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The Era of Local Networks

Lean Six Sigma Professionals Seeking Same for Community of Practice

April 17, 2013 - We humans – for the most part – are hardwired to form social and affinity groups. I witnessed such a grouping last week at the Center for Operational Excellence (COE) 2013 Summit at the Ohio State Fisher College of Business. Almost effortlessly, strangers and peers networked, bonded and immersed themselves in the terminology and practice of process improvement.

It’s a pleasure to watch a successful conference unfold. As I listened to the keynotes and breakouts, I couldn’t help but think about how important communities are to Lean Six Sigma and about just how much they’ve changed in the last decade.

The Gold Rush Days

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Lean Six Sigma industry was bustling with large corporate deployments, substantial budgets, and well branded consultancies. Each organization was its own isolated community (“We do Lean Six Sigma the XXX Way” – substitute a company name for XXX). This was a “push” culture with massive top-down management directives and cultures that rarely met outside of their own silos.

This was a heady time indeed.

Money flowed. A cottage industry of journalists and event planners arose to produce newsletters, magazines and a calendar of conferences on every conceivable topic related to process improvement. Not to be outdone, non-profit and for-profit member organizations sprung up or adapted to capture the dollars and attention. This was a period of high energy but otherwise loosely connected networks.

The New Normal

Flash forward ten years, and our post-economic downturn offers a different reality. Some of the largest deployments have dissolved due to mismanagement or lack of leadership. The brightest consultancies have exploded like supernovae, remaining only as dim white dwarfs of their former selves. The magazines are gone, replaced by Web sites and blogs. Most of the remaining large international conferences are lackluster, expensive and sparsely attended (AME and ASQ events are notable exceptions).

Not so heady days.

The existing communities are now virtual forums or LinkedIn groups. Networks have frayed, and few have the budget or permission to travel. Discretionary funds have gone the way of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker: questionably alive, probably extinct.

The Solution: Go Local

But the practitioners are still out there, fighting the good fight, improving their organizations, and looking for ways to connect with like-minded individuals. I recognized this at the COE Summit - the first such large gathering for the Columbus community - in the comments of the attendees. Lean Six Sigma is thriving in many places, and the need for community is still very much in demand.

That’s why, over the past few years, MoreSteam has taken the importance of community to heart and decided to do something about it. We've worked with our consulting and academic partners to offer educational events that support and build local communities. We have three one-day conferences planned for this spring and summer: Boston (May), Washington, DC (June), and Chicago (July).

Unlike with quality sections (think ASQ, IIE, etc…), we have dedicated these events to Lean Six Sigma. The meetings require little travel and no cost and are centered on the notion that you want to connect with your peers in continuous improvement.

Much like the “locavore movement” that favors locally produced and sustainable produce, we feel that bringing together local communities is the best way to create strong, enduring relationships among practitioners.

We encourage you to learn more about our local events and attend one if it’s close to where you live and work. If you have a Lean Six Sigma club or online group that would like to run a local event, contact us to see how we can help support your efforts (we have sponsored past events in Houston, Nashville, Tulsa and Columbus). And if you agree or differ with this post, let us know by adding your comments and observations below.

- Larry Goldman

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