Ethics, Lean Six Sigma, and Insanity

If we are continually hired to resolve the same issue that was previously addressed, is that insanity, misinformed decision making, misguided, or something else?  What roll should we play?

There is no doubt in my mind that some of the greatest companies in the world have made their name by re-purposing or re-packaging the same item and selling it to anyone that is willing to buy it.  Recycling has become an industry unto itself in which we re-purpose something that has outlived its usefulness or passing something on that  is no longer of use to the original owner.  Over the life of my consulting career, I have continually built upon and improved documents, deliverables, and ideas that I had previously provided to a different customer.  However, something seems to be changing.

I may be just catching on to something that has been happening forever. I would not question it if someone called me naive.  However, I am beginning to grow weary of the requests by numerous clients to reproduce products or deliverables that they have already purchased or funded on numerous occasions.  I could even understand if the organizations hired a consultancy to perform work, were dissatisfied with the results and then hired a different consultancy to finish the job.   The current phenomena is that the clients are continually paying to have the same studies done, the same requirements built, the same recommendations made, etc. without following up on much, if any, of it.  As if they do not believe that the results could be true, they hire another organization to come in and do the work, getting the same results.  On numerous occasions the clients have traveled this road so well that we have returned to one of the original contractors to re-perform the work they had done on a previous occasion.  As a Master Black Belt and your Common Sensei, I find that this seems a lot like RE-WORK, something that as a self-proclaimed CPI professional drives me mad.

Numerous people including Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein have been quoted as saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”.  In saying this, I hate to think my clients meet this definition.  Is this an issue of avoidance, is there something wrong with the process, or has our culture moved even further toward a complete and total resistance to change?  I could write it off as the “not invented here” phenomenon that I describe in an earlier post except that more times than not, they are avoiding things that were invented here.  Beyond the question of insanity, beyond the issue of change management or process improvement lays a deeper question of morality and our capitalistic nature.  The capitalist in me says that if I don’t take the work, they will just hire someone else to re-do what has already been done.  No matter how hard I try to persuade them that it is time to implement the recommendations and begin the transformation, I, as have so many of my partners and competitors, get nowhere. I often come to the conclusion that I might as well take the money that they seem so desperate to throw away.  The little voice sitting on my other shoulder is encouraging me to just walk away from the mess with a clear conscience and let someone else deal with it.

Now, what if I told you I consult almost exclusively with the US Government and the money they are using is our tax dollars?  What insights do you have now?

5 thoughts on “Ethics, Lean Six Sigma, and Insanity

  1. I think you are being far to kind in your analysis – but I suspect you know this. From what I’ve seen, it isn’t that the Client doesn’t believe the conclusions/recommendations are correct and asks for a second (nay, third?) opinion. To me, it’s more the Client lacks the organizational will to actually implement. Often, the recommendations made require significant change to the organizational way of doing things – practices, procedures – even its very culture.

    Here’s what I see. Newly appointed leadership arrives on the scene with a mandate to change and improve. Said new leadership marches dutifully down the road of change, calling for in depth study and analysis on the situational problem at hand. Consultants are hired and analysis is completed, spawning well-intentioned, well-constructed recommendations for improvement. Appointed leadership now attempts to implement by working with management – people who “know the business” of the organization having been around it for many years (and, more importantly, people who intend to be around for many more years to come). These folks are not necessarily invested in the proposed change knowing full well they’ll outlast the current appointed leadership. Eventually, the next round of newly appointed leadership will arrive bringing with their own mandate for change and improvement. Thus, the cycle begins anew – wash, rinse and repeat.

    And now, one of my favorite quotes: “(Insert agency name here): Building Today, Tomorrow”


  2. Soothsayer articulates the second thing that came to mind after reading David’s post. Rapid turnover destroys corporate memory, and nothing is so perishable as a consultant’s report.

    My first thought went to the disconnect between client expectations and the consultant’s deliverable. If the “findings and conclusions” work [diagnostic, if you prefer] is done well, clients rarely dispute the AS IS. When clients resist the recommended course of action, fault often lies with the consultant not properly assessing the client’s ability to change. In my 40+ year consulting career [McKinsey, Booz, Allen & Hamilton, and PRTM], I have often presented similar problem statements to different clients, but seldom recommended identical courses of action. One aspect of the art of consulting is assessing the clients’ resolve and ability. A recommendation that is out of the client’s practical reach is poor consulting.

    I was fortunate that early in my consulting career [while a grad student and Stanford professor] I took assignments requiring me to help implement my recommendations. I gained an instant understanding of the values of low-hanging fruit and phased implementation. Inertia is real, and must be an important factor when charting a client’s course change.


  3. Comment imported from Effective Government Now:
    great post and Southsayer’s response on right on target for government. In IT project management there was study produced about 18 years ago that is often referred to as “Cobb’s Paradox” for its author. I beleive that there is a correlary paradox in government management reform. Simply put: We know we need to significantly transform government, but we keep putting off the needed change because big transformation projects are too hard to manage. However, the need for change grows over time, as does the magnitude of change management required, which makes it harder and harder for government leaders. I have more on this if the group wants to delve into it.


  4. Comment Imported from Effective Government Now:
    Your input on this topic which Dave introduced would be invaluable. I would suggesting that this type discussion and strategizing should be at the heart of EGN activity.


  5. Comment Imported from Effective Government Now:

    Cobb’s Paradox states, ‘We know why projects fail; we know how to prevent their failure – so why do they still fail? The Cobb’s Pradox is alive and well at the Pentagon and other federal, state and local government agancies all across America. Don’t you think it is all about changing the culture in government? Unless it changes first, nothing else will happen. Did not Jack Welch move managers aside that did not get on board his six sigma train? That is what need to happen at all levels of the government.


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