Lean and Six Sigma Don't work.

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I wish I had a crisp £20 note for every time I've heard that one in my career. Although, the doubters and naysayers don't realise just how close they are to the truth.

Now there's no doubt that many companies have tried either Lean or Six Sigma, or even both and not had much, if any success. So from their point of view, the statement at the top is very true ? this is their perception of these methodologies and to that degree, it is true for them.

So, this inevitably begs the question, why does Lean and Six Sigma work for some companies and not for others?

The answer to this is also closely linked to the age old question around ?How do we make the improvements sustainable?? and if you're a senior manager asking this question, the answer is very simple ? Look in the mirror.

Anyway back to the original question and why some companies get it right and some just don't.

The answer has been staring everyone in the face for years but very few ever heard the message as it was delivered:

"Without Standardisation, there can be NO Improvement" - Taichi Ohno

But how does this seemingly simple quote answer the question above?

Think wider than just the process standardisation, think about the basics of Operations Management. This standardisation that Ohno spoke about was something the Japanese at Toyota took for granted ? their culture, the inherent discipline of good basic management and adherence to processes (Whether this was the manufacturing processes or the daily management routines and processes). They already had a very solid foundation upon which to build before they started to look at the many "Lean" tools that they later developed over half a century.

Simply put, lay the foundations, then begin to build the house.

It amazes me how many companies go about their Lean Six Sigma journey, many with good intentions and many more who have sent their employees on courses, who come back with their shiny new Lean Sigma toolbox and go about implementing kanban systems for the stationery that no one uses and value stream mapping a large unwieldy process that no one cares about anyway. Then they wonder why it didn't work.

You can give a ferret a toolbox but that doesn't make it a mechanic ! A little knowledge IS dangerous.

Get your foundations in place FIRST. Get good management practices embedded. Implement standardised processes and ensure adherence to them. Manage your performance and get your quality nailed down. Hold daily production meetings in every team and tell your people exactly what is expected of them (They will really appreciate it).

In short, stabilise your operation. Get really, really good at the basics of operations management

Then and only then start thinking about improvement using whichever methodology best fits you particular business. The good news is, during the stabilisation phase, if you've done it well, you'll realise around 20% productivity and quality uplift anyway, just from standardisation.

The following analogy shows the importance of patience and developing a proper infrastructure to support the change.

Two gardeners each plant a seed in some fertile soil. After six months, each seed has sprouted above the ground to a length of only four inches.

One of the gardeners is concerned because the plant is not growing fast enough, so he removes the sprout along with its root and plants a new seed.  The other gardener is more patient and understands that the sprout is still developing its foundations and has great potential, even though the growth hasn't been that great.

Another six months passes and the patient gardener now has a plant that sprouted to a height of two feet!  This flower was able to grow so rapidly because it was nurtured early on and allowed to develop at its own pace.

One the other hand, the new seed for the impatient gardener has only grown four inches again.


Get the foundation in place first and your Lean or Six Sigma efforts will soar !

Who says they don't work ?

Take what you find useful, discard what you don't.

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