What About Six Sigma?

Do you wonder why I focus on Lean and not Lean Six Sigma in teaching? Let me explain the reason for this first from a management perspective and then from a teaching perspective. I do not join Lean with six sigma as a management concept or practice for the following reasons:

  • Lean is a management system, while six sigma is a set of project-focused tools for process improvement. The two are not equivalent, as the phrase “Lean six sigma” implies.
  • Adding six sigma to Lean indicates a convention mindset of “more is better,” versus the Lean mindset of less is more.
  • Six sigma requires specialists (particularly when complicated statistical methods are required to analyze data), and so continuous improvement activities in organizations will therefore be paced by the capacity of the specialists. Undesirable bottlenecks can be created, resulting batching of information vs. flow.
  • With Lean, you want everyone in the organization to be able to identify a problem, determine its root causes, and identify and implement practical countermeasures – not just specialists. You want everyone doing this all the time (flow).
  • It is enough of a challenge to understand and practice Lean management. Why make it more confusing or complicated by adding six sigma?

When it comes to Lean teaching, my focus is the application of Lean principles and practices because it can be applied to teaching its entirety: the principles, tools, and methods. I have found some quality management tools, common to both Lean and six sigma, to be very helpful in Lean teaching such as: check sheets, control charts, histograms, Pareto analysis, root cause analysis.

Lean Six Sigma Shark
Photo by Brian Snelson, https://www.flickr.com/photos/exfordy/

Six sigma has always been a free rider on Lean, with Lean Six Sigma never being more than 5% Lean. Their combination is obviously absurd, but it nevertheless successfully extended the life and relevancy of six sigma and became a wildly successful business for awarding certificates and belts.

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