The 7 Habits Revisited – Part 1

Author: Russ Aikman

Posted: September 2017

It has been five years since the untimely passing of Stephen R. Covey (1932-2012). Author, teacher, and businessman, Covey is best known for his 1989 book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This extremely popular self-help book has sold more than 25 million copies, and it was the first audiobook to sell more than 1 million copies.

I was one of Covey’s early fans and recall reading the book many years ago. I remember being taken by his approach to identify the seven habits. He began by doing research on successful Americans in conjunction with the U. S. bicentennial. Covey reviewed hundreds of articles and books on the subject of success for the period from 1776 to 1976, looking for common themes and ideas.

What do Covey’s ideas have to do with Lean Six Sigma? Certainly all LSS practitioners are interested in accomplishing their goals. I feel strongly that adopting Covey’s Seven Habits will help anyone be more effective in applying Lean Six Sigma concepts, regardless of their role.

Here are the Seven Habits, as originally presented by Covey:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin With The End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen The Saw


He grouped Habits 1 to 3 as important to developing Independence or Personal Mastery. Habits 4 to 6 were associated with Interdependence or Working with Others. And Habit 7 was associated with Continuous Improvement.

In a future blog I will offer a connection between each habit and Lean Six Sigma ideas. In this blog I would like to explore the ideas he introduced with Habit 3: Put First Things First. It was in this chapter of the book that he explained the concept of the Urgency-Importance Matrix.  Also called the Eisenhower Matrix (after the 34th president, who made reference to these ideas in a speech in 1954), this matrix categorizes all work as either Important or Not Important and as Urgent or Not Urgent.



Covey stated that a major key to success were Quadrant 2 activities. This is the quadrant of planning, preparation, relationship building, thinking, learning, renewal, and reflection. Sometimes these activities can be tedious. But if you ignore them the chances for success on your Lean Six Sigma projects will fall dramatically.

So – my recommendation is to set aside time for Quadrant 2 Activities. What do those activities look like? See below for a table with examples of each quadrant as viewed through a Lean Six Sigma lens, and a recommended approach:



One final thought: A great tool to help ensure you perform Quadrant 2 Activities is Belt Standard Work. Prepare your own GB / BB / MBB Standard Work in which you establish a cadence for performing these activities.


Click here to read Part 2 of this blog.


Russ Aikman is a LSS Master Black Belt and the Lean Six Sigma Program Manager for TMAC. He has over 25 years of experience in continuous improvement. To learn more about Lean Six Sigma please contact Russ at tmacevents@uta.edu.

More about Russ Aikman:

Russ is the LSS Program Manager at TMAC, and started the program in 2003. He is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 30 years of experience working in a wide variety of industries, and with small firms up to Fortune 500 companies. He has taught dozens of LSS classes from Yellow Belt up to Master Black Belt. He has also coached hundreds of LSS practitioners on their projects and advised managers on their LSS program. Before joining TMAC he worked at George Group, the first firm to integrate Lean and Six Sigma.


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