My birthday was a few days ago.  My ex-wife and good friend, Barbara, “surprised” me with a book (she always sends a book). Barbara is one of only a few people who know my interests well enough to select a book which will capture my attention. 

First Principles by Thomas E. Ricks is a story of the four American Founding Fathers who became presidents, the classical books from which they learned, how it affected their reasoning ability, the constraints on their thought process, and the language they used to communicate ideas.  The author also chose to delve into the meaning of specific words of the time and how the definitions have changed, virtue among them.   We have drifted from the First Principles of the Founders, possibly because we suffer from three fundamental and terrible mistakes they made, the worst being the contradiction of free men and men in bondage.  We have lost the precision of language of that period and before, all the way back to the Romans.  Words today fail to convey the proper historical meaning, which has affected who we are as a country and culture and how we work.

The founders of The New Science of Fixing Things are careful and precise about the language we use.  We study those who have gone before us.  We are really not particularly interested in your opinion about the laws of physics as applied to machine behavior.  You either get it, or you don’t.  A professional technical problem solver uses precise language, grounded and constrained by and in First Principles of science. Proper action result from precise communications, and proper constraints, tested and applied on hundreds of projects over the decades we have worked together.

As an effective problem solver, you understand Functional Decomposition in accordance with our Analytic Logic Map. You decompose machine behavior through a progressive search from effect-to-cause, gaining insight and understanding, which requires precision on multiple levels, essential for product performance, which is based on design function and how those functions relate to the flow of energy and power through those machines.  We take pride in being the best and most efficient and effective at solving tough product and process performance and reliability problems.  Our Strategy to solve tough problems, grounded and constrained in First Principles of How Stuff Really Works, is the best in the world.

I am almost reluctant to compare what we do to Six Sigma, but it is time. 

When a company’s (or country’s) founders have an idea and a Strategy, there must be a market or need.  After all, nothing happens until something is sold.  Once a market is defined, a Structure has to be built to produce and distribute whatever it is you plan to sell.  Strategy and Structure requires a sound integration of constraints; what the structure can and cannot do to meet strategic objectives.

Strategy and Structure must be in phase.  Structure has to be lean and flexible.  If Strategy and Structure are not in phase from the start, the Strategy is at risk.

Structure can be organizational Structure as well as capital Structure, each with their own phase relationship to Strategy.

A client made precision components in the aerospace industry. They had bought a machine that must have been 30 meters long, designed to put a casting in one end onto independent fixtures, perform several operations, then remove a finished part from the other end.  It was, they said, fully automated and labor free, other than loading and unloading.  In theory, an interesting idea…except for the capital cost of the machine.  In practice, it didn’t work.  Any fault stopped the line and took forever to fix.

The person who showed it to me summed it up nicely. “Small part, huge complicated Structure.” 

After the company admitted failure (not easy to do[1]) the huge complex machine was replaced with a series of small, single-function machines.  They were organized in a U-shape, manually loaded and automatically unloaded (called chaku-chaku by Lean Practitioners). One person loaded several machines in series, each one was then automatically unloaded; far simpler.  Nothing was wasted moving and locating multiple fixtures.  Parts were quickly and simply manually loaded and clamped.  Machines and tools were simple, and for the most part, off the shelf with no extra features.   Second time around, the Strategy and Structure were in phase.  It was so simple, and so effective, it became a Structural principle of the company.

General Electric might serve a heart-breaking example of a broken phase relationship of Strategy and Structure.  GE was a unarguably a magnificent company with a great history, making everything from nuclear power plants, medical equipment, gear boxes for ships, generators and appliances to light bulbs, trains, locomotives and jet engines.  No company could do more…until Jack Welch changed the Strategy to maximize the dividend and the stock price, he “neutron bombed”[2] the Structure, overlooked 100 years of successful Constraints, and bought companies where GE had no business. Mistakes were compounded by bad timing.

Fortunately, GE is recovering. GE may not regain its dominance, but new leadership has saved GE.  GE Power now creates one third of the world’s electricity, while being important innovators in renewables.  The aeronautics division makes some of the best engines in the world. I am grateful for the medical division, as the equipment they make helped save my life more than once.

The role Six Sigma played in the near destruction of GE can be debated, but the engagement of Mikel Harry surely greased the skids.  Harry left Motorola to found the Six Sigma Academy, had a few clients then struck gold when hired by GE.

One could argue that GE did not just have a broken phase relationship with Strategy and Structure; Six Sigma at GE became the Strategy! Welch could not have understood Six Sigma. If he did, he never would have let it become the Strategy. GE engineers knew what was happening but were afraid to say anything.  No quality system, sound or otherwise (not even ours) is a substitute for a sound Strategy where leadership keeps the Structure in phase.

Every Strategy will, at some point, break phase relationship with Structure. How, and how fast the company reacts matters. 

Today, production must be lean. Suppliers must be flexible.  Design must be fast. What sells today, might draw no interest tomorrow. New products can be outdated before the first one is sold unless the company works fast and efficiently.  There is one electronics company we worked for who plans on 50% of what they make to be out of date in two years.

Six Sigma, even when not the Strategy, as in GE’s case, has, in many cases, became a Structure independent of Strategy.  Practitioners talk about certification belts and a series of seminars, where the highest certification level allows teaching. The number of people trained and belts earned was more important than fixing things. Inflated project values and savings are reported, with little or no effect on the income statement.

Application of favorite “Tools” dictate the approach to problem solving.  “Where is your fishbone diagram?” became the cry of those besotted by procedures, and not results.  Consultants were hired because, well, all the other guys were doing it. Many companies hired consultants and gave them free reign, and they took advantage, perpetuating their own existence, teaching, certifying and handing out certificates, and expanding their role whenever they saw a “leverageable” opportunity, while fixing little.

“We called TNSFT because this project is a hard one and we can’t figure it out with conventional methods.”  Our methods are conventional if you follow the science!

Practitioners argue online about whether to use PDCA, 8D, Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma.  They have lost the plot. Their structure is teetering, but they don’t fix it.  Instead, they expand the scope, many using the same tools in other areas of business such as procedures to figure out what to work on, expanding certification to managers, and to as many other areas as possible. They add tools, putting “another arrow in the quiver,” thinking more is better.

We are often asked if we can apply what we do to other, non-technical areas of a business.  The answer is an emphatic, “No!”  We are the best at what we do, will humbly remain that way.

The other guys moan the lack of management support, which is lacking for a good reason. The drumbeat of real change is just over the horizon.  The high cost of these huge programs has centered on training and cultural changes, not projects.  Companies send many employees off to expensive seminars, rather than on-site workshops where participants are assigned a project, the trainer sharp enough to teach what is needed just for that project, and coach the project through to completion.

Maybe those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.

The fact that Mikel Harry modeled Six Sigma on a flawed statistical assumption does not particularly bother me. Flawed as it is, it hardly matters, as it does not affect the choices practitioners make. Six Sigma practitioners have made contributions; significant contributions. However, the structure has evolved, grown and is standing in its own way.

More important, Probabilistic Decomposition of machine behavior is not necessary in the Functional Deterministic world.


When Structure becomes Strategy, when Structure becomes gospel, disciples follow a guru and creativity is lost.

The basis for improvement does need constraints. For product and process performance and reliability, they are best if based on how the physical world reveals its nature in four ways.  Thus, there are only four strategic tools:

Isolation, splitting a problem into input or function.

Dissection, seeking the structural differences in different performance.

Matryoshka, a system to decompose behavior based on natural families and simple but powerful graphical techniques, generally based on small multiples.

The Source-Load-Impedance Model is constrained by how energy and power flow through machines, in accordance with domain changes and the second law of thermo-dynamics.

These simple principles and a bit of practice on projects, as our clients have found, is all you need. 

If you want help on tough projects, give us a call, but only call if you are interested in fixing things fast, learning and having fun doing so.

John Allen

March 5, 2021

Naples, Florida

John.allen@tnsft.com

The New Science of Fixing Things is located in North America (+1 603 969 0563) and Europe (+44 797 072 0437) and available to help you solve your chronic quality, product and process performance and reliability problems.

Diagnosing Performance and Reliability written by David J. Hartshorne, The New Science of Fixing Things, is the most powerful description of effective problem solving ever written with an excellent section on Small Multiples and multi-vari with examples and graphics, available at www.tnsft-bookstore.com

[1]The Logic of Failure; Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations, Dorner

[2] Neutron Jack