Making The Case for Lean Six Sigma

What's the Alternative?

February 08, 2013

A prospective client recently asked for help in making the logical case for Lean Six Sigma. Here are the major points to be made, in my opinion:

  • In a very competitive environment, operational excellence is not optional, it is required. There is no extra margin in your business to underwrite waste.
  • Process excellence means closing the performance gap between customer requirements/expectations and the actual output of the organization's core processes. Oh, and you can think of regulatory requirements as a customer.
  • Sustained operational excellence cannot be achieved through band‐aide fixes, but rather resolution of the root cause(s) of process problems.
  • Finding and fixing the root cause of process problems in a cross‐functional value stream (or any value stream for that matter) is not child's play — it requires a method. It's also not a part time job.
  • It requires capable people using sound data‐driven methods, leadership support, and dedicated and sustained effort.
  • Every operationally world‐class organization has a rigorous approach to problem solving and process improvement. Ad hoc methods just don't work. If they did, you wouldn't have any glaring problems to fix (I assume you have a few, like everybody).

So...if ad hoc methods don't work, what's the alternative?

How about: organized improvement efforts that are customer‐focused, methodical, informed by data, and supported by capable (trained) people and engaged leadership?

That's what Lean Six Sigma is.

The name is not important — call it whatever you want: Operational Excellence, Continuous Improvement, Process Excellence, etc. What's important is the combination of: organizational structure, project identification, an architecture of project management that drives critical thinking (DMAIC), the right analytical tools, sound methods, the right people, and leadership support.

Lean Six Sigma has been proven to work for decades.

There is no instant pudding, and LSS needs to be properly executed. Those that have not executed properly have failed with LSS, so it's not automatic. You can think of accounting methods in the same vein: when properly applied, they work, but they can be improperly applied. The failure of Enron is not an indictment of accounting, only a failure of leadership.

Feel the same way? Think differently? I invite you to join the conversation by logging in and leaving your comments below.

Bill Hathaway

P.S. — Here's a related blog post on what NOT to do when implementing a Lean Six Sigma program: Top Ten Lean Six Sigma Deployment Errors