Two of the major advocates of Six Sigma, Dr. Mikel Harry and Richard Schroeder, define the term in this way: "… a business process that allows companies to drastically improve their bottom line by designing and monitoring everyday business activities in ways that minimize waste and resources while increasing customer satisfaction." Further amplification is provided in their book, Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations (Harry & Schroeder, 1999). Six Sigma is referenced as "… a disciplined method of using extremely rigorous data gathering and statistical analysis to pinpoint sources of errors and ways of eliminating them." As described in the book, a Six Sigma project will follow the principles of RDMAICSI: Recognize, Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control, Standardize, and Integrate. Similar approaches can be found in advanced product quality planning (APQP) introduced in the early 1990s by the Ford Motor Company. It is a very prescriptive approach that focuses on projects that add directly and obviously to a company’s bottom line.
Six Sigma is commonly used by many as a synonym for "improvement" or "variability reduction". Additionally, it is used to describe the measurement tracking system for determining six sigma, usually Defects per Million Opportunities (DPMO). Consultants and practitioners push major Six Sigma projects rather than integrate the improvement efforts into everyday work life.
There are many reasons not to consider Lean Six Sigma in your business. Some are valid. Many are misconceptions. Still others are pure fiction. Here are ten commonly cited reasons I have heard over the years:
1. I've never heard of Lean Six Sigma.
2. Lean Six Sigma is a fad, just like Total Quality Management, the Juran Quality Trilogy, Theory of Constraints, and Business Process Re-Engineering.
3. We don't have time for a Lean Six Sigma program.
4. Our company can't afford the costs of implementing a Lean Six Sigma program.
5. We're too small. LSS is for large companies.
6. We're not a manufacturer.
7. Lean Six Sigma involves a lot of statistics and advanced mathematics. Most of our employees are front-line operators -- not engineers.
8. Lean is a better fit for our business. Six Sigma is too advanced.
9. We've tried Lean Six Sigma years ago and did not achieve good results.
10. Fear of the unknown or failure.
1. I've never heard of Lean Six Sigma. Definitely a valid reason. While growing in popularity, Lean Six Sigma is still not part of mainstream business vernacular. Your best bet is to Google "Lean Six Sigma" and start finding out more about. There are some excellent primers including What is Six Sigma? by Pete Pande or What is Lean Six Sigma? by Mike George. The American Society for Quality () and The Lean Enterprise Institute () are great non-profit professional associations. Or attend a free webinar on "Demystifying Lean Six Sigma" at my company by visiting .
Launched in 2010, International Journal of Lean Six Sigma publishes original, empirical and review papers, case studies and theoretical frameworks or models related to Lean and Six Sigma methodologies. High quality submissions are sought from academics, researchers, practitioners and leading management consultants from around the world. Research, case studies and examples can be cited from manufacturing, service and public sectors. This includes manufacturing, health, financial services, local government, education, professional services, IT Services, transport, etc.
Lean and Six Sigma are the two most powerful strategies for achieving operational and service excellence in any organisation today. Although these two methodologies have been around for several years, there are no peer-reviewed international journals covering both aspects in research terms. The purpose of The International Journal of Lean Six Sigma is to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of Lean Six Sigma (an integrated approach of Lean and Six Sigma) and to publish the latest trends and research developments in both fields.
4. Our business can't afford the costs of implementing a Lean Six Sigma program. The short response is that Lean Six Sigma Programs don't necessarily require significant capital. I've seen mid-sized businesses jump start their LSS program with just one day of Yellow Belt training on the fundamentals. This is not to say organizations should not consider hiring certified Black Belts from the outside, conduct training for Yellow, Green and Black Belt certification, or purchase statistical and project management software. The point is LSS should be looked upon as an investment. An investment that should yield a return of at least 5-10 times in year 1 with the right projects.
5. We're too small. Lean Six Sigma is only for larger organizations. One of the most frequent comments I hear from small and medium-sized business owners is "We've hit the wall". The "wall" means having cash flow tied up in inventory or receivables even though the company is profitable. It may mean the inability to scale or grow the business with the same resources. Sometimes the "wall" means chronic employee turnover or overtime. Other times, it means not providing the same level of quality and personal customer service when you started the business. Regardless of what "wall" you are hitting, these are signals that the processes that got you where you are today are insufficient to get you where you want to go tomorrow. You need to think differently about how to operate the business. Perhaps thinking about Lean Six Sigma. When I hear the excuse of "we're too small", I think about how we've applied Lean Six Sigma in our own business, Riverwood Associates, a 2-man start-up! Are we undergoing a full Lean Six Sigma transformational deployment? No. But we are consistently using key principles of LSS like the Voice-of-the-Customer to help translate our customer needs into our specific service offerings. We're also learning to identify wastes in the business and how to remove them using the DMAIC framework. One obvious waste was the bottleneck created during the grading process of the Yellow Belt exams. Imagine 50 participants taking the exam at the end of the day, many turning in their exams at the same time. My partner was furiously grading as fast as he could, while I was running around giving out the certificates. It was a circus! After a couple of incidents, my partner decided to do something about it. He diagnosed the problem, identified the root causes (going over the allotted class lecture time, poor test instructions, and uneven flow) by observing the current process, and implemented simple countermeasures including better time management on my end and streamlining the curriculum, clearer test instructions, and a cost-effective scantron grading device.
Many six sigma practitioners also trace the roots of the DMAIC (Design-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) model to Deming’s (PDSA) Plan-Do-Study-Act, and this does seem to have a measure of validity. A good case can be made that the two map well together. As practiced, the DMAIC model tends to give the impression that one grand movement through the cycle is enough to achieve sufficient results. The PDSA cycle has more of a "small scale testing" feel with multiple learning and improvement cycles employed before objectives are achieved, and this seems to ring more true to real life experience. That said, it is important to note that these concerns reflect six sigma . There is nothing in the DMAIC model to prevent multiple cycles, it simply is not done very often.
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