Is Lean Six Sigma really Useful?

Jun 30, 2022

Is Lean Six Sigma really that beneficial?

Would it really save cost for us?

Would I be having the core processes streamlined in my organization?

Over the years, I could sense this skepticism in the voice of my clients. These are some of the common questions asked by many business owners that are planning on implementing them.

Before these questions can be answered, it is important to have a general understanding of the concepts and overall methodology of implementation. These methodologies are focused on helping organizations eliminate waste, while also reducing any unnecessary expenses on the non-value added activities in order to increase profits and customer satisfaction in both manufacturing and service sector enterprises.

Most likely you’ve heard that many people think Lean Six Sigma is just a “fad” – a methodology that sweeps the world with great excitement for a brief period of time, and then disappears.

Should we add Lean Six Sigma to the list of management fads? Some people say yes, but those who truly understand and are comprehensively trained would argue otherwise.

At the start of the millennium, in one of the editions of Quality Digest, Editor Scott Paton made reference to Lean Six Sigma:

Lean Six Sigma. The latest management fad has so captivated corporate America that there’s little time to devote to lowly standards compliance.

Apparently, he seems to suggest that Six Sigma will not be around in the long term, and not serious enough to get real work done.

Another So called quality guru quickly followed him and mentioned in his book

…Six Sigma is another repackaged quality trend that will come and go, and I’ll pass on this trend, thank you. While I believe in Six Sigma’s content, I will also add that as a trend, it has been harmful to our profession.

The paradox is that while we don’t want to throw out the old, we still need to be receptive to the new. At one of the Quality Conferences, so many quality gurus were commenting on Lean Six Sigma with statements like “This is nothing new,” or “This is just a banner.” The general tone of the majority of the attendees was, “We invented that 50 years ago.” This was despite the fact that Lean Six Sigma was already getting stunning results at places like GE Capital, Toyota, Motorola and many more.

The fact is, whether we want to accept it or not, Six Sigma resurrected quality and, in fact, has taken it to a new level, turning it into a sustainable business strategy that has achieved amazing bottom-line results for company after company.

The Quality profession has always been about improving processes, products and services. From TQM to PDCA to Six Sigma, all Quality methodologies are focused on eliminating defects and the root causes of those defects. It involves products and services that satisfy your customers, running processes at greater efficiencies, producing less waste and increasing business productivity. All of this, of course, is based on the fact that these processes are driving financial benefits.

If it didn’t make sense financially, would you still do it? In some cases you might, but as a rule of thumb you can’t sustain a business unless you bring in revenue and produce a profit. The Six Sigma methodology, in particular, emphasizes the financial results of a project.

1. Before a project is initiated, a scoping analysis of financial benefits is performed. This allows management to prioritize, along with other business specific factors, potential projects.

2. After or during the completion of a project, a final financial analysis is performed based on the actual results of the project. This forces the business to quantify the return on investment for the Quality department. Is it paying off as you would expect any other investment in the business?

3. It opens the eyes of management to what is actually happening on the floor, in the shop and in the cubicles, translating day-to-day activities into terms that they are concerned about – meeting the budget, increasing profits and driving shareholder value.

4. It educates employees about the whole financial picture. Because Six Sigma uses employees to drive projects and improvements, it also modifies their work behaviors to cut costs and increase profits.

Many businesses have found the successful recipe for Quality. You don’t need ‘Six Sigma’ necessarily, but you do need to tie process improvements to financial results in order to be successful.

While it’s true that many of the concepts had been around for decades Lean Six Sigma recaptured our imagination with proof of the revolutionary change that bottom-line-oriented improvement can deliver. Lean Six Sigma has reinfused the field with a whole new generation of bright, ambitious talent who would not have otherwise been attracted to what was perceived as a dead science.

Because of Lean Six Sigma, quality has become exciting again. People are using the tools and methodologies that were created and improved over the last century, they are doing it in a comprehensive and structured way driven by the CEO, and they are getting profound results. it was quality improvements through implementations of Six Sigma methodologies that helped transform some of our largest and most prestigious companies.

All in all, while on the one hand quality professionals need to be open to new ways of implementing our knowledge, new people attracted to the field can learn what we’ve learned and avoid the waste of reinventing. To them I say, help the movement; help quality move forward, but don’t start from scratch. Understand that you’re building on what previous generations have taught you, and be ready to pass on what you have learned to the next generation.