Area Governor of my second club to be a Contest Master, essentially a Master of Ceremonies, for the contest I had just been in a week earlier for my home club. He said that having just been in a contest, I know what it is like to be a contestant, and thus could be more sensitive to the needs of the contestants in the upcoming contest.

I agreed—here are the five things that I have learned about being a Contest Master from being a Contestant.

1. Prepare beforehand

Before the day of the contest, you should be given by the Contest Master or whoever is organizing the contest an outline of what to say. Make a script if you like, or just notes that fill out your opening remarks. Take some extra pens with you to the contest just in case there aren’t enough at the venue.

Contestants have other things on their minds then trying to remember to bring pens to fill in the forms that are required. You should be given a list of contestants, although many times you are not given this until the day of the contest.

2. Get there early

If the registration starts at a certain time, get there at least 30 minutes beforehand.  . You will need to get forms for the contestants to sign from the judges or the person running the contest. You will need to get the contest briefing rules. You will need to get the list of contestants’ names. Introduce yourself to the person doing the registration. He or she should, upon identifying that a person registering is a contestant in your contest, send him or her over to you for filling out the forms that are required for the judges.

3. Give two things: information and reassurance

Contestants may be nervous—give them the paperwork to fill out and then tell them to relax, get some refreshments, and let them know you will contact them for a briefing in a little while. Once it is about 10 to 15 minutes before the contest, and you have most of the contestants there, then it is a good thing to make an announcement or have the overall contest organizer makes an announcement for contestants to come to you for a briefing.

Here you go over the rules clearly, make sure you have the name of the contestants correctly pronounced, and ask if there are any questions. Let them know the protocol for introducing them at the time of their speech. Their name only (no Toastmaster titles), the name of their speech, and then the same two things backwards: the name of their speech, and their name. Let them know where you are sitting so they know where to look when the speech is done. Smile! Let them know that they will do just fine.

4. Showtime—do not upstage your guests!

There are three stages to being a Toastmaster: the first is when you are afraid to get on stage. The second is when you are afraid to get OFF stage because you love the limelight. The third stage is when you learn not to Upstage those in other roles, or in the case of Contests, the contestants themselves.

When you get up to make your remarks, make sure they are brief. You don’t have to tell long, drawn-out funny stories. Just an opening joke or humorous observation, if you feel you must. But it might be best to welcome everybody, and congratulate the contestants for taking the step of entering such a contest.

The focus should be on them, not on yourself.

5. Avoid awkward pauses

Sometimes a contestant will not know what to do, or where to stand on stage, and in these times, standing and gesturing while smiling will be helpful in letting them know where they should be. Of course, you probably already told them what was going to happen in the briefing, but people do have times when their minds go black under pressure.

Also, when you are giving a minute of silence, many contest masters simpler stare at the timer waiting for the light to go off. Here, looking around the room and glancing at the audience and smiling can take the edge off for them and the next contestant. You can’t say anything during the minute of silence, but that doesn’t mean you can’t DO anything.

In conclusion, do what you can to make sure the contestants and the guests feel welcome. Make sure to say something at the end of the day for those who won, and those who entered and did NOT win. They deserve special support because they will naturally be feeling disappointed. In short, make everyone go home feeling they won something.

How to pass the #PMP or #CAPM exam on your first try—6 elements of success

I passed the project management certification exam on Tuesday, and I am talking to our study group this weekend about my overall impressions of how the exam went. However, in thinking about what I found helpful in the past months of preparing for the exam, I realized that there six elements which stood out as crucial to my successfully passing the exam on the first try.

1. Study Plan

I decided to treat studying for the project management certification exam as a project in and of itself and that meant starting off by creating a test study plan. I knew that I was enrolled in a class, and I knew that I wanted to have a chance to not only learn the material, but also to review it.  At the end of this review period, I would practice the exam and see if I was ready for it, and if so, to register for it and take it as soon as possible. That was my general plan.

After I received the textbook in the class and formed a study group, we chose a supplemental exam prep textbook, the one by Rita Mulcahy (there were other study groups who chose different textbooks). Then that gave me a more specific list of things to do for each chapter, which included the following

  • Read PMBOK® Guide chapter
  • Read corresponding textbook chapter
  • Make flashcards of PM terminology introduced in chapter
  • Attend class on PMBOK® Guide chapter
  • Attend study group session to discuss end-of-chapter review questions from textbook
  • Take practice exams for knowledge area covered in chapter (success means 80% or more)

So I then had a matrix of all the knowledge areas (corresponding to chapters in PMBOK® guide) and the various tasks to be done for each chapter. I then figured out how many weeks each phase (class, review, overall practice exams, registration, test) would take.   Having this plan meant I knew the estimated end date of when I should take the exam (end of September).    Halfway through the review period, I registered for the exam and that helped spur me on to complete the review and practice-test phase of my plan.

2. Class

You could study for the PMP on your own using the Rita Mulcahy or other PMP exam prep textbook, but a classroom is an environment where you can ask questions from an experienced instructor in the field of project management. Also, the discussions based on questions people will be posing to the instructor will be instructive in and of themselves. Whether they are voicing questions you yourself had or whether they are voicing questions you never would have thought of on your own, they will reinforce the material in your mind.

3. Exam Prep Textbook

The class discussed in the paragraph above consisted of handouts by the teacher plus some sort of PMP exam prep textbook.  However, it may be best to get an exam prep book that will give you a framework to understand the material, exercises to help you practice what you’ve learned, and end-of-chapter review questions to help you test what you’ve learned.  So I recommend getting a supplemental PMP exam prep textbook and using that either as the basis of your own study at home, or, even better, with a study group.

4. Study Group

You increase your chances of success when you have a study group—I don’t have any empirical studies to back this up, but in the case of a weight loss program called Transformation, Bill Phillips noted that those who participated in a support group were likely to lose more than twice much weight as those who tried to go it alone.

With the PMP exam prep, there were two reasons why the study group was: first of all, it was helpful to discuss the end-of-chapter review questions as a group. Many people discussed related how the material in the chapter impacted their own experience in working on projects for their companies in the real world. So it helps reinforce learning of the material to get other people’s perspectives on it.

The second reason a study group is helpful is that the exam IS difficult, and it helps to have psychological support in attempting something that is stretching you to the limit of your abilities.

5. Flashcards

Even if you do have a study group, the bulk of your studying will be spent on your own, and this is where I recommend flashcards for learning PM terminology and, in particular, the PM processes. I can’t tell you about specific exam questions I encountered on the test, but I can tell you that questions about the PM processes comprised one of the largest group of questions on the test overall. These were questions on the processes, their inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs. Flashcards are indispensable for putting these processes together in your head in a 5 X 9 matrix of process groups and knowledge areas.

They can be used in conjunction with study groups to, let’s say, shuffle the flashcards that contain processes, lay them out on a table and have people reconstruct their correct order.

6. Practice Exams

Although answering the end-of-chapter review questions was certainly helpful, in particular in conjunction with discussions at our study group, I found it helpful for my confidence level to purchase software that gave simulated tests. Again, I chose the Rita Mulcahy version of that type of practice exam software, and found it was helpful because it not only allowed you to practice answering exam questions by knowledge area and process group, but it allowed you to review answering questions on a particular topic, like “Earned Value Analysis.”

I took tests on each knowledge area until I scored 80% or better in each area, and in the final two weeks before my exam, I took practice exams that were full simulations of the final test. I did three of them, and scored 90% or better on the overall exam. I knew I was ready, and therefore could relax the rest of the weekend and the day before the exam.

Looking back on the exam, these were the elements that helped make sure I was prepared to take and pass the exam the first time around!

Working Together—How to Manage Virtual Teams Across Borders (an #Economist webinar)

The following is a summary of a webinar put on by the Economist Education Unit on how to manage virtual teams in an international business context.  It consisted of a conversation between Paul Lewis, the Editorial Director of the Economist Education unit, and David Bolchover, international best-selling management author of such books as Pay Check: Are top earners really worth it? and The 90-Minute Manager: Lessons from the Sharp End of Management .

1. Virtual teams—the virtue of necessity wedded with communication technology

Paul Lewis first asked David Bolchover about why this topic is so timely.

David explained that virtual teams have come about by a combination of technology, necessity and the constraints of time and budget. Technology has allowed teleconferencing with greater sophistication, and many businesses are international and straddle several time zones and need for employees in different countries to work together in teams. Companies are replacing face-to-face business meetings with teleconferencing or virtual meetings due to budget cuts and the necessity for ever more rapid decisions.

However, the convenience for a company of using virtual teams comes with a warning that this webinar addresses: there is a risk that they can create problems for the company that utilizes them.

2. Virtual teams—what are problems that can be created

Here are the problems that David Bolchover explained that can be created by virtual teams, and some of the potential solutions he outlined in his conversation with Paul Lewis. These problems range from the practical ones of time zones (red), organizational behavior (blue), language and cultural differences (green), and psychological (purple).

Problem Explanation Possible solution
1. Time zones Some virtual team meetings are put on by the main branch in normal office hours, whereas the other branches need to participate outside of office hours. Recognition of sacrifices made by those participating outside of office hours, allowing teleconferencing from home for greater convenience.
2. Group think In many cultures, there is a pressure to conform to the group or to the manager’s opinion; differing opinions are not expressed. Have the younger or more junior people speak first or have separate meetings of the junior people who represent their findings to the senior staff.
3. Anarchy The opposite extreme from group think is when any member of a meeting is allowed to go off on a tangent. Have an agenda prepared and a timetable and stick to it; table discussions that are off topic or that go on too long.
4. Language fluency People make assumptions about language fluency, and don’t understand there are different levels of fluency, so they speak at normal speed with no regard to how well their message is heard. Include as much information before the meeting in writing; have those in target language deliberately slow down and use shorter sentences.
5. Humor In the early stages of team formation, humor can backfire if it is not understood or worse, misunderstood. Avoid making jokes and alleviate tension in a way that is less risky, particularly at meetings.
6. Lack of trust Teams meet only at virtual meetings, so trust is slow to develop. Have at least one face-to-face meeting at the beginning of team project; find some way of having team members access biographical information on other members so they are seen as human beings beyond the professional role they play.

3. Importance of communications management plan

All of these solutions can be put together in a communication management plan which sets the ground rules for meetings such as:

  • Establish levels of urgency for e-mails and assign max response time for each level
  • Establish who will take meeting minutes, what format they will be in, and who gets distributed a copy for informational purposes above and beyond participants
  • Establish at least ONE face-to-face meeting between members at the outset of project, and as often as time and budget permit it throughout project.
  • In virtual teams, problems tend to fester so conflicts can be more severe when they arise: have strategies on how to confront conflict.

4. Further research

For those interested in cultural dimensions of international communication, David Bolchover recommended Dutch communication theorist Geert Hofstede, whose most notable work has been in developing cultural dimensions theory.
The five dimensions are; Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty avoidance, Masculinity, and Long Term Orientation.
Cultures that occupy a different place on each of these dimensions may have difficulty in communications and these have to be recognized beforehand to recommend ground rules for communication.

One other dimension of cultural communication that David said you need to consider is that of low-context vs. high-context cultures explored by Edward T. Hall, an American anthropologist. Low-contest cultures are more direct, and high-context cultures are more indirect in the way they express matters, especially those with an emotional content. American managers have no trouble saying “NO!”, but in all the years of working for Japanese managers, I never heard them say that word once. They often said, “sore wa chotto muzukashii”, which means “that’s a little difficult” literally, but which actually means “NO!” You just have to know how to interpret what they said.

5. Q&A

Here are some questions put forward by the audience in the webinar.

Does a company’s global culture effect cultural assumptions on virtual teams?

A goal is for people’s identity with company culture to bind people together to negate cultural differences. However, you have to realize that the senior managers have a vision of the company culture which may not shared by workers at lower levels.

Do generational differences effect cultural assumptions on virtual teams?

There is a lot of literature on generation Y’s views on work/life balance, etc., but the literature of baby boomers’ attitudes in the 1960s and 1970s management literature shows that their attitudes showed many similarities. They had the same aspirations, but generation Y are simply more assertive of those aspirations. The most disengaged people in the work force are the middle managers between 35 and 50. Since the greatest effect on engagement is their relationship to immediate supervisor, you have to monitor their attitudes even more closely than those of the younger workers.

What can the company do to promote virtual teams?

  • Actual formal training in the technology is important to prevent “on-air” glitches.
  • Get at least one face-to-face meeting arranged of team at the beginning of a project.
  • Cultural sensitivity and willingness to learn foreign languages are very important for managers in a virtual international environment. Willingness for managers to learn about language and culture is more important than their ability to do so.
  • Breakdown the virtual team into smaller subteams.
  • Give written materials to those with only basic skills in the target language before meetings so they can prepare ahead of time.

6. Audience Survey

The audience was asked, “what is the most difficult problem you find in managing virtual international temas?”

Problem Percent
A. Inadequate technology, or inability to use it properly 27%
B. Cultural insensitivity or poor language skills of team members 19%
C. Poor discipline, vague goals or infrequent communication leading to lack of trust 33%
D. Difficulties in working across multiple time zones. 21%

As you can see, it was the lack of structure with regards to the communication that more people saw as a problem that cultural and/or language issues. This is why David Holchover recommends a communications management plan.

7. Conclusion

After having participated in many virtual teams, mainly between Japanese and Americans, I can attest to many of the problems that David Holchover discussed in discussion with Paul Davis from the Economist Education unit. But like any aspect of a project, communications can be managed and a good management plan will be structured according to the needs of the company and the particular project involved.

Today’s discussions gives people valuable background into the cultural dimensions of these communication problems, thereby giving them more insight into how to prevent them in such a plan. I thank the Economist Education unit and Paul Davis for putting on such an informative webinar, and of course I thank David Holchover for making such a positive case for a communications management plan to manage virtual international teams.

#PM and Green Belt Six Sigma—The Goldilocks Zone

1. Introduction—Variance in quality management vs. in project management

I just finished taking a certification exam for project management (I passed, by the way), and can now focus attention on my class that is helping me prepare for the exam for my Green Belt Six Sigma certification. This is because the application area for my project management is manufacturing, and quality management is vital to any manufacturing endeavor these days.

While driving back from the introductory class for my Six Sigma course a week or so ago, I was thinking about the relationship between project management and quality management. Our instructor talked about the difference between Lean and Six Sigma quality management; Six Sigma is about the reduction of variability in production, and the concept of Lean manufacturing is about the reduction of waste in production.

I thought about the variances that project managers deal with, mainly those having to do with cost, time, and scope. These are measured through earned value analysis by the quantities of the cost performance index or cost variance and the schedule performance index or schedule variance.

The formulas for the cost performance index or cost variance are:

Cost performance index or CPI = EV/AC or

Cost variance or CV = EV/AC

with EV being the earned value and the AC the actual cost of the work actually done so far in the project.

The formulas for the schedule performance index or schedule variance are:

Schedule performance index or SPI = EV/PV or

Schedule variance or SV = EV – PV

With PV being the planned value of the work planned to be done so far on the project, and EV the earned value of the work actually done.

Let’s stick with CPI and SPI for the moment for clarity. It is drummed into our heads in studying for the project manager certification exam that CPI and SPI greater than one are good, meaning that the project is under budget and ahead of schedule, respectively. Conversely, CPI and SPI less than one are bad, meaning that the project is over budget and behind schedule.

2. The Goldilocks Zone

In our study group discussions of the CPI and SPI, it was clear that, while you as a project manager wanted to get the CPI and SPI greater than one, some commented that you didn’t want to get it too MUCH greater than one.

Let’s say you have a CPI of 2.0, which means you are getting twice the work done for the resources than you planned. Is this good? Well, the project manager may think so, but it reminds me of the old joke: an optimist sees a glass filled 50% with water as being half full, and a pessimist sees it as being half empty, but the project manager sees a glass that was designed to be twice as big as it should have been.

In other words, this CPI could imply to a program manager that half the resources on the project are not productive.  The program manager may be thinking that these are resources they could be used on other projects, but can’t be because they are still formally committed to that one project.

So you want a CPI that is not less than one, and not TOO much greater than one, but just right—which sounds like the Goldilocks zone, from an story of an earlier pioneer in the testing of porridge quality.

3. Eureka

When I thought back on that discussion at our study group, I realized the relationship between Project Management goals and the goals of Lean Six Sigma in quality management.    As with the principles from Six Sigma, a good project manager tries to reduce variances from the performance baseline.  But as with the principles of Lean manufacturing, a great project manager will be one that tries to reduced the waste of resources on his or her project.

This can be done by making sure to release unused resources after work packages are completed, but also to release unused contingency reserves if certain risks end up not being triggered.  So the Goldilocks zone principle of using just the right resources and nothing more is a concept that bridges both quality and project management.