Twitter and Muda

At the turn of the century (this past one, not the one in 1900), I had the opportunity to undergo Baldrige Examiner training and participate for two years on the Georgia Board of Examiners for the state quality award, the Oglethorpe. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is the highest honor in this nation in the area of corporate, health, or educational quality. The Baldrige Criteria lay out a framework for assessing the quality of an organization. While at the University of Nebraska, I successfully used these criteria for our departmental reaccreditation rather than the existing university guidelines. Last night, I was invited to give a presentation on the Baldrige Criteria and on Lean Six Sigma to a group of bioengineering graduate students. It was a lot of fun, but it also brought to the forefront of my focus some quality principles that I have been ignoring lately as I immersed myself into the Twitterverse.

I was trying to describe to these students the differences between using Six Sigma for quality and using Lean processes for quality. In a nutshell, Six Sigma focuses on effectiveness and reducing defects while Lean looks at efficiency and reducing waste.

Most American corporations operate at around Four Sigma, which means they will have around 6,000 defects per million (or about the quality of the old Ivory Snow commercials at 99 and 44-one-hundred’s pure). A Six Sigma company reduces that defect rate to an almost impossible 3.4 defect per million. To a degree, it is somewhat funny (in a non-funny way) to think about the Sigma number associated with K-12 systems that have drop-out rates at 50% or university systems that have graduates after 5 years of only 60%, but it would be between one and two Sigma.

But I am not going to go there…my thoughts revolved around my recent introduction to Twitter and what I know about Lean processes. Toyota first pushed the Lean Manufacturing method and moved to number two in the USA car market. A Lean company understands that waste, or “muda” in Japanese, comes in many forms. There is the waste of overproduction, excess inventory, non-value-added processing, product defects during manufacturing and the associated rework to correct defects, dead time, underutilized employees, and wasted motion.

For the last few weeks, I have immersed myself in Twitter…and in so doing, have made some wonderful connections. I was already reading blogs of some now in my network, but I feel that I have gotten to know them even better. I see real interconnections between Twitter, blogs, and social bookmarking (whether delicious or diigo). In other words, I think that my effectiveness as a faculty developer has increased through my ability to tap into the voice of the crowd.

At the same time, there is NO…let me repeat…NO doubt that Twitter is the time-sucker from hell. Or at least, it is when you first start. It is seductive for the very reasons it is valuable. It is just so darn interesting to see what your colleagues are doing, what they are reading, and what they are thinking. I actually have a laptop next to my desktop with Twhirl running so that I can see the tweets as they arrive and if so moved, immediately respond. As Joe Kissel noted, this is a constant interruption to my train of thought and my work process. I am not sure how many forms of muda are encompassed by Twitter, but I do know that my efficiency has dropped.


As with all things, change requires an adjustment and realigning of priorities and routines. I definitely see value in Twitter, and that value feeds into my blogging, my work with faculty, and my own personal growth. My goal is to integrate it into my processes in such a way that my overall quality rises and both my efficiency and effectiveness increase.

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