Agile Lean Six Sigma: The Future of LSS?

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    Jay Arthur

    At quality conferences over the last few years, I’ve heard presentations from Christus Health, Novartis, Crayola® and Underwriters Laboratory (UL) on a fresh approach to Lean Six Sigma. Several of these companies first tried a traditional LSS implementation without results. In an effort to get results, they changed tactics and integrated Agile principles into their approach (perhaps without realizing they were doing so).

    Prework: First, these companies identified problems that needed a solution. They made sure there was data about the problem and selected team members who understood the problem.

    One-or-Two Day Training:  Next, these companies brought several teams together for one-day or two-day Yellow Belt trainings focused on achieving results. Some of these trainings were classroom-based and some were blended learning, involving online video training and team discussion.

    Integrating training with analysis resulted in the teams gaining a better understanding of Lean Six Sigma tools and techniques, and ultimately delivering the bottom-line profit and productivity improvements desired.

    Post-work: Teams implemented countermeasures and measured results. Rapid training and improvement produced the results that leadership wanted without weeks-long training and months-long projects.

    Side Benefits: Some team members showed an aptitude for improvement methods. It became easy to identify good candidates for additional Green Belt and Black Belt training. This allowed teams to not only tackle larger (and more complex) improvement projects for the organization, it also addressed the “one and done” problem seen in traditional training.

    Have you noticed this trend as well? What companies have you seen using it? What were the results? Why did it work? Why did it not work?




    Isn’t it a bit like a Kaizen Blitz this way?


    Jay Arthur

    In my experience, Kaizen Blitz is more often associated with Lean, not so much Six Sigma.

    I saw one research-based presentation last year that found that most Six Sigma projects take four to sixteen months! Nothing Kaizen about it.

    None of the company presentations I observed mentioned the words Kaizen or Kaizen Blitz. And I believe there’s a reason for that. I have found broad resistance to using words that stem from the Toyota Production Method. Kaizen, Gemba and other words tend to make students balk. Trying to teach them new words sets up a barrier to learning.

    Fortunately, Agile is a word on the upswing that speaks to the result, not just the event.

    Whatever you call it, quality improvement needs to be 10X or 100X faster than it is now.


    Here’s a quote from the January-February 2017 Harvard Business Review:

    Six Sigma is too complex and time-consuming to fit into a regular workday. We need tools that don’t require the entire organization to undergo weeks-long training programs.
    Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg


    Bob Rome

    I would say the size, scope and level of difficulty of the problem or opportunity directly dictates the length of the project.  The other main factor is the talent and skill sets of the leader/team addressing it.  I think we get too wrapped up in labels & methods.  There are different categories of projects and differing sets of skillsets and methods.  You have to do the up front work of understanding it, matching that up.

    Some projects are a simple “just do it” – no analysis required, and some are large scope, highly complex with numerous interacting variables and mysteries.  One can be accomplished in a week and the other may take months – not b/c of the methodology, but it’s required to solve the problem effectively.

    Also, Lean & Six Sigma are distinct skill sets but complement very well.  Lean is about waste reduction & flow improvement, where Six Sigma is about complex problem solving & variation reduction.  I can train a Kaizen team in 2 hours, attack the area and achieve great results in 4 days.  When I train BB’s, we have to pre-qualify the projects – is there even data available?, sometimes there is no measurement in place – just a big sloppy, expensive problem.  Makes the measure phase more difficult but these are sometimes the best projects.  It’s gonna take longer – but will generate much bigger savings than a quick Kaizen blitz.

    You also got to look at the business impact.  You can do a bunch of  quick, little projects and get fast results but are you moving the business needle?  Or you can go for the big money projects, but you’re going to have to raise up to it.  Like hunting squirrel with a shot gun or moose with a high powered rifle…

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