The Leaning Tower of Six Sigma

Whatever happened to Six Sigma? It was so intently-discussed in years past — then faded from the conference table. Well, it’s back. From the Obama administration’s Oval Office to siloed enterprise facilities in rural areas of America, Six Sigma is a hot topic — again.

What is Lean Six Sigma? Lean emphasizes removing waste from organizations and processes while focusing on and delivering more value to customers. Six Sigma focuses on variation reduction in processes, products, and services. Lean Six Sigma is basically streamlined processes but faster, simpler. (And yes, there’s an app for that.)

Lean Six Sigma has been back in the spotlight recently as several U.S. presidential candidates have pledged to use the management tool, if elected. Also, the Obama administration is reportedly studying how Lean Six Sigma could help eliminate federal government waste.

Lean Six Sigma online survey  More than 2,500 quality improvement professionals participated in a recent survey around the subject of Lean Six Sigma. A group called ASQ conducted the survey, ASQ being a “leading global network of quality experts,” and in all fairness is a reputable organization. It was conducted using online technology, across disparate geographies.

Lean Six Sigma could help reduce the soaring national debt, decided the survey respondents, but it faces some key challenges in government implementations. The biggest obstacle, survey respondents said, is a U.S. federal government structure that can be a barrier to comprehensive evaluation and accountability.

In addition to noting challenges with the federal government’s structure, survey participants noted other obstacles to implementing Lean Six Sigma in government agencies:

  1.     An environment faced with conflicting strategies, goals, and priorities
  2.     Creating a sense of urgency to deploy a comprehensive improvement methodology across all government agencies
  3.     The personnel management model currently used by many government agencies
  4.     A lack of familiarity with Lean Six Sigma and how it can benefit the organization
  5.     Ongoing political partisanship

Lean Six Sigma in Action  “In business, some process improvements are obvious,” said Russell McCann, national speaker on Six Sigma and President and CEO of Actio. “For instance, if a scientist is creating a new product, and the product contains a chemical that is banned or is restricted in some countries, then it’s best to identify the issues at the request stage.  This averts a scenario where the enterprise spends millions of dollars developing an unusable product.

“While these sorts of process improvements can be done manually – with traditional paper-based systems – process efficiency and accuracy are compromised,” said McCann.  “Critical information is inevitably ‘siloed’ at individual locations rather than being shared across an enterprise; in some cases data is not even shared within a single facility.  This type of scenario presents an ideal environment for a Six Sigma program.

“A Six Sigma initiative that includes Six Sigma software such as Actio modules will reduce cost, improve control processes, and rationalize materials management,” McCann said.

Survey says…  Many participants in the ASQ survey said there are benefits to using Lean Six Sigma. More than 75% of participants surveyed said they have implemented Lean Six Sigma in their organizations and an impressive 79% said the tool is very effective in improving efficiency and productivity.

The respondents found that Lean Six Sigma has also been effective in the following areas:

  1. Raised levels of quality in their organization (74%)
  2. Reduced costs (73%)
  3. Helped individuals in their organization be competitive in the marketplace or to pursue the organization’s core mission (68%)
  4. Had a positive impact on employee safety (56%)
  5. Improved innovation (46%)

Kudos to ASQ for pulling this data together, certainly an interesting study.  ASQ is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with national service centers in China, India, and Mexico.  Learn more about ASQ’s survey, their members, mission, technologies and training at