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Held for ransom – a CEO, Sr. VP, and an engineer

September 2, 2007

Ken Hunt has an article in this past week’s Globe and Mail’s (a national newspaper in Canada) Report on Business titled The Big Idea: Six Stigma. The title of this post refers to the joke that starts off this article. It’s fitting that it’s the engineer that sees the absurdity of taking a concept of Six Sigma to its extreme. I am assuming the engineer’s response in the joke is to management’s obsession with Six Sigma versus their claims of its necessity without understanding it fully. Being an engineer however I acknowledge that it is more likely both. The article states that the extent to which Six Sigma continues to be applied is undermining individual contributions to companies. In effect a boundary has been crossed with regards to the extent of application.

I recall the first training session I attended that introduced the Cynefin framework and remember how strange it felt to spend so much time talking about boundaries (metaphors were being used heavily at that time) in an abstract way. It was not until months if not over a year later when the concept of bounded applicability was introduced to me that the effort and importance of understanding boundaries in the earlier course was fully appreciated. Held within engineered production environments Six Sigma I believe has delivered significant returns. Hence its application is properly bounded within such areas. Pushed beyond such ordered environments it is starting to receive kick back which I read as the main claim of the Globe and Mail article. This is where I see the Cynefin framework offering a significant benefit in that it can offer a way to understand the limits of approaches such as Six Sigma, business process engineering, narrative / story collection, etc. within a context of an organizations operating environment. And so the graphic of this post shows that “Six Sigma” is valid in an ordered and predictable environment but shows that it becomes “Six Stigma” if one pushes to apply it in unordered complex environments.

Michael Cheveldave

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