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Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

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Monday
Jul022007

Six Sigma Solutions don’t work unless you have six sigma problems

Sometimes I wonder if the problem I have talking to the members of the building controls industry is that they have been badly managed for two long. You can tell someone who has been bludgeoned into using one tool for everything, because they want to use that tool for everything. They can lose their judgment and like a two year old with a hammer, decide everything is a nail.

Quality management is a wonderful discipline. It has improved every aspect of our lives while driving down costs. We daily expect quality that was unimaginable just a few years ago. Still, there is a darker side to these movements.

Much has been written of how 3M destroyed its culture of creativity and invention by inappropriate application of Six Sigma methodologies. Manufacturing quality improved. Shipping reliability improved. Yet no one was able to invent in accord with the process management methodology. “Last year we had 2 inventions per month; through careful management we to have expect 2.7 per lab throughout this quarter.” It sounds silly if you say it out loud. And yet, it nearly killed 3M.

All these quality methodologies have a common focus on process. All processes must be defined, and documented, and repeatable. This is great when the controls companies are making the sensors and the controllers that go above my ceiling. It is great when they are shipping them on time. It has nothing to do with how they are installed, or designed, or run in today's market.

As the director of Building Services at UNC said to me last month “You know who designed the control systems – it’s some guy who works for the low bidder standing on a bucket”. And he’s right. This area could use some process and repeatability. It could use design improvements. It would be nice if it was designed at all. If you want to use process optimization, work on that.

But don’t try to make the building owner or tenant focus on your process.

This focus on process lets the self-absorbed product engineer in the large building systems company tell himself that the lousy controls protocols we have today are any good. All of them, and I include oBIX, raise focus on the process, make understanding the process critical to interacting with the system, and thereby reduce the value of their systems.

When I interact with a Six Sigma warehouse, I know the goods will be shipped on time. If my clerk is on a first name basis with each person on the loading dock, I know that there are regular problems. When I interact with a six sigma manufacturer, I do it in part so that I do not need to know the details of their returns policy.

Stop making me know what is going on in your control systems. That is not an enterprise interface. And the sale cycles and upgrade rates of the building systems industry will stay awful until the industry recognizes this.

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