You Can Call It Fred

by Edward F. Phillippi

My business partner and I were speakers at an ASQ Six Sigma conference when I ran into a colleague we had met the year before. She asked if I remembered our discussion from the previous year regarding the pushback many quality professionals get from just mentioning Six Sigma in an organization. I responded that, yes, that particular discussion is a favorite rant of mine. She then told me she had used a technique I suggested, and she made me laugh out loud.

She said, “I used Fred.”

Let me tell you about Fred.

About three years ago, my consulting firm was working a Six Sigma engagement for the world’s third largest cargo airline. I was facilitating a meeting with a group of senior operation directors on process map development. We had made some progress, but one particularly rigid wordsmith kept arguing over the accuracy of the terminology we were using and went into a verbal diatribe about the value of Six Sigma and what it means. As the meeting stalled and the momentum died, I swept aside any thoughts of good meeting facilitation and told the wordsmith: “We can call the process ‘Fred’ for all I care. Just get out of the weeds and let the group move on! The substance is in the process map, not the name.”

As you might expect, the person became quiet, and the meeting moved on. A few weeks later, I attended a companywide meeting of all employees. We all know this type of meeting—the CEO tells everyone what the company is doing, what new initiatives are starting and the status of current initiatives. One of the items discussed was a new flight operations IT system being implemented, and the CEO wanted employees to come up with a name for it, some kind of acronym. From the back of the crowded auditorium came a lone resonant voice: “You can call it Fred.”

Apparently I had made an impression.

This same airline provides a good example of terminology pushback. A senior executive had been brought in to deploy a corporatewide Six Sigma initiative. At the start, his conversations with other senior executives at the airline quickly revealed an almost universal dislike for the term Six Sigma and all associated terms, such as define, measure, analyze, improve, control (DMAIC) and the supply, input, process, output, customer (SIPOC) diagram. I have seen the same thing happen when total quality management (TQM) and management by objective (MBO) were in style. I see it now when balanced scorecards and 360 evaluations are mentioned.

So what does the enterprising executive do? Improvise and overcome! Instead of Six Sigma, it becomes “process excellence.” How will they approach projects? In the case of the airline, DMAIC became “preflight, takeoff, in-flight, landing and post-flight.” Black Belts were called aces. As for SIPOC, it became COPIS—SIPOC backwards. Actually, I came to like COPIS, and our firm uses the term as a point of customer focus.

So what is Fred? It is an umbrella term for any processes, methodologies and analytical techniques used to develop strategies, align processes with strategies and gather data to measure performance. Fred is not Six Sigma, lean, ISO 9000, MBO, TQM, a paradigm shift or outside the box. Fred has all the components of these concepts, just none of the names. So when you begin one of these initiatives, just tell everyone you are bringing Fred on board and leave it at that.

Fred is not an acronym; it comes from nothing. Fred is an all encompassing term for doing business better and using whatever tools and structures work best. If quantum mechanics works for your organization, it is part of Fred. From now on, companies will deploy Fred initiatives. Fred will be everywhere. Reorganizing or restructuring on the horizon? Nope, it’s just Fred.

Back to my colleague. She was deploying Six Sigma to improve a process at a hospital, and the project Champion clearly stated he thought Six Sigma was a bunch of—let’s say he thought it wasn’t useful. Fast on her feet, she looked at him and said, “It’s not really Six Sigma—it’s Fred. Would you be comfortable if we called the process a Fred initiative?”

Apparently, this soothed the savage beast, as the Champion seemed to think he had gotten his way. The project progressed successfully, and Fred is now part of the hospital’s Six Sigma program.

I have proffered the use of Fred to a few clients as an alternative to the usual terms, and while receiving a laugh and a nod of understanding, it has yet to be used as an official name for an organization’s improvement program. However, in one meeting with a CEO and his staff in which we were discussing the rollout of a lean Six Sigma initiative, the CEO chastised one reluctant subordinate with the comment: “Get over it John. Forget lean Six Sigma—we’ll call it Fred.”

Sounds as though it’s catching on.

EDWARD F. PHILLIPPI is the COO of the Myra Group, a consulting firm for manufacturing and aviation organizations. He has an MBA from Northwestern University, is a Senior Member of ASQ and is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt.

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