7 Trends

The Changing Landscape of Lean Six Sigma

February 05, 2014

Looking across our global customer base, here are 7 trends that we've witnessed in the way organizations are approaching process improvement.


Lean Six Sigma ceased being a mysterious practice several years ago. It's become even more accessible as a wider population of leaders has become familiar with the language, structure, and methods. In some respects, a robust process improvement or operational excellence program has become table stakes — the ante to get into the game. Increasingly, organizations hire people with direct experience running process improvement initiatives rather than retaining a consulting firm to launch a program, because the methods are more and more accessible.

Complexity of Tools

In the early days of Lean Six Sigma, training firms recognized that they could generate a lot more revenue by turning everyone into a statistician. Some Green Belt curricula included extensive coverage of Design of Experiments. Many belts were instructed to employ a formal test of statistical hypothesis rather than a control chart. There was (and is) a lot of overkill. In recent years, firms have recognized that they can accomplish a lot with the rigorous use of simpler tools. Accordingly, there's been a shift toward greater use of what would be characterized as Lean tools, with more focused use of advanced statistics only when needed.

Training Push Vs. Pull

We've always thought it to be somewhat inconsistent to teach Lean using a batch method. Increasingly, firms engaged in process improvement seem to agree. They typically have smaller training classes, sometimes classes of 1, and the people being trained are more geographically dispersed. Migrating to an on‐demand training model allows a re‐alignment with the project work so that people are "pulled" into training to support specific project work, rather than trained in big batches ahead of projects. This allows for a much tighter linkage between learning and doing, which results in much better retention, and better project results.

Global Requirements

We see our clients spreading the use of Lean Six Sigma (or process excellence by other names) to off‐shore operations. Demand for global support of process improvement initiatives is growing, including language localization demands. Software requirements have gotten more complex due to multiple languages, global platforms and operating systems — and process improvement is now a software‐driven activity.

Program Variation

There must be some law of process improvement, related to both mutation and entropy: as time passes, variation increases as folks experiment with different methods, approaches, and structures. There are more names and labels, but the use of DMAIC as a roadmap has had amazing staying power — probably because it makes sense and it just works.

Blended Learning

Blended learning has become the standard practice for training. The data are pretty compelling, as blended learning has been shown to be less expensive, more flexible, and more effective. There's not much else worth measuring. Blended models have evolved to depend more on immersive simulation‐based practice exercises, and include more structured and pro‐active coaching.

Valuation of Coaching

Early on, coaching was a hard sell because the cost of consultant‐delivered classroom training was so high. Coaching sort of felt like rework. Firms have come to understand the importance and value of timely and targeted coaching to get projects done. Almost every blended model of which we are aware makes use of structured coaching because it's effective.