Don’t be afraid of Lean Six Sigma
You’re Already Doing It!
Lean (eliminate waste) and Six Sigma (reduce variation) translates to boosting efficiency, consistency, and standardization to drive value. Continuous improvement has created tremendous value and drives competitive advantage in many companies and industries, however there are many reasons people don’t like and understand these methodologies.
Common Misconceptions About Lean Six Sigma:
- I’ve never hear of Lean and Six Sigma. A valid reason. While growing in popularity, these methodologies may still not be a part of mainstream business lingo. Many companies have embraced these concepts and related tools, many others are extremely hesitant to consider what may be seen as an overly heavy approach.
- Lean Six Sigma is a fad! No, it’s not. The origins can be traced back to the turn of the nineteenth century with business and quality leaders like Henry Ford. Lean Six Sigma combines many useful tools together in one tool set, along with a systematic approach based on define, measure, analyze, improve, and control (DMAIC). A fad bursts onto the scene, gets credit for doing wonderful things, and then disappears before the supporting evidence is in and evaluated. But the evidence for the effectiveness of Lean Six Sigma is here, and it’s still very much around.
- We are too small. A full-time lean Six Sigma staff with a Master Black Belt, 10 Black Belts and many Green Belts would be absurd in an organization with only 20 employees. A small company with turnover in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year shouldn’t expect a lean Six Sigma project to yield millions of dollars in savings. However, this doesn’t mean that a small organization wouldn’t benefit from implementing lean Six Sigma projects. Ignoring inefficiencies and waste is leaving money sitting on the table. All organizations, regardless of size, should be pursuing continuous improvement, and lean Six Sigma offers a proven methodology for achieving that.
- We are not a manufacturer. Tell this to AT&T, The Coca-Cola Company, Bank of America, Starbucks, and Wal-Mart. While lean Six Sigma may have originated in manufacturing, the principles apply equally to transaction and service environments. In fact, the service industry has more waste than in manufacturing primarily because so much of the work and deliverables in service are invisible. When there is a repeatable process (for example order processing, delivery invoicing, or accounts payable), with volumes driving it, and collecting data about the process, these are the ingredients to power the principles of Lean Six Sigma.
- Lean Six Sigma involves a lot of statistics and advanced mathematics. Most organizations do not require statistics and advanced mathematics to enjoy the benefits. In fact, most of the principles and tools can be quickly and easily used by anyone. Some of the most powerful tools include being able to identify waste through a new set of eyes. Drawing a simple process map on a white board to identify gaps, redundancies or bottlenecks in a process. Or even asking “Why?” five times to get to the root cause. Challenge your team to step up to the plate. Take the time to explain to employees what the customer needs, they will bring great ideas on how to solve the problems.
- We tried other methods and they didn’t work. Obviously, you didn’t try the right ones! Or maybe didn’t have enough support?! This statement is difficult because there is so much unknown that lies behind it. What methods were tried? Was it a half-hearted attempt at quality improvement?
- We tried Lean Six Sigma and did not achieve good results. Ask yourself, “Why didn’t we achieve success?” Was it related to people, processes, or technology? How was “success” defined? There are many more questions to ask, but regardless of the reasons, you owe it to your customers, your employees, your business, and yourself to try again. Maybe take more time on the front end to clearly articulate the vision. Define the problems you are trying to solve with a program like Lean Six Sigma. Engage the front line and your customers to be part of the process. A methodology is only as good as the people and processes managing it.
- Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown or failure can be paralyzing. It prevents us from learning a new skill, taking on a leadership role, or implementing a program like Lean Six Sigma. Fear must be driven out of the organization to innovate and thrive.