November 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. As I watch the PBS special on his historical speech I couldn’t help finding parallels to Lean Six Sigma principles and practices. Let me explain.
First, the notion of a “more perfect” union. Why more perfect? Why not, perfect? This concept of more perfect alludes to continuous improvement. This aligns with the 5th principle of Lean…perfection. The perfection principle is what puts the “continuous” in continuous process improvement. Perfection is not realistically attainable, rather it is best used as a yardstick by which we measure ourselves. Toyota executives have stated “we don’t compete with other car manufactures, we compete with perfection”…it is our north star. In working towards the perfect union each step we take makes it a little more perfect. We (as a nation) must continuously strive to make America better. Of course what constitutes improvement various based on your beliefs.
The other interesting fact about the Gettysburg address; it was only 272 words and took approximately 3 minutes to deliver. Lincoln focused on the core of the message and kept it concise. For the Lean Six Sigma professionals out there; can anyone say “A3”. An A3 is a formatting methodology we use that forces brevity by only allowing teams a single sheet of paper to capture the entire project or proposal (roughly 11×17). This size was originally adopted because it was the largest paper that could be faxed. Lincoln’s brevity allowed for his speech to be sent (in its entirety) via telegraph – it was instantly popular. We’ve all heard the saying “Less is more”, the Gettysburg address is proof of that.
It makes me very happy that the LSS principles that I teach and believe in so strongly have connections to arguably the most famous speech in history. I hope you take a few minutes to remember the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much so we can live in a more perfect America. Thanks for reading.