Over the past 9 years, I’ve attended a number of Lean and Six Sigma (LSS) conferences both as a speaker and a participant. I have seen many excellent presentations on “how” various organizations have chosen to implement said practices and seen many good examples of the “LSS tools” application.
In continuing with a theme of an earlier post Rushing to a New Level of Parity, one of the things that strikes me as a bit unsettling is the sameness of approach and projects that most organizations seem to undertake. In his seminal Harvard Business Review article [reprint 1996] “What is Strategy”, Michael Porter explicitly states that operational excellence is NOT a strategy. Now with that as a backdrop, I am suggesting that Lean Six Sigma, as an enabler of operational excellence, is not a strategy either.
I am not suggesting that Lean Six Sigma cannot be better deployed to more closely align with strategy, in fact, I am suggesting that’s exactly what should be done. But the mere fact LSS in and of itself isn’t difficult to imitate, disqualifies it, in my opinion, from being a cornerstone for strategy building.
Why do so many LSS program and projects look identical? Why do they all seem to focus on essentially the same metrics? (Intra-industry movement of black belts and green belts is probably one culprit). The fact that LSS training has been watered-down and so generalized for the masses is yet another. So how can LSS be better “aligned” strategically? Well, one must first assume that the organization deploying LSS has a strategy in the first place. If not, then the organization is simply deploying the program in a mad rush to a new level of parity with its rivals.
Just like any activity a business undertakes, there should be alignment or harmony between it and other activities in support of the Value Strategy. Using a strategic framework (there are many, I chose this one for its relative simplicity) that appeared in Treacy and Wiersema’s 1995 book “The Discipline of Market Leaders”, I have mapped what “character” a Lean Six Sigma program may take on. This appears in the table below.
In future posts I'll look at some of these individual elements in more detail.