Principles of war and Lean Six Sigma – Overview

This is the first of a series of posts that were originally published in 2019 to highlight the connection between the 12 principles of war and our process improvement efforts. It is a good review for some and a new perspective for others. Hope you enjoy.
Throughout history some of the finest examples of leadership have been demonstrated by military commanders who achieved victory often at great odds. Time and again their success rested on following/not violating certain principles. They are known as the “Principles of War”.
Quick background: The principles of war go back thousands of years to Sun Tzu (500 BC China) and his book “The art of war”. Many additions and revisions have occurred over the centuries including a book published in 1812 by a Prussian general named Carl von Clausewitz – which is the basis of the principles we know today. Clausewitz originally identified 10 principles; later revisions have brought the number to 12 principles of war.
  1. Objective
  2. Offensive
  3. Mass
  4. Maneuver
  5. Intelligence
  6. Concerted action
  7. Unity of command
  8. Simplicity
  9. Security
  10. Economy
  11. Surprise
  12. Exploitation
You may be asking: how do principles used by military commanders apply to improving work processes? Great question!
As Lean Six Sigma professionals we have one overriding directive: identify and eliminate waste. In other words, we are on a search and destroy mission. Our enemy is a saboteur named TIM WOODS (8 wastes of Lean) who is trying to interfere with your ability to conduct normal operations…aka do our work in a timely manner to satisfy our customers.
If we are to identify and eliminate TIM WOODS, we can regard our efforts much like a military campaign, which implies to be successful we must abide by the principles of war. Make no mistake, TIM WOODS is a formidable adversary, he may have crept into every part of organization, imbedded himself into work processes, and may have even infected the minds of managers. He is the Joker to our Batman and behaves like a cancer that weakens operational processes. He must go!
Each of the following 13 newsletters will analyze one of the Principles of War and how it relates to Lean Six Sigma tools and methods. The 13th and final newsletter will discuss “force multipliers” which can dramatically improve your odds of success. They include things like optimism, communications, creativity, confidence, and strategic alliances.
Hope you enjoy the essays and see you in the Gemba.
Respectfully, Erik
“Apply yourself. Get all the education you can, but then, by God, do something. Don’t just stand there, make it happen.”
Lee Iacocca
(American automobile executive best known for the development of the Ford Mustang)