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Everybody loves Lean...for the wrong reasons!

Everybody loves Lean. I mean the Lean thinking and management methods variety here.

I have interviewed over 200 quality professionals in the last year or so and end up asking what do they prefer - Lean or Six Sigma. My original intention was to initiate a discussion and not to arrive at a conclusion. However, as I kept asking the same question I found a vast majority (over 80%) of candidates saying they loved Lean. While this is fine, as we all have preferences, I followed up the question with a WHY. This is where rubber meets the road.

Over 75% of the candidates who said they loved Lean had something like this to say: 
  • It doesn’t need data (not a lot of it)
  • Management gets it
  • It’s faster (and easier)
Now all these sound valid reasons. And they are just that – sound valid.

Lean doesn’t need data: Yes it doesn’t need data if you just want your theories pushed without analysis, it doesn’t need data if you want quick fix solutions only, it doesn’t need data if you are lazy, it doesn’t need data if you don’t know how to analyze it. You get the point I am sure.

If you want to do a proper job Lean needs as much if not more data than Six Sigma needs. You can’t do a good Value Stream Map without data. You can’t do any Value Added analysis without data. You can’t load balance or do Takt time calculations without data. Almost any analysis you want to do using Lean tools you will need data. The same data that you need when you use Six Sigma.

Management get it: Management gets it kind of assumes that they don’t get the other stuff Quality managers talk about. Most Quality managers think management does not care about their ideas. Little introspection will tell us that management is where they are because they (usually) have brains and have done enough to be at that position. If they don’t get what you say it is highly likely the fault is in your messaging and not their understanding.

Most Quality managers talk too much tool and technique for management to be interested. They are short on time and need outcomes. We are paid to know and follow the process. Management is paid for outcomes. Please make your message clearer and outcome oriented to help them understand. Don’t blame Six Sigma in favor of Lean if you can’t explain it.

It’s faster: Yes Lean is faster. If you are thinking it is a short cut to projects then yes it is faster. Lean is not just about projects. It’s also a way of managing your operations. If you are implementing Kaizen (part of a larger Lean body) you don’t need it to be fast or slow. You need it to make an impact. Lean projects use A3 methodology which is not very different from DMAIC. Why would it be any slower or faster.

While projects do need to be done faster than what we did five years ago, this does not mean Six Sigma is not good enough and Lean is. Lean projects, properly done, take as much time as a well done Six Sigma project. Speed comes from execution not from the method.

In conclusion – you may love Lean over Six Sigma but please find good reasons. Not lazy ones.

This post first appeared at 


Unknown said…
"In conclusion – you may love Lean over Six Sigma but please find good reasons. Not lazy ones." :) My best phrase in article :)

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