Demand for Lean People Higher Than Six Sigma People?


I know Tim Noble and he sent this to me, so I'm basically just going to reprint the press release verbatim and the solicit your comments:

Lean Talent Demand Finally Edges Out Six Sigma Fourth annual study by executive search firm

Avery Point Group finds Lean talent demand surpassing Six Sigma while companies increasingly leverage both methodologies in a down economy

ATLANTA, July 15, 2008 — After years of steady gains, Lean has finally achieved a slight edge over Six Sigma as the more desired skill set. According to an annual study by The Avery Point Group, a leading national executive recruiting firm, this is a strong indicator that companies are increasingly looking to Lean as a means to help them combat the current economic headwinds they are facing.

“As an executive recruiting firm, we have a unique vantage point from which to observe the latest trends taking place in industry,” says Tim Noble, managing principal of The Avery Point Group. “Trends in industry are often telegraphed into candidate requirements in job postings, and they can serve as a window into the latest corporate initiatives. Our annual study continues to offer useful insight into the latest trends taking place in the area of corporate continuous improvement.”

Based on its fourth annual study of Internet job postings, The Avery Point Group found that Six Sigma may no longer hold its once dominant position in the world of corporate continuous improvement initiatives, as was found in its three previous annual studies. For the first time, the study showed that demand for Lean talent has grown to eclipse and slightly exceed that of Six Sigma. The growth in interest in Lean talent has not, however, come at the expense of Six Sigma; rather, this year's study continues to confirm an overall increasing demand for continuous improvement talent, with Lean driving most of the recent talent demand growth.

The study also found, for those companies seeking Six Sigma or Lean talent, fully 50 percent are looking for practitioners to have both skill sets. Further, the study indicated that job postings are making increasing demands on candidates, requiring them to possess a much deeper knowledge and experience skill set with regard to their Lean backgrounds versus prior years.

“No longer is it acceptable for candidates to claim to have a Lean Sigma or Lean Six Sigma background,” says Noble. “Companies want to see candidates that have the hardcore Lean experience gained in a true Lean transformation setting, and that can't be gained from an environment where Lean is an afterthought or a lesser appendage to an existing Six Sigma program.”

Despite the rising prominence of Lean as the potentially new dominant continuous improvement methodology, Six Sigma is by no means past its prime, as evidenced by its continued talent demand resilience. It, however, means that companies, in the face of strong economic headwinds, are seriously rethinking the balance these two methodologies have with one another in their overall continuous improvement initiatives.

“This is certainly a major center of gravity shift from our first study in 2005 where Six Sigma talent demand outpaced Lean by more than 50 percent,” concludes Noble. “However, in the end, the real winner is any company that successfully engages in some form of continuous improvement, regardless of whether it is Lean, Six Sigma, or some other well-executed combination of both.”

For more information about The Avery Point Group and its executive search and recruiting services, contact Tim Noble at 678-585-9804.


What do you think? Does this match up with what you're seeing out there on the job market, in terms of relative demand for “true Lean” people as opposed to “Lean Six Sigma” people? Is the market for Six Sigma people falling?

Updated 8/5/08: Here's a link to each year's studies from Avery Point Group.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Not here in Finland. Very rarely there are open positions for lean professionals, practically only McKinsey is continuously recruiting people with lean skillset.

    But then again Six Sigma isn’t in that much better position.

    Checked from local pages and currently they are pretty even, few positions for both.

    One thing to note is that none of the adds I have seen requires extensive lean skills, mainly just “Knowledge of LEAN-principles is beneficial”.

  2. I still find it interesting that most of the calls I get from recruiters about Lean jobs also ask for black belt certification. Granted, I’m in healthcare, and Six Sigma was first to the table in our industry, but I think organizations are struggling to know what qualifications to ask for with Lean people. Maybe it’s the idea that they want both – but I think some of it has to do with taking the Sigma job descriptions and adding “lean” to the list.

  3. I think that most companies are looking for people with both Lean and Six Sigma skills. One of the reasons may be something that Dean alluded to. It’s very difficult to judge the qualifications for Lean Six Sigma folks, but it’s easier for Six Sigma than for Lean.

  4. I agree that it may be that companies don’t understand the difference. In fact, when I first started learning about lean, I was confused by this because in the reading I was doing, it seemed like lean and six sigma were used almost interchangeably. If you only have a vague understanding of lean (which might explain why a given company would have a job posting looking for experts), I think it would be easy to be confused by the two.

  5. Unfortunately, in order to create symmetry, our company is combining the Lean and Six-Sigma personnel and combining the training. Their goal is to have Lean/Six-Sigma green-, black-, and master blackbelts. Great for synergy, not so good for someone with 8 years Lean experience (with company and before), a greenbelt (but from another company, so not honored), and no company-taught Six-Sigma background.

    Now I’m trying to keep from having to start at the bottom after 2 years of successful Lean leadership. While I dislike certifications, this is where it would be beneficial to have industry standards, as opposed to “my company” and “your company” standards…


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