In recent years, many companies have developed their own lean version of the TPS, to try to keep competitive and get advantages against competition. Some others have incorporated Six Sigma methodology to their Lean based system. The general idea is that combining two powerful methodologies, or systems into one is better to achieve results even faster than using just one.
I remember that during my years in Ford, Six Sigma was the main methodology used for problem solving, even though the 8D´s were also used, along with some other statistical tools to help identify were the root cause of the problem was. At the same time Ford used some lean tools to try to build cars more efficiently, such as Andon buttons, kitting, visual management, one piece flow principles, etc. I remember that one of the managers was a big fan of the TPS and the Toyota philosophy. He actually worked for a couple of years in Japan for Mazda, during the period when Ford and Mazda were working closely and Ford had a major participation on Mazda stocks.
I guess that in this environment Lean and Six Sigma were used successfully, but sometimes felt that Six Sigma was more important when solving a problem.
Today there are a lot of organisations using Lean Six Sigma, and I have identify common mistakes when combining these two powerful methods or philosophies.
DMAIC above all.
When solving a problem, I´ve always thought that one should use the tool that fits the problem better. Or solves the problem better should I say. This means that If one is able to get deep knowledge about an issue and therefore develop a simple great solution, should´t matter if a 5 whys was used, or if the answer was obtained through a regression. Some organizations using Lean Six Sigma, seem really obsessed about using DMAIC methodology. DMAIC as some may know is the Six Sigma cycle to improve processes that already exist, and through the use of this cycle, it is expected that processes experience a dramatic improvement. But I have found this isn`t always practical. As there are problems, where a well conducted 5 whys or even an 8D´s are better tools according to the nature of the problem.
But LSS organizations, seem to be inflexible about it and some of them demand that the standard problem solving technique would be DMAIC even if this isn`t practical. Organizations obsessed with a single standard problem solving tool, or template create bureaucracy and excess motion. Wastes that Lean wants to eliminate. The obsession about using an specific tool, makes solving problems a slow process. If to this point you do not agree with me, try conducting a Value Stream Transformation and make it fit into the DMAIC cycle.
Six Sigma can be applied to everything.
Other pitfall i have witnessed is that organizations think that 6 sigma could be applied to everything. This isn't completely wrong, but there are certain environments where 6 sigma could be better applied than others. For example, industries or organisations where variation is high and processes seem to be really complicated. Where there seem to be multiple factors creating an specific issue, could be a good point where 6 sigma could work. But definitely there are other environments where may not work as good. These environments are where no SPC programs, or techniques exist, or where there isn't in place a good system to get reliable information from the process. The question I think, isn't if 6 Sigma can be applied to any situation. Instead we should ask ourselves if 6 sigma should be applied to every single situation. Is there another tool that could be applied in a simpler or more effective way for this specific situation? Flexibility when solving problems or improving processes is the key. It was Bruce Lee who said:
You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.
Every single improvement is a project.
Some companies using LSS, believe that every single improvement should be a 6 Sigma project. Even when the solution is obvious. Personally I don´t like the word project, because a project requires someone to own it, and also brings the implicit thinking that the project has an owner and he/she should worry about it, not me. Also It implies that a project is something that has a beginning and ending. Lean as most of us know, is a journey that never ends.
Finally, the last mistake I have seen about the use of 6 Sigma, or obsession with 6 Sigma should I say, is that as 6 Sigma is often used for issues where the answer is evident. 6 sigma works better where the solution is unknown. If you already know the answer, why wasting time justifying your decision using DMAIC, if the solution could be applied now, and not after 2 hours of statistical debate? Solving problems, improving processes is critical. Is the core for great companies. Using the right tool, is critical. Doing it fast, efficient and simple is the key to succeed in the long run. There fore, Become like water, my friends.
Thanks for reading, I´d love to read your thoughts, please leave a comment.