The DMAIC is strong with this one.

No? Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it? Well, maybe not.

But as the new “Star Wars” film rolls into theaters, it seems clear to anyone with both an interest in the epic space opera and Six Sigma that characters in the former could really use the latter.

That’s especially true if you take a close look at the appalling need for process improvement in both the Galactic Empire and the First Order.

If someone had guided Darth Sidious to a Six Sigma website such as this one, he could have ruled the galaxy as Emperor and avoided an unpleasant encounter with a Death Star reactor.

The Empire could long ago have crushed the Rebellion and ruled the galaxy. A little PDCA here and some Five Whys there, and that’s all, folks, for Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance.

It’s not like we are rooting for the bad guys. Still, one can’t help but see where the Empire could use a little Lean. Or Six Sigma. Or Lean Six Sigma. You get the picture.

What is Six Sigma and Lean?

Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology. Sounds boring, but it’s not. When the various data-driven tools and techniques of Six Sigma are used properly, large operations (such as a Galactic Empire) can eliminate defects from a process and create better products. The idea is to have just 3.4 errors per one million actions. Yes, it’s ambitious.

Motorola first used it in manufacturing. Then, it moved into other industries. Those who use it – from software engineering firms to healthcare companies and beyond – often report reduced costs and record profits.

Lean is a complementary methodology. It focuses on cutting wasted steps in a process, with the focus always on adding value to a customer. If a step doesn’t add value, it’s eliminated. Lean is designed to allow companies to quickly address issues.

Sometimes organizations use methods from both. Hence, Lean Six Sigma.

Defects in Stormtrooper Shooting

In Six Sigma, the first step to eliminating a defect is to define the issue. Bad stormtrooper shooting is defined in every single “Star Wars” movie in which they appear. If you played a drinking game where you took a shot every time a stormtrooper missed, you’d pass out halfway through the movie (don’t do this).

Using data collected by looking at the films, it’s easy to see that even a 50% improvement in shooting from stormtroopers would have resulted in the Millennium Falcon never leaving Mos Eisley spaceport and Han Solo never making it out of the Death Star hallway in the original “Star Wars.”

That’s just two of many examples. One fan even did the research and math, calculating that stormtroopers have only 9.5% accuracy. You could produce those results randomly waving your blaster around while spinning in a circle.

How can you build a Death Star but not apply process improvement to how poorly your troops shoot? A simple application of measurement and analysis could identify the issues. Some guesses:

  • Hard to see out of those weird helmets
  • The guns look cool but aren’t accurate
  • Everyone is so afraid Darth Vader will choke them if they fail that they end up so nervous that they fail, anyway
  • Poor training, just expected to get the job done because they look intimidating

Speaking of “Force-choking” employees…

Team Environment

Lean creates an environment that encourages people to work as a team on continuous process improvement, achieving goals together.

Darth Vader creates an environment where people do what he wants or he kills them. “You have failed me for the last time,” indeed.

Choking employees is hardly a good basis for creating an efficient operation. Not to mention getting employee input or buy-in. Perhaps Lord Vader and that unfortunate admiral should have brainstormed using a cause and effect fishbone diagram and found a better way to catch the Rebels.


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Lack of Flexibility

The Toyota Production System, which uses aspects of Lean, became famous partly because it dealt with variables in manufacturing caused by shifting consumer demands. The Empire is more like Henry Ford: Excellent at sticking to one thing (in Ford’s case, Model Ts).

Once the Empire sets a goal, there’s no application of continuous data-driven analysis to check on outcomes and see if further changes need to be made. No cycling back through PDCA (plan, do, check, act).

For example, they decided to build a Death Star to instill fear throughout the galaxy and destroy the Rebels and their base. Yet, there was no consideration of alternate ways to bring down the Rebels. And then, after one failure, they pursue the same goal again in “Return of the Jedi,” only to fail again!

And the new generation hasn’t learned any better. The First Order, the antagonists of “The Force Awakens” builds yet another version of the Death Star. And then they wonder why it didn’t end well.

Emotions Rather Than Set Standards

Rather than developing standardized processes and then getting buy-in from everyone to adhere to them, the Empire (and the First Order) are governed at the whim of a few people.

A perfect example of this is when Kylo Ren abandons a search for the android carrying a map the First Order needs once he captures Rey. Never mind the fact that the android is right there. A simple sweep of the forest would have found him. Instead he went with a “feeling” that ended in failure and epic frustration.

If Toyota was running the First Order, that kind of mistake would never have happened.

Deplorable Security and Communication Policies

Once you’ve lost a Death Star and let the Rebels get away, one would think the Empire would evaluate security and communication protocols. Perhaps they should have applied root cause analysis to determine the root causes that led to a total security meltdown.

It didn’t happen though, if events of the subsequent three films are considered. Ponder this:

  • How in the world did a whole fleet of Empire ships allow all the Rebels to fly away and escape the ice planet Hoth using a couple of cannons on the surface?
  • Why was there no contingency plan for dealing with the Ewoks on the forest moon of Endor? Every detail matters, as Six Sigma shows. The Ewoks showed the Empire, too, helping pave the way for exploded Death Star No. 2.
  • The Emperor has an elite band of Royal Guards. And yet when he brings his most dangerous opponent before him in “Return of the Jedi,” his first move is to dismiss them. Those guards plus Darth Vader easily could have handled Skywalker. That’s what you call “non-utilized talent” in Lean.
  • In “Rogue One,” why does the Empire have all the plans for the Death Star in one location? Why not simply keep a backup and delete those plans when the Rebel agents got too close?

The examples could go on and on. The truth is, the Empire should have focused more on correcting process improvement errors and less time building Death Stars. Likewise, the First Order doesn’t need a map to Luke Skywalker to take over the galaxy.

What they could use is a Black Belt in Six Sigma, cool black helmet optional.

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