As Lean Six Sigma has increasingly become a part of mainstream business practices, more and more people have begun talking about it. There has been a long-standing bone of contention surrounding the use of Lean Six Sigma methodologies and its applicability in the services industry. This has muddied the waters and resulted in confusion, misunderstanding and a mixed reputation. Let’s set the record straight and boil it down into 10 simple explanations.

1.  What is it?

Simply put, “Lean” is about delivering more for less and “Six Sigma” is a set of data-driven techniques and tools for process improvement. Together, they form a powerful combination.

2.  What does “Six Sigma” actually mean?

Six Sigma is a quality measure. The objective of Six Sigma is to reduce variation and defects (errors) in your processes so that there is no more than 3.4 defect per million opportunities. In other words, 99.99966% of the time, your performance is on target. This is an aspirational goal rather than a realistic hard-wired target, especially within the services industry.

3.  What is its underlying principle?

Quite simply, the Customer is King. At the core of Lean Six Sigma is the “Voice of the Customer”. Early on in the process, the method entails the capture of subjective feedback from the customer such as “it takes too long” and turns it into quantitative measures such as “all calls must be answered within 5 seconds”. This forms a set of meaningful Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that your organisation can use to measure performance.

4.  Why Lean Six Sigma?

It’s a simple, agile and evidence-based approach. There’s a logical framework to follow: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control (DMAIC). Underpinning this is a series of tools and techniques that can be hand-picked based on the requirements of your project. Most other methodologies enforce conformity with a rigid framework despite some elements being over-onerous or not applicable. Whereas every step taken on a Lean Six Sigma project has to add value because that’s what the entire methodology is founded upon. The data-driven approach makes Lean Six Sigma a proven methodology.

5.  Is it solely focussed on data and statistics?

No. It’s actually focussed on the “Voice of the Customer” (what the Customer deems as “value”). Lean Six Sigma provides you with tools to help you work towards satisfying the Customer’s requirements by reducing waste, variation and defects in your processes. However the emphasis on data is crucial, as it provides a baseline from which to measure improvements.

6.  Is it complicated?

Quite the contrary. The approach is logical and evidence-based which means that the outputs are generally indisputable. The tools help to graphically present the problems and solutions for the likes of senior leadership who don’t want to read reams of documents. The true essence of Lean is simplicity.

7.  Is Lean Six Sigma just a fad?

It’s much more than an off-the-shelf methodology sold in the marketplace; it’s a set of guiding principles, a mind-set and a language. Its philosophy focusses on continual improvement. When applied and embedded within an organisation, it creates a culture where employees are actively engaged with improving productivity, quality and safety.

8.  Can the methods be applied to big or small projects?

The great thing about the methodology is that it can be applied to any project regardless of size or complexity. Lean Six Sigma can be applied to large transformational changes across an organisation and to small incremental changes within a business unit.

9.  What’s the difference between Lean Six Sigma, Change Management and Project Management?

There is no competition between the three approaches because they are all complementary to one another, and here’s why:

Lean Six Sigma is an evidence-based discipline that is used to streamline processes by reducing waste, defects and variation.

Project Management is an endeavour to achieve a defined objective, through controlling time, budget and quality.

Change Management provides ways and means for realising benefits through managing the people-side of change and managing resistance.


10.  In summary, what does Lean Six Sigma bring to the services industry?

  • The methodology helps to direct focus on the right things, with the customer at its core.
  • The process mandates the problems to be clearly defined before jumping to solution-mode, which is commonly done in services.
  • The underlying root causes are surfaced through the process, so that the problems are fixed once-and-for-all.
  • Organisations use KPIs to evaluate their performance but often there are too many KPIs or they do not serve a purpose. Lean Six Sigma helps to establish meaningful KPIs that are manageable, purposeful and can assist informed decision-making.
  • The approach encourages innovation and blue-sky thinking to avoid falling into the “we’ve always done things this way” trap.
  • Identified solutions are logically prioritised based on effort and impact to ensure that the “low hanging fruits” are captured first.
  • All of the tools act as powerful visual aids to gain stakeholder buy-in.
  • Too often, change initiatives are implemented but the changes do not “stick”. The methodology provides mechanisms to ensure that the benefits are sustained post-implementation.

We support organisations with embedding the Lean Six Sigma ethos through training and mentoring. We are strong believers in the Toyota Way (the epitome of Lean) which is that people learn by doing, not through death-by-PowerPoint. We incorporate this principle in our approach. We also have years of experience in delivering Lean Six Sigma projects to achieve continuous improvement in service delivery. Read more about our services.

If you would like to find out more about how Lean Six Sigma can support your organisation, please get in touch.

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