Andy Cheshire tackles Brexit with a DMAIC approach

I feel incredibly guilty. I fear that the mess we are in on with Brexit is almost entirely my fault. If I’d called the new Prime Minister in June 2016 and offered her and a few of her ministerial colleagues a place on one of our Lean Six Sigma courses, I think we would almost certainly be in a situation where we would be moving towards a position of certainty, rather than the situation we have today. We would have delivered some interactive learning, followed by some targeted coaching throughout the process, with no interest in the underlying politics or outcome, rather focussing the team on the use of Lean Six Sigma (LSS) as a structured methodology for achieving a desired customer outcome.

The customers in this case were the British people, who essentially came up with a project title in June 2016, as they were asked to do. What the project team then would have done is to DEFINE the Voice of the Customer (let’s call it the Voice of the Country) through asking targeted What, Why, How, When, Which and Who questions, using in this case 650 highly trained surveyors (MPs) to get under the surface of the ‘will of the people’. These outcomes would then be categorised into ‘Must Haves’, ‘More is Better’ and ‘Delighters’ using a neat model called #Kano analysis. All of this could then have been confirmed in parliament using perhaps indicative votes, after which the project team would have written a snappy one page Project Charter to define what Brexit means – perhaps with an ironic and catchy title of ‘Brexit means Brexit’. The project sponsor (parliament) would have signed this off with an early meaningful vote so that the project team knew what their clearly defined target was.

Moving into the MEASURE phase, what LSS teams often struggle with is quality of data, but the government definitely has a wealth of socio-economic data at its fingertips. We would ensure, however, that the project team had a clear data collection plan before they go out collecting too much data, with a focus on the Critical to Customer outcomes defined in the first stage. The data would have been categorised and follow a logical path so we could see the information required to make meaningful analysis.

The ANALYSIS phase would have taken all of this data and looked at what the critical factors would be to ensure that the desired outcome was achieved – essential prior to any negotiation, and good to separate the wheat out from the chaff. It is human nature to jump to conclusions before doing a full analysis but LSS stops us from doing this. A strong and stable approach needs to be taken here to stand firm to reach conclusions first.

Once Define, Measure and Analyse are complete, the project team is ready to move to IMPROVE – so the team at this stage would have triggered Article 50 and the very next day started the iterative process, with other key stakeholders (the EU), of generating potential solutions and testing those solutions, all the time referring back to the Analysis stage to ensure that the key desired outcomes were being influenced. The Improve phase also allows modelling of outcomes to take place, using controlled experiments to understand ‘what if’ scenarios. The end of the Improve Phase would be a clear improvement plan, owned by the project team and signed off by the sponsor (parliament, remember) – very do-able within a two year timescale, when you’ve done your work on the earlier phases well. As a facilitator, I would have guided the team to construct a plan (‘Withdrawal Agreement’) significantly shorter than 599 pages, as stakeholders need to be able to understand it easily to approve it.

And so to some future gazing – the CONTROL phase – looking at what we need to do to practically make our desired solution work, with clear responsibilities of who will audit and monitor what – the Control Plan (‘Trade agreement’). Writing a control plan is very much easier if you have defined the improvements you need to make, so although there is an enormous amount of detail in any trade agreement, once you have defined the structure and format, the detail is for well qualified team members to populate and for the sponsors to finally hand over as a ‘Business as Usual’ activity.

You will see from the process outlined above, you cannot presuppose an outcome, you have to work through the stages, but the beauty is that the outcome you construct should be optimal and at least satisfy, and hopefully delight the customer (the British public), make the sponsor look good (parliament) while causing less overall stress for the project team (Theresa et al). So I’m sorry I didn’t make that call, PM, but let me know if I can help in any way now….