Readiness for Lean Six Sigma: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Left to right: data-rich and capable; primitive; data or talent starved.

In a recent presentation to a group of executives, we discussed the readiness of organizations to deploy “Lean Six Sigma.” For the purposes of this note, let us define “Lean Six Sigma” as the application of a range of tools and concepts including but not limited to those developed as part of the Toyota Production System and documented in books such as “Lean Thinking” by James Womack as well as statistical and analytical tools such as control charts and design of experiment. In addition are various change and project management tools.

One of key considerations in whether and how to go about deploying Lean Six Sigma in an organization the degree to which an organization has a culture that embraces data-driven decisions and insights and possesses the skills to interrogate complex data sets. In my experience there are generally three archetypes:

A primitive organizational culture that is data poor, lacks the skills to analyze data, and is culturally antagonistic to analysis is not ready for most of the analytical tools of Lean Six Sigma (for example design of experiment). Such an organization is best served through a LSS deployment that develops an appreciation of what analysis can do and gradually muscle-builds analytical skills through basic projects that graduate to more advanced analytical problems as skills and data are acquired.

An organization with lots of data but little idea how to mine, interpret or focus its efforts analytically will also require cultural and skill changes but there is the possibility for a few high-impact, breakthrough projects that use advanced analytical tools to demonstrate the latent value of the data the organization sits upon.

In some organizations, or parts of organizations, lie highly educated professionals with analytical skills unused by the company because there is a lack of structured data. A combination of projects (which build data in the service of specific, high-impact projects) and top-down initiatives (such as gathering customer transaction data) builds data even as it is put to use by these under-used analytical resources.

As for the good, the bad and the ugly, it is no surprise that the “good” and the goal, is the combination of analytical skills and rich data; the “bad” are organizations with neither data nor analytical abilities; the “ugly” however are organizations wasting either talent (data-starved) or a treasure-trove of data for lack of skills and a supportive culture.

The deployment and nature of Lean Six Sigma clearly varies significantly in each case.

5 Comments on “Readiness for Lean Six Sigma: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

  1. Jill Thomas-Heath says:

    Thank you for sharing this excellent article and review!
    Great expression of the concept in both the article and the graph!
    I am going to chant myself to sleep tonight……data-driven…data-driven…data-driven……
    I am now subscribed to you so I can continue learning from you!

  2. Dr Denis Bangala says:

    I will dare to say that the deployement and acceptance of Lean six sigma depends on :
    1. the company readiness to embrace and ambark in this LLSS journey. for stone age company which promotes mediocrity and budy system, there will be no place for such structural search for the thruth and true solution. these companies cant compete and will disappear.
    2. company executive should be aware and embrace LL SS thinking otherwise he will be the first to kill the initiative.
    3. is the VOC (voice of customer) the starting point to build the business model in order to increase the bottom line. The beauty of the LSS is when Black belt strugglesg to translate the VOC to measurable critical to satisfaction. For the company such Apple, i dont believe there is a such concept of the VOC . there is only the VOSJ (voice of Steve Job), in this case why bother to think about lean six sigma deployement, this will be equivalent of building a bridge to no where. Apple, Louis Vuitton, Cirque du soleil, these companies manage to create their own niche of bunch of followers who are ready to pay 20 K for anything. I cant imagine what will be the pitch to convince the latest Steve Job, Mr Bernard Arnault and Mr Guy Laliberté to deploy Lean six sigma in their respective companies. these people use the blue ocean strategy that make competition irrelevant. Really no need of lean six sigma.

    4 dont deploy lean Six Sigma because everybody is doing it. only followers itiniate program without alignment with the core of the business. if you are follower, you wont last long.

    yes Bruce ,” It depends”‘

    • brucem says:

      Hi Denis – I certainly would agree with your first two points re: a company culture that is based on cronyism and looking out for your “buddies” as well as the need for the CEO to understand Lean Six Sigma thinking and to champion its deployment. Your 4th point is also one I would agree with in terms of deploying Lean Six Sigma for the right reasons versus launching it just to have a program that is more about window dressing and for show.

      On the 3rd point, however, I would say that the VOC is still important in a company such as Apple even when Steve Jobs was CEO because his point wasn’t that the customer wasn’t important, it was simply that market research is misleading when you are dealing with a breakthrough product that either creates a new need or addresses a latent need that the consumer never new they had. The highly integrated nature of the software and hardware of Apple products is the result of a great deal of disciplined execution and processes and in virtually every other area of Apple LSS tools have relevance.

      Similarly, many other organizations, such as fashion houses and entertainment-oriented companies such as Cirque and Disney blend incredible discipline and “left brain” measurement and process with “right brain” creativity and intuition. One of the problems people seem to have is understanding that in many situations one can and should combine right and left brain thinking. It is back to “AND” instead of “OR” thinking. That is my perspective in any case.

  3. Dr Denis Bangala says:

    thank Bruce for the clarification around Apple. I was wondering why apple did not require market research. it is clear now.

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