6 Sigma or lean. No. It is PROCESS Excellence
improve what you don’t measure. It also turns out you can’t improve what isn’t defined!”
Improving Processes Doesn’t Require Buzzworthy Methodologies
I chuckle at the occasional post on LinkedIn pitching the false debate: Six Sigma or Lean? Which methodology reigns supreme? In reality (or perhaps just my reality?) it’s not Six Sigma vs. Lean. It’s Process Excellence.
If I could I whisper it into your ear like Dustin Hoffman’s dad’s friend in “The Graduate” (an ancient reference I know) I would! “Process Excellence…”
Before explaining myself, first I’ll share my view on Six Sigma vs. Lean in the way I was taught back at Hogwarts: Six Sigma typically improves a single variable – choose a measure and beat it into submission. Lean looks at the process holistically and improves in more general terms: waste, time, etc. And both methodologies offer great tools that we should use if they add value. To use a food analogy, even though the buffet has a vegetarian and non-vegetarian section, nothing prevents us from grazing from both! Just use a fresh plate PLEASE.
Back to Process Excellence. Why am I whispering it in your son’s bewildered and slightly triggered ear?
Because in over 7 years of direct consulting within two companies in numerous engagements, I just didn’t seem to reach for my Six Sigma and Lean toolboxes nearly as much as I did for my Process Excellence toolbox! And what’s sad is that a) I think this is the rule not the exception in most settings, and b) this toolbox doesn’t get all the attention its more buzzworthy pals get! But in the end it’s not the sizzle, it’s the steak when you’re just plain hungry. Process Excellence requires some heavy lifting.
Also, the Lean and Six Sigma toolkits require as prerequisite an established process with maps, mission, measures and the process should be in control. Can you utilize those methodologies without having met those initial requirements? Sure, but your first priority must be to establish the process – to do the Process Excellence work – anyway!
As the saying goes, you can’t improve what you don’t measure. It also turns out you can’t improve what isn’t defined! Example: “fix our fulfillment process!” Okay… first, what is this fulfillment process expected to deliver and to whom, and what are the customer’s expectations?
In a future post I’ll cover in detail what the Process Excellence toolkit is, but if you’re familiar with the DMAIC model, Process Excellence consists of the D, M, and C phases. Define, Measure, and Control. I’ll also come back to why my experiences in Financial Services required mostly Process Excellence work vs. Lean or Six Sigma.