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Misinterpretations of Lean vs. Six Sigma

I had a conversation recently with a very smart and talented consultant.  He is a Lean Six Sigma consultant.  He knows the tools of lean and Six Sigma backwards and forwards.  The consultant also talked ab out the importance of having leadership buy-in from the top all the way to the bottom to be the most successful at both lean and Six Sigma. Overall, he was a very astute about both lean and Six Sigma.

During his presentation, there were two misinterpretations that stuck out to me.  I found them to be quite a difference in thinking.

1. Six Sigma is focused on the customer while lean is focused on elimination of waste.  I find this to be a significant difference in thinking.  Lean’s #1 tenant is to focus on the Customer first and foremost.  By focusing on the customer, an organization can learn what the customer finds of value.  What is not of value can be considered non-value added (waste) or non-value added but necessary (government regulations).  These should be eliminated or at least reduced.

Most people focus on the elimination of waste and miss why eliminating the waste is important.  It is because it is of no value to the customer which is the main focus.  Once the waste is eliminated it frees up resources allowing an organization to grow the business without having to invest in more resources.

Thanks to Mark Graban. This picture was borrowed from the Lean Blog.

2. Six Sigma focuses on making the product right while lean just focuses on making the product.  The consultant mentioned the 7 types of wastes.  One of the 7 types of wastes is directly solely at making the product right.  That is the waste of defects. Not to mention the concept of building in quality (jidoka).

As mentioned above, when a company focuses on the customer first it will recognize quality is very important.  This is why building in quality is one of the two pillars of the Toyota Production System.

After the presentation, the consultant and I had a very good discussion on these points.  I admitted to being raised in the Lean House.  I wasn’t arguing that Six Sigma was wrong or companies can’t benefit from it.  Just that I have a different perspective of lean on the points mentioned above.


Making the Right Thing Easy

Error proofing or jidoka (the Japanese term) is a concept that is common in the lean world.  The basic concept of error proofing is setting something up so that there is only one way to do it.  This eliminates the possibility of errors.

This concept is typically thought of as a manufacturing concept only.  It isn’t though.  It can be translated to the data world like an electronic form that will not submit unless certain fields are filled in.

The underlying thought with error proofing is to make the right thing easy to do and the wrong thing impossible to do.  This is something I learned from Jamie Flinchbaugh.

Below is a picture of what I think is a good example of this thinking.  This is outside a shop in an indoor mall.

Keeping the store clean and easy to shop is the goal.  I have seen too many stores that ask patrons to not bring in food or drinks but that’s all there is.  This store has placed a table underneath the sign making it easier for the customer to do the right thing and leave their food and drink outside of the store.  The solution is simple and easy to understand.

Can someone not follow the instructions?  Yes.  But there are fewer excuses for people not to do what is preferred.

So the next time someone doesn’t follow what you want them to do, ask yourself how can I make the right thing easy to want to do and the wrong behavior impossible to do.