Once you understand the principles of Six Sigma, it changes how you view the world.
Take movies and TV shows, for example.
Just about every movie or show ever made that has scenes set in an office offer examples of how a little dose of Lean could have made a difference. Those guys in the front office of the Oakland Athletics in “Moneyball” really could have used a White Belt course on data-driven decision making. It wouldn’t hurt to listen to this guy on “medieval thinking,” either.
But what about gangsters? Re-watch a few of the more famous gangster movies and it becomes clear they all could have used a little DMAIC, to say the least.
Just for fun, consider the following. Beware of some spoilers below.
Seen through the filter of Six Sigma and process improvement, one can see that “The Godfather” is actually about process improvement. Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) represents an outdated way of doing business. His son, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), represents a new approach. Unfortunately for him, Michael fails to define and analyze operational weaknesses until near the movie’s end.
He also experiences some buy-in issues of his own, as he’s reluctant to fully commit to the family business.
However, his eventual action shows how far one might have to go to make significant changes to an organization – metaphorically speaking, of course.
This might be the only place one will find a connection between the Chicago Cubs, Houston Astros and “The Godfather.” But it’s there. Those two teams, faced with antiquated approaches to building a team, tore the operation apart and completely rebuilt it. They now enjoy success with a data-driven, efficient approach.
Michael Corleone, near the end of this film, does the same for his business. Gangster style.
However, Michael fails in one of the basic steps of Six Sigma: defining the problem from the outset with thorough analysis. Sure, he understands Moe Greene in Las Vegas is an issue, along with other heads of gangster families. But had he thoroughly analyzed areas of weakness, he wouldn’t have faced what he did in the second movie.
“The Godfather, Part II”
Talk about a project team that could have used a process map. Those who do clearly define goals and stay on the same page as a group. In this movie, no one is on the same page. Not Michael, his brother or his partners in a new venture in Cuba. Even his attorney, the loyal Tom (Robert Duvall), is not quite sure what is happening. His wife, either, if you want to consider the personal side of things.
It’s impossible to say much more without giving away crucial plot points, but for Six Sigma fans this movie provides a clear case of what happens when executives make decisions in isolation. And note the difference with the other section of the film, in which a young Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) builds an empire through team work, cooperation and clear, shared goals.
Two words: scope creep. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) has a fairly straightforward operation for much of the film, but drifts into other product and service areas that complicate operational efficiencies and organizational structures. It all culminates in one of the great scenes in all of gangster movie history, as everything breaks down pretty much at once.
The scene is an ode to the pitfalls of “multi-tasking.” Hill combines cooking dinner, dealing with employee issues causes by poor planning, selling poorly made guns, delivering a product (drugs) and avoiding regulatory issues (i.e., the police). By simply focusing on the primary service he provided, Henry could have avoid most, if not all, of what eventually happens. That is, complete business failure. And, in his case, serious jail time.
“The Wire” is arguably the best television show ever made. In its five seasons, the show followed a large group of characters from every level of society in Baltimore, from the mayor to people living on the street. Two of those characters are Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell, gangsters running a large drug operation.
Two heads, as it turns out, are not better than one. Rather than defining problems and tackling them together, the two set different goals. Barksdale focuses on going to war to protect his turf. Bell is more interested in becoming completely legitimate. How it plays out is interesting, but one thing is clear: as the show clearly depicts, no organization can go in two different directions at once.
Poor Tony Soprano. Rather than seeing a therapist, he would have been better off in a Lean Six Sigma certification course. At least 75% of the time he is dealing with endemic inefficiencies, product quality issues and (most of all) operational process defects. Almost all of them are the result of poor project planning and inadequate management. He’s a chief executive essentially running from fire to fire, trying to put them out.
There’s still debate about that infamous final scene of the series, but it’s clear things don’t end well.
If nothing else, you now have a different way of viewing these famous gangster films and TV shows.