Is Lean Six Sigma a Fad?

Have you lived through endless new corporate initiatives? I have, and it can be tiresome. As an advocate of the improvement methodology known as Lean Six Sigma, I sometimes get asked, “is this just another fad”? Call me biased, but I hardly think so.

For more than two decades I have dedicated myself to the challenge, of bringing Lean Six Sigma to others in a consolidated fashion, to make it understandable, accessible and above all, practical to apply.

Those who have applied it wisely have experienced outstanding improvements in the performance of their business processes and have been able to eradicate some seemingly intractable problems.

Having watched other programmes come and go throughout my career I can assure you, Lean Six Sigma is not a fad. Here are 8 reasons why it is here to stay:

1. Timeless Principles

Much of Lean is based on some timeless principles with respect for people as a foundation. Examples of these principles are:

    • Maintain or increase value from the customer’s perspective
    • Eliminate waste from the value stream
    • Create flow within all processes
    • Establish pull systems to optimise work-in-progress
    • Pursue perfection

None of this thinking is going away anytime soon as it is based on a common sense approach to achieving high quality processes.

2. Fewer Errors

While it’s easy to delve into much detail, in essence, Six Sigma is about “getting the right result more often”. That means fewer errors and defects and customer complaints. Does that sound faddish to you? It doesn’t to me.

3. Encompasses existing knowledge

Lean Six Sigma integrates many years of proven process improvement methods. Since Scottish economist, Adam Smith, published his book The Wealth of Nations, which focussed on efficiencies in the workplace, there have been significant contributions on how to achieve better process results. Frederick Taylor, Henry Ford, Edwards Deming, Shigeo Shingo, and Richard Schonberger, to name but a few, have shown us the way. For me, Lean Six Sigma is the integration of all that learning and creates a cohesive and superior approach.

4. Provides a framework

Have you experienced ad hoc approaches to improvement activity? Painful isn’t it? It’s painful for the project sponsor, the project lead and the team members, never mind the stakeholders who are expecting results. There are so many reasons why such an approach is problematic. It’s highly inefficient, risky and is inappropriate for a modern business environment. The Lean Six Sigma structured approach leads you through a series of logical steps ensuring you remain in control throughout.

5. Creativity and innovation

I come from the school of thought where engaging people in creative and innovative thinking will lead to the best solutions in process improvement. Within the structured approach of Lean Six Sigma there is plenty of encouragement and space for creative input. Surely the best way to gain sustainable benefit is to address improvement opportunities using an established and proven model which combines both structure and creativity.

5. Data based decision making

Whilst we all have opinions, it’s hard to argue with good data. Lean Six Sigma promotes the use of gathering, analysing and interpreting data and encourages the visual display of information at key points in the process in ways that inform better decision making within the organisation.

6. Science as well as common sense

Adding a bit of science to a lot of common sense has helped Lean Six Sigma stand the test of time. However, the approach does not need to be complicated and it’s a myth that improvement leaders need to learn rocket science or become geeks at statistics.  The methodology is completely accessible to people of all backgrounds.

7. It works!

Globally, Lean Six Sigma has a great track record and has been used to generate increased value and reduced costs for countless organisations. After embracing such a programme, I’ve witnessed my clients achieve many impressive results. Recent examples:

    • From 4% loss one year, to 4% profit the next
    • 5x increase in the speed of a core admin process
    • Elimination (total) of a top customer complaint

In conclusion

Lean Six Sigma isn’t a silver bullet for every challenge an organisation may face, but where applied appropriately and implemented correctly, business will definitely feel the results.

I truly believe that if one day, the name or the packaging of this methodology gets superseded, the underlying principles, thinking, approach, and techniques will remain. It is inconceivable to me that even after implementing new technological innovations, we would stop looking for and eliminating wasteful and unnecessary effort. I cannot accept that finding and eliminating errors, mistakes, defects and customer complaints will become “old hat”.

Neither can I accept that the clever use of data to make good business decisions will become a thing of the past or that we will regress to a random problem solving approach such as trial and error.

Continuous Improvement is here to stay, and in its current form, Lean Six Sigma continues to be one of the best ways to deliver it.

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About Colin Barr

With many years of practical experience, Colin supports private and public organisations in their quest for operational excellence through continuous improvement.

He trains and coaches teams and individuals and builds their capabilities to deliver measurable improvements in process performance.