LeanSix Sigma

Creating Synergy with Lean and Six Sigma

By Ron Updated on June 4th, 2007

From Wikipedia:
Synergy or synergism (from the Greek synergos, συνεργός meaning working together, circa 1660) refers to the phenomenon in which two or more discrete influences or agents acting together create an effect greater than that predicted by knowing only the separate effects of the individual agents.

I am saddened when I see or hear of continuous improvement practitioners “bash” another methodology. For example, I have listened to Six Sigma “statisticians” claim Lean is simply common sense and therefore will not really benefit you. These same people also argue among themselves regarding things like how to handle non normal data, conduct DOE’s, etc. Conversely, I recently read on a forum that Six Sigma is just fancy smoke and mirrors and if you really want to make things better you will “get Lean” and forget all the other nonsense out there.

My opinion is that both camps are wrong and that the true power of improvement comes when one lays his or her ego at the door and combines Lean and Six Sigma together.

As I stated in my previous blog Six Sigma’s power is unleashed when the issue at hand has to do with variation while Lean is at its best when focusing on eliminating muda (waste) in an effort to make things move faster and with less effort (remove non value added steps).

So what is stopping people from unleashing both methodologies and applying them when appropriate? Well, in fact nothing is actually stopping anyone from doing this except for three few things I have observed through the years:

  1. Unconscious incompetence: Most Six Sigma “Belts” are only introduced to basic Lean concepts like 5S and Takt Time while many Lean gurus don’t understand basic Six Sigma concepts like statistical process control, hypothesis testing, or DOE. Therefore, some individuals simply do not have the skill sets to apply both methodologies.
  2. Pride: Pride is one of the seven deadly sins and is often at the root of one’s contempt for another problem solving methodology. There is a certain sense of accomplishment (as there should be) when one becomes recognized as an “expert” in either Six Sigma or Lean. However, if one is not careful pride will set in making it difficult for this individual to open his or her mind to new tools or systems they may not be familiar with – after all they are experts so who are you to teach them something? The only remedy to this problem is a strong dose of the cardinal virtue – humility.
  3. Corporate Culture: If the first two items don’t get you this third one often does. My former employer was big on Six Sigma but was not sold on Lean initially. Case in point. A few years back, I was told by a Senior Industrial Engineer after a 3 day Value Stream Mapping workshop that we were using “fuzzy math” when calculating the Process Cycle Efficiency on the current state VSM. What saddened me (OK, flat out ticked me off) the most was how he “saved” these comments for the presentation to the plant manager at the end of the workshop. This individual sat for 3 days like a bump on a log and didn’t object to anything we did. You probably already guessed… he was also a “Six Sigma” guy. The company finally did come around and got serious with Lean in addition to Six Sigma, but there was much storming along the way.

As you might guess I am of the opinion that the best way forward is to use both Lean and Six Sigma at the same time leveraging both methodologies in their fullest sense. If you want to call it “Lean Six Sigma” I am fine. If you want to call it Six Sigma I am fine. If you want to call it Lean I am fine. Just use the tools from both tool boxes and prosper – PLEASE!

I am excited to see how organizations can leverage the power or both Lean and Six Sigma on their shop floors and front offices this year and beyond. Many companies are indeed doing this but many are unfortunately stuck in neutral and need to press the accelerator lest they be left behind.

I will be a bit more specific with how one can actually use specific Six Sigma and Lean tools in harmony with one another in an upcoming blog. Until then, I wish you all the best on your journey towards continuous improvement!

  1. rble

    January 17, 2007 - 3:26 pm

    I totally agree with your comments Ron. I’m hearing a lot of bashing from Six Sigma naysayers AND supporters both ways. I believe there is not ONE final and whole process/quality improvement solution, name it Six Sigma, Lean, BPM, BPR, etc.
    I’m all for taking what is relevant from each methodology and using it accordingly.
    Congratulations on this great blog, and keep in touch!

  2. Ron Pereira

    January 17, 2007 - 4:28 pm

    Thanks! I have been so surprised to watch the number of hits coming in. Very cool! There have been people from Shanghai, Paris, Mexico, and all over America check in. This is very exciting and motivating.

  3. Corey Rose

    January 9, 2009 - 10:52 am

    good luck

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