Lean or Six Sigma; Which should I Implement?

“What would be best for our company?” 

“Which method gives the most ROI for our company?”

These are the two most frequent questions I get asked when a company wants to implement a Continual Process Improvement (CPI) program to improve its business bottom line or want to have a culture change.   To answer these two questions I keep my answer lean and simple; (pun intended).

My answer is that it “It Depends”.

It depends on what the management of the company is expecting from implementing Lean or Six Sigma as their CPI program.   Are they wanting to reduce product defects/rejections, improve on inventory levels, reduce staffing, improve production output, change the working attitudes of their staff, etc.

As a consultant it is simple to provide an answer only after I have understood the client’s expectations and by visiting their operations.  And it would take me a couple of days speaking to their operational staff and observing the client’s operations first hand to provide a proposal on an approach that will work for the client.

Companies that are considering on implementing Lean and Six Sigma will need to understand a few things about Lean and Six Sigma.

First, Lean and Six Sigma are methodologies used as a tool to help companies improve their operational processes.  They are not a company culture change or an overnight fix-it tool for every problem your company may have.   It is a long term goal.

Second, Lean and Six Sigma can be seen as an operational management toolbox which consist of bespoke management and statistical tools used on processes to improve their efficiency and effectiveness.   Over the years, it has become apparent that mixing Lean tools and Six Sigma tools to make a CPI Bespoke Toolbox for a company is the best approach.   These tools need to be taught and understood by the staff who will be using and working on the processes that require improvements.

Lastly, it is best to identify what are the improvement outcomes a company wants to have and match these to the processes that are need improving.  Then, from these we would be able to identify the tools to be added in the CPI Bespoke Toolbox.

Companies that have implemented both Lean and Six Sigma have had varying successes in their CPI programs.   The reason for this is due to a few reasons.   What we have witness are the following”

  1. Lack of management commitment and involvement to champion the program.
  2. Lack of understanding what Lean or Six Sigma is about.
  3. Engagement of wrong group of consultants to support in the implementations.