Lean Sigma = Lean Plus Six Sigma or Six Sigma With Just a Little Lean?
I had a conversation recently with a healthcare quality leader about her excitement about Lean.
She said that she wanted to learn more about Lean and wanted to get certified.
She then added, “I thought I’d get Lean Sigma certified, because then I’m getting both [Lean and Six Sigma].”
Here’s what I told her:
I told her that instead of getting “two methodologies for the price of one” that she’d likely get a lot of Six Sigma along with a very watered down version of Lean.
This was very eye opening to her.
As I’ve written about before, this discussion about the merits of “Lean Sigma” has nothing to do with the merits of Six Sigma. The rigorous statistical methods of Six Sigma are certainly valid and can be quite useful… keeping in mind that Toyota, if you care about them as an example, doesn’t do formal Six Sigma. They use the “7 basic QI tools” that form some of the foundations of Six Sigma, but they don’t formally train or designate “belts.” I think this is a very practical approach that serves many organizations well, including in healthcare.
I recommended that, if she was very interested in Lean, she should get training (and possibly certification) on just Lean (from people like ThedaCare, HPP/Belmont, Virginia Mason, University of Michigan, or other reputable sources). Whether it’s one day, two days, or an entire week (or more), there’s enough to learn about Lean principles and methods to fill that time with lots of great learning. And, even with a week of education, that’s probably just scratching the surface about the really important things – culture, engaging people, Lean leadership, etc.
If she went and did a “Lean Sigma” class, the focus would likely be very much on Six Sigma, with “Lean” being covered in a very superficial way, such as mainly learning about 5S and a few waste reduction methods – it would be a tools-driven explanation of Lean.
Here’s the curriculum that’s posted online for a typical “Lean Sigma” program. It’s mostly Six Sigma.
Click on the image for a bigger picture:
Here’s what I’d recommend to her and others:
1) Start with Lean — get education and experience with a wider variety of Lean methods and concepts. Spread this knowledge and practice to everyone.
2) Use Six Sigma where appropriate – getting specific Six Sigma training as needed and having a few experts use this approach where needed.
When I was at Honeywell back in 2004, I went through a four-week Black Belt-style course that focused exclusively on Lean (getting certified after doing a project that I was mentored on). Honeywell, of course, had a separate four-week Six Sigma Black Belt course and certification.
Their approach to “Lean Sigma” (they called it “Six Sigma Plus,” which irked me) was equal parts Lean and Six Sigma.
We need to make sure that one plus one equals two… with Lean Sigma, it seems that it actually equals 1.2, not 2.
Over the past eight years, I can’t tell you how many organizations have told me that they started with Six Sigma (thanks to the influence of GE Healthcare), but they wish they had started with Lean first… that Six Sigma is something that could have been added later, as much of the waste and many of the problems in healthcare can be fixed without the rigor of Six Sigma — and Lean can be quite rigorous in its own right…
If she wants Lean and Six Sigma training… I really think she needs to do both separately. Otherwise, she’ll get a very watered down view of Lean that might not serve her or her organization very well.
I’m sure some of you have differing views on this – what do you think?