Q&A with Russ Pirasteh

Russ Pirasteh is vice president, operations excellence for the Stephen Gould Corp. and a co-author of the book, Profitability with No Boundaries: Optimizing Lean, TOC, and Six Sigma. He will be giving his keynote presentation at the Engineering Lean and Six Sigma Conference 2011 at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14.

IIE: Why do you think lean & Six Sigma took off the way that they did? Are they being applied enough or too much? 
Pirasteh: I believe based on my past 25 years of hands-on experience, academic experience and research that they are wonderful approaches. They are excellent approaches to do certain things. But … just like the new hammer syndrome – when we find a new hammer we think everything is a nail and we’ve got to use it. I think we have been using these techniques on everything and expecting them to do certain things. And if they didn’t perform, we tried to shove it. Just like … a round hole and a square peg. Some organizations have implemented these very powerful methodologies, [but] they didn’t truly understand the intent of each one of these methodologies and understand that “If I apply lean, what type of things should I be seeing as its result?” Or “When do I apply Six Sigma and if I apply Six Sigma, what is it that I get from it?”

So a lot of organizations have tried to apply these things in the wrong applications and have not gotten results as good as they should have, and they have turned sour on these things. A lot of organizations have turned away from Six Sigma, they think that it is time-consuming, it is ineffective and all those things, [when] they really didn’t do their homework right. There is also another good methodology, TOC, which is theory of constraints. Each one of them brings a certain attribute, a certain strength to the game that if they are applied right, in the right elements in the right places, they bring tremendous results.

For example, using TOC only for bringing focus and … identifying what is the most needed point that you need to put your efforts on; what is the constraint; where is the weakest link in a process? And then when you identify the weakest link in a process, how do we make that weak link as strong as it can be? Obviously every weak link has quite a bit of non-value-added activity, a lot of waste. Lean is commissioned to reduce waste; the goal of lean is to reduce waste out of the process. OK, you apply lean techniques to take the waste out of that process. Now that you have taken the waste out of the process, what is it that you need to do over and over and over to get the consistency of the same result? We have to reduce variability in the process. To reduce the variability in the process, Six Sigma is the best tool. Then you apply Six Sigma; then you have a weak link that now is strengthened, has a minimum amount of waste, minimum amount of variability, and by this time perhaps we have pushed the constraints somewhere else on the chain of processes. And again this process needs to repeat itself over and over and over until we achieve total operations excellence.

That’s a good intro to your concept of iTLS®. Please explain it.
So the goal of iTLS® is to integrate these three approaches together – not by saying that one is stronger than the other one or one is inferior to the other one, but by recognizing that these are all very important things and in order for you to have them, you have to apply them in the right way and in the right place. Each one of these elements has a form and function and fit, and when they are used in the proper way, then they perform their best. So the goal of iTLS® was to identify – now that we have recognized that these three are so important, in what order, in what formula do I use them in order for me not to waste the entire resources in the organization? Because organizations have limited resources, they can’t spend all their time educating people on TOC, on lean, on Six Sigma. They would be drained. … I was able to identify the critical tools and techniques that are needed in the top 95 percent of activities that we go through, and identify a roadmap and a sequence of how would you use the tools and techniques, what inputs/outputs are required or basically what are the things that you need in order to get the maximum results out of the process. That was my contribution and I put that in tests, and the tests have shown that when organizations apply this approach, their productivity or their benefits gained from an … initiative increases by at least fourfold. And what is beautiful is that some organizations that have already started implementing this claim they’re now seeing 10 times more profitability or more benefits than when they used to do one of them only at a time.

So that’s primarily what your book is about?
That is correct. When you had an enlightened leadership, they didn’t exactly know how to enlighten the downstream. And a lot of times we had downstream, or we had the approaches from bottom-up. People on the floor knew what was going on; they were quite a bit familiar, but they needed to somehow convince their managers and leaders in order for them to understand what they need to implement proper CPI initiatives. I noticed that the dilemma was constantly going on in various organizations.

The book is in two sections. Section one is for leadership, which is a lot less technical and a lot more leadership oriented. It gives the leadership the perspective of how to approach and how to implement iTLS® in order to achieve the most out of their processes. And for the implementer, part two is a step-by-step how-to, which basically guides them through the entire process, the entire system, basically starting them from ground zero assuming they didn’t have any systems, balanced scorecard or anything like this. [It] guides them and walks them through how to develop that and how to implement the seven steps … basically optimizing the benefit of the … various branches of knowledge that [are] available at their fingertips. If they have been trained in TOC, if they have been trained in Six Sigma, they don’t have to relinquish any one of them. Not only that, they will strengthen their existing knowledge.

For more information about Pirasteh and the other conference keynote speakers, go to the Keynote Speakers page.

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