The TLS Continuum: The New Focus for the Quality Movement

Peter Pande in his book, The Six Sigma Way, expresses that there is no single correct way to introduce the methodology into your organization. That is never clearer in the wide variation of understanding on what the difference is between Lean and Six Sigma. Further it is shown in the attitudes of some individuals within the marketplace. Several years ago I talked with the Quality Improvement manager for a local healthcare organization who flatly told me “we do lean, we don’t do six sigma.” The purpose of this article is to introduce a new angle to this discussion, which is applicable to all phases of the organization, especially the service end such as human resources.

The long standing disagreement has been that Lean was dedicated to the removal of waste and Six Sigma was based on the removal of defects from your processes. We contend that the view from this perspective provides a very narrow analysis aspect. Jeff Cox (Velocity) and later Bob Sproull (Ultimate Improvement Cycle and Epiphanized) first talked about the combination of Lean and Six Sigma along with Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints. The basis of their Ultimate Improvement Cycle was that we used the Theory of Constraints to identify the obstacles that are holding up your organizational processes. Having identified the obstacle, we use Lean to remove the obstacle and then Six Sigma to create a standard of work and ensure that there are no variations in the processes. These two works began the redirection of views about the quality efforts within our organizations.

In August of 2013, CRC Press will be releasing our second book entitled Achieving HR Excellence through Six Sigma in which we introduced the concept of the TLS Continuum. While we totally believe in the principles behind the works of Jeff Cox and Bob Sproull, we believe the model needs to take another step further in its explanation. The TLS continuum finds its strength behind three very distinct and yet interdependent pillars of focus.

The first pillar is that of customer centric focus. TOC, Lean, or Six Sigma will not be successful if we ignore the voice of the customer. Whether we are talking about internal or external customers, their voice is crucial in beginning the process improvement efforts. Take for example the process of writing job descriptions for your organization. Typically the process of writing these is to ask the manager or the current position holder what it is they do. The difficulty here is that does not tell the organization what your customers expect from those they work with. We would suggest that HR needs to identify your organization’s top business developer and spend one day per month out in the field with them. The purpose is to ask the customer what they expect in key performance indicators from your employees when they are working with your organization. These KPI’s become the basis for your job descriptions going forward. Focusing your organization on the views of the customer provides you an early warning sign that an obstacle exists within your product or service.

The second pillar in our model is that of organizational alignment. In order to introduce and maintain the TLS continuum it is critical that every aspect of your organization be on the same operating page. It is critical that the entire organization understands the need for the quality initiatives and how their introduction is what ensures that they have jobs in the future. This alignment also means the organization understands that we do not routinely reduce overhead by reducing headcount. The alignment demonstrates that our obstacles are problems with the process, not the people. Lawrence Miller stresses this alignment within his Whole System Architecture concept that he discusses with clients every day.

The final pillar is that of quality improvement. Like Cox and Sproull, we believe that the TLS Continuum answers many of the objections to the six sigma processes. Your organization has to understand that the continuum applies to both the transactional and the transformational sides of the business. It applies equally to the production side as well as to the service sides of the business. The continuum begins with determining what you consider to be the definition of excellence.  In Achieving HR Excellence through Six Sigma we suggest that the definition of excellence is “Achieving HR EXCELLENCE is the result of CARING more about your organization than others think wise; RISKING more than others think safe to change the corporate culture; DREAMING more than others think practical about the potential for your organization ; EXPECTING more than others find possible from your human capital assets. “  This definition manifests itself in every member of the organization being part of the continuous process improvement DNA. Every part of your organization needs to be involved in the improvement effort. Your human capital assets need to feel comfortable in the application of the improvement efforts to the point they can stop a process if it is not meeting the voice of the customer.

Another aspect is that the management philosophy of the organization can’t be one of control and command. Management must be involved as a coach, not the master. Remember your days in High School science where the instructor implanted in your mind that the key to scientific inquiry success was the scientific method? The TLS continuum is the scientific method of business. It allows us the opportunity to define a problem and solve the problem by not only identification of the obstacles but how to solve the problem and ensure that once solved that problem will not return to interrupt the organization. The TLS continuum provides a clear picture to the improvement of our organizational processes without the uncertain picture presented by utilizing only one of the the three segments of the TLS nomenclature – Theory of Constraints, Lean, and Six Sigma. They are good in their own right, but far more powerful as a total package.

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