My Daughter Just Got Married

A new son-in-law as a model of continuous improvement

A few weeks ago, our fourth child (and third daughter) got married.  During the wedding reception I told my new son-in-law the same thing I told my son and my other two sons-in-law at their weddings.  I let him know that, as of the day of his wedding, he was required to spend the rest of his life striving to be worthy to be his wife's husband.  But I added that he will never be worthy to be my daughter's husband.

For the past 41 years, I have been striving to be worthy to be Kate Leonard's husband.  But I will never be worthy to be my wife's husband -- just ask her father!  I told my new son-in-law that I didn't mean to be disrespectful to him or his family.  It's Natural Law; it's metaphysics; it's the way God made the world.  No man will ever be worthy of another man's daughter.  (But we never stop trying to be so.)  I added that if he ever has daughters of his own, some day he'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

Upon further reflection, I guess that's what continuous improvement is all about.  It's like what the author Gertrude Stein said about her hometown, "There is no there there."  Continuous improvement is a never-ending journey; one can never claim that he's achieved it.  Dr. W. Edwards Deming really meant it when he worded the fifth of his fourteen points for management, "Constantly and forever improve every process."  The effort never ends; there is no there there.

This is the danger of Six Sigma.  Many companies believe that once they achieve Six Sigma capability -- or a Cpk of 2.0 -- they will be successful.  In fact, most so-called Six Sigma companies aren't even striving for Six Sigma quality.  The most common Cpk target I hear about is 1.33 -- or merely Four Sigma capability.

If you really want to accomplish cultural transformation, join my son-in-law.  There is no there there.  You never stop striving for excellence in quality; but you'll never really achieve it.  There is and can be no such thing as "good enough" in this new economic age.

Or, you can stick with Six Sigma and settle for mediocrity.  As Deming was fond of saying, "It's not necessary to change.  Survival is not mandatory."

Copyright 2014 James F. Leonard.  All rights reserved.

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