As many of you know, I’m a passionate advocate of Lean management practices and the power of Lean in transforming organizations. So I grow weary when I hear people characterize Lean in a way that is worlds apart from what Lean really is. My view has always been (and will likely always be): if you’re not well-versed in a subject, better to ask questions and learn than spread untruths in a world that desperately needs to operate from a more fact-based place.
Today I ran across yet another irritating piece on the ongoing Lean v. Six Sigma debate. I’m never irritated because I want Lean to “win” the debate. I’m irritated because it shouldn’t be a debate at all.
The piece by Kyle Toppazzini, “Lean Without Six Sigma May Be a Failing Proposition,” appeared in the Monday edition of Quality Digest’s Quality Insider column.
I’ll let you read the article yourself. I posted this response:
Hi Kyle – I appreciate your attempt to make a case that organizations HAVE to use Six Sigma in conjunction with Lean but that’s simply not true. The methodologies CAN be used together (if very well thought out), but they don’t HAVE to be used together. It seems that you’re missing quite a number of key Lean principles, practices, and tools in your characterization of “Lean.” The ED outcome you have described is decidedly NOT a Lean outcome. Quite the contrary.
You pose a key question: “So why do some lean advocates feel compelled to consider one process improvement framework only?” As a “lean advocate,” let me share my reasons:
1. Because of its holistic and systems-thinking perspective that, when deployed correctly, avoids the sub-optimization you describe in your article. I agree that “shot gun Kaizen events” are wrong, but let’s avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water. Kaizen events done right are tied to a systems improvement strategy, such as a VSM. Yes, there are a number of Lean novices out there that are doing the “wrong thing.” But that doesn’t mean that’s how Lean is designed to be done. “Lean” does not equal “kaizen events.”
2. Because of its root-cause orientation – I don’t even know how to respond to your comments about Lean and RCA. What you say is simply not true. Why do you think Lean is used merely for “simple” problems? I wouldn’t classify any of my clients’ problems as “simple.” In fact, in the white collar space, the problems are often monumentally complex and multi-faceted.
3. Because of its emphasis on standardization – Again, what you say is simply not true. Lean is ALL about creating process stability and predictabilty. Where do you get this idea that it’s not?
4. Because of its accessibility and people-orientation. Lean’s approach to business management (it’s not all about process design) is inconclusive and heavily focused on learning. So, for example, a skilled Lean practitioner is not a “do-er.” Rather, he/she coaches, teaches and facilitates to spread problem-solving and improvement capabilities across an organization as quickly and deeply as possible.
HBR can include articles and posts until the cows come home about how Lean cannot possibly be a standalone method for improving business performance. All that accomplishes is providing additional data points to support my hypothesis that many previously reputable publications are falling prey to printing opinion versus fact. Because the facts do indeed prove otherwise.
When I sold my recently published book, The Outstanding Organization, to McGraw-Hill, they pushed hard for me to include the word “Lean” in the title or subtitle. But I lobbied hard to NOT include the word because I wanted my message — we need to improve how we improve — to rise above the Lean vs. Six Sigma debate. While there are fundamental differences in how Lean and Six Sigma have evolved, they both originate with the teachings of W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran and others.
But somehow many people have missed the boat with Lean. They have no idea what Lean really is, but they continue to spread untruths that confuse executives and new improvement professionals alike. Which doesn’t serve anyone in the end.
I’m curious to know your thoughts. Why do you think this debate rages on? What will it take for it to end?