Six Sigma in History: Sun Tzu, The Art of War and Six Sigma

Six Sigma in History: Sun Tzu, The Art of War and Six Sigma

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Six Sigma in History: Sun Tzu, The Art of War and Six Sigma

For those who want to become successful in business and life – or for those who are simply history buffs – Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” has long been required reading.

Written in 5th century BC by the famed Chinese military strategist, “The Art of War” offers a compact, to-the-point guide for winning military battles. Many consider it the definitive manual on war strategy and tactics.

Thousands of years after its creation, “The Art of War” continues to maintain a position of importance among not only military strategists, but those in business as well.

Sun Tzu also seemed to have a handle on Six Sigma methodology long before its official invention. For example, consider this quote from “The Art of War”:

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

About Sun Tzu

Most historians believe Sun Tzu – which means “Master Sun” – lived somewhere around 544 BC and 496 BC in China, where he served as a general, military strategist and also a philosopher. He is revered to this day for his deep insights into handling the complexity and pressure of military operations.

Much of it, as with Six Sigma, revolved around detailed planning and eliminating mistakes.

As with many historical figures from the distant past, there are contradictory historical records about Sun Tzu’s life. Some place him as the orchestrator of great battle plans, others do not mention him at all in connection with the same battles.

What’s clear though is that he earned a reputation, likely through experience, as a great thinker and strategist. “The Art of War” was read and followed by people even at the time of its publication. By the 20th century, it became adopted by leaders in Western cultures, influencing politicians, business leaders, sports coaches and, of course, military strategists.

His approach to managing and winning conflicts mirrors much of the detailed examination, planning, execution, results measuring and mistake-eliminating ideas that permeate Six Sigma.

Evaluation and Planning

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

A first step in Six Sigma is to evaluate a process that you want improved. That means looking at every detail of an operation, every move made to create a product or service, and then finding the areas of weakness.

Sun Tzu strongly advocated such planning before engaging in battle. Perhaps the most famous quote of all from “The Art of War” is this: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” In other words, prepare so well that an enemy will not engage you.

Such evaluation and planning is central to Six Sigma. Not taking this step seriously will make every subsequent step less valuable. As Sun Tzu wrote:

“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”

Eliminating Mistakes

‘Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

For Sun Tzu, success meant determining where you are and then finding the best path to where you want to be. Eliminating errors proves, in “The Art of War,” to be a great part of this.

The book focuses on attacking an enemy’s weaknesses, much as Six Sigma focuses on eliminating mistakes and weaknesses in a process. Lean Six Sigma, in particular, focuses on eliminating wasted motions, time and employee talents.

Other areas can include waste in the transportation chain, overproduction of goods or services and defects in products or services. Eliminating defects is the primary reason Six Sigma was created, starting in the manufacturing industry.

The idea of attacking weaknesses is as old (at least) as “The Art of War.”

Take Action, Move Swiftly

“Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.”

The language is dramatic in the above quote, but it still rings true. With Six Sigma and process improvement, the idea is to immediately make changes and measure results. While evaluation and planning are critical, it is of equal importance to actually take action.

When addressing the issues listed above, Six Sigma methodology calls for project teams to move, united and swiftly, into tackling problem areas and improving processes.

While it’s important enough for any business, it proves even more so in the increasingly competitive business environment nearly every industry operates in. But that also creates a wealth of new paths a business, and individual, can take.

As Sun Tzu noted, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”

Conflict Is Inevitable

Those are three areas where “The Art of War” mirrors the methodologies of Six Sigma and process improvement. The book remains a must-read for those who wish to thrive in a business environment, and also can bolster the beliefs behind the methodologies in Six Sigma.

It’s important to remember that the basic tenet of “The Art of War” is that conflict, no matter how much a person wishes to avoid it, is inevitable in life. The same can be said for business operations – no matter how well originally planned, conflicts and problems will arise as businesses evolve, creating the need for methodologies such as Six Sigma.

Given that, it’s also important to remember that Sun Tzu did not advocate conflict for conflict’s sake. Just the opposite – he noted that continuous warfare never is good for a country. But if you must face conflict, he advised, then it’s best to plan for victory.

That takes preparation, a thorough examination of all the details involved in the issue, and, when the time comes, swift action.

The post Six Sigma in History: Sun Tzu, The Art of War and Six Sigma appeared first on Six Sigma Daily.





Original: http://www.sixsigmadaily.com/sun-tzu-six-sigma/
By: James LoPresti
Posted: July 24, 2017, 5:03 pm

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