As a process improvement expert on a weight loss mission, this consultant turned to what he knows best to solve the issue: Six Sigma and Agile.

Every Monday I get on the scale and there it is, staring me in the face: my weight. I am overweight.   

I’ve done the research. I know what causes me to be overweight. 

I know how much I should eat each day, and how much I actually do. I know how much I should exercise each day, and how much I actually do.  

If I know what it takes to lose weight, why have I not made any progress?  

As a process improvement expert, I turned to what I know best to solve my issue: I looked at my process and approach.  

A Six Sigma Approach to Losing Weight

For years, I’ve been trying to lose weight, focusing on the scale as my metric, while trying to improve the gaps – how much I eat and exercise.  

That’s the type of thinking a Six Sigma professional would apply to process improvement efforts. 

As an example, take the work I did for a few years as a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt at a major high-tech company, where we trained hundreds of folks to become Green Belts and Black Belts and set them off to run process improvement efforts across the company.  

Each person had a goal: To make things better for our customers. So they tackled end-to-end processes and singled out pain points. They used models to measure maturity, industry standards to evaluate the business, and much more to determine gaps in the processes. 

For the next step, they did what a typical Six Sigma professional would do: They analyzed the effort it would take to fix each gap against the improvement it would make. And they started working down the list, tackling the quickest improvements first. 

If I apply the same thinking to the issue with my weight, it’s no wonder I’m not seeing any progress.  

Just like some process improvement efforts, losing weight is hard to do! My gaps are just too big to tackle, and my metric is slowing down my progress.  

Six Sigma is not the right approach for weight loss. 

An Agile Approach to Losing Weight

So what’s the right approach? The focus must be on the long-term goal – living a healthy lifestyle. Not on the fastest improvement – dropping numbers on the scale. 

That kind of thinking lies at the heart of Agile methodology. 

Looking back at my business example, Six Sigma gets it wrong because it doesn’t have a leader at the helm of the end-to-end process. And, deciding what processes to improve should be a business decision because leaders may decide the super-hard-to-fix gap provides a very important business capability that’s more important in the long-term, so it should be fixed first.  

But, as is typically the case, it’s unlikely there is a single executive responsible for the entire process, meaning each step of the process may have a different business owner – and they likely don’t agree on what is important. 

In Agile, there’s a Product Owner or Squad Leader responsible for the end-to-end process. This person must work with all those executive stakeholders and bring clear, crisp stories to the squad to work on.  

All those big gaps get broken into initiatives, sub-initiative, epics, stories, and tasks. Each piece of work features a specific component that needs improvement. Everything is transparent and the team works toward a shared goal.  

With this style of planning, there isn’t an issue that’s too big to tackle upfront. In Lean Six Sigma, we dreamed of an approach like this. Agile for Business (as I like to call it) has this built into the foundation. 

During the last few years, I have been working as an Agile Coach or Scrum Master. And, I strongly believe that, if I could, I would go back in time and run every one of my process improvement projects using Agile. Every one! 

Agile to Improve My Process and Make Progress

Now that I know what my issue with losing weight is, and the approach I need to take to make progress, let’s look at how I can improve my own process using this knowledge. 

Rather than overanalyzing the gaps and getting stuck on the metrics, I’m going to start by rephrasing my issue from “Lose Weight” to “Live a Healthy Lifestyle.” That way I’m focused on the end goal, rather than one metric that’s so hard to improve.  

Here’s how I applied Agile to fix my process: 

  • Initiative: Live a more healthy lifestyle 
    • Sub-initiative 1: Develop healthy eating habits 
      • Epic 1: In 60 days, reduce the food gap by 10% 
        • Story 1: Document current intake 
        • Story 2: Meet with nutritionist to identify immediate adjustments 
        • Story 3: Reward yourself each week you stay on target. 
    • Sub-initiative 2: Develop a healthy lifestyle 
      • Epic 1: In 60 days, reduce the exercise gap by 10% 
        • Story 1: Document current activities  
        • Story 2: Identify immediate adjustments you can make 
        • Story 3: Reward yourself each week you stay on target 

Did you notice that I did not use the word weight even once in my plan? I address the components that make up the reason for the issue.