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10 reasons organizations don’t use Lean Six Sigma

November 26, 2014

There are many reasons not to consider Lean Six Sigma in your business. Some are valid. Many are misconceptions. Still others are pure fiction. Here are ten commonly cited reasons

1. I've never heard of Lean Six Sigma.
2. Lean Six Sigma is a fad, just like Total Quality Management, the Juran Quality Trilogy, Theory of Constraints, and Business Process Re-Engineering.
3. We don't have time for a Lean Six Sigma program.
4. Our company can't afford the costs of implementing a Lean Six Sigma program.
5. We're too small. LSS is for large companies.
6. We're not a manufacturer.
7. Lean Six Sigma involves a lot of statistics and advanced mathematics. Most of our employees are front-line operators -- not engineers.
8. Lean is a better fit for our business. Six Sigma is too advanced.
9. We've tried Lean Six Sigma years ago and did not achieve good results.
10. Fear of the unknown or failure.

While there are a lot reasons not to consider Lean Six Sigma, the question you should be asking yourself is "Can we afford not to embrace Lean Six Sigma in our business?" So let's address each of the reasons above.

1. I've never heard of Lean Six Sigma. Definitely a valid reason. While growing in popularity, Lean Six Sigma is still not part of mainstream business vernacular. Your best bet is to Google "Lean Six Sigma" and start finding out more about. There are some excellent primers includingWhat is Six Sigma? by Pete Pande or What is Lean Six Sigma? by Mike George. The American Society for Quality ( and The Lean Enterprise Institute ( are great non-profit professional associations. Or attend a free webinar on "Demystifying Lean Six Sigma" at my company by visiting

2. Lean Six Sigma is a fad, just like Total Quality Management, Theory of Constraints and Business Process Re-Engineering. The origins of Lean Six Sigma can be traced back to the turn of the nineteenth century with business and quality leaders like Henry Ford, Walter Shewhart of Western Electric, Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran, Taichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo of Toyota. Over the years it has continued to grow, develop and transform itself. Lean Six Sigma differs from other continuous improvement programs in three important ways: 1) Its laser-like focus on the customer; 2) the extensive use of data and analytics to make sound decisions; and 3) its Return-on-Investment orientation -- the language of management.

3. We don't have time to dedicate to a formal Lean Six Sigma program.

Time is an organization's most valuable commodity. Waste it, and you are throwing away an irreplaceable resource. Time is not the enemy unless you try to kill it. An hour lost is never found. As Henry Ford once said, "Time waste differs from material waste because there can be no salvage.” You owe it to yourself and your business to invest some time in understanding how Lean Six Sigma can help you.

4. Our business can't afford the costs of implementing a Lean Six Sigma program. The short response is that Lean Six Sigma Programs don't necessarily require significant capital. Mid-sized businesses jump start their LSS program with just one day of Yellow Belt training on the fundamentals. This is not to say organizations should not consider hiring certified Black Belts from the outside, conduct training for Yellow, Green and Black Belt certification, or purchase statistical and project management software. The point is LSS should be looked upon as an investment. An investment that should yield a return of at least 5-10 times in year 1 with the right projects.

5. We're too small. Lean Six Sigma is only for larger organizations. One of the most frequent comments from small and medium-sized business owners is "We've hit the wall". The "wall" means having cash flow tied up in inventory or receivables even though the company is profitable. It may mean the inability to scale or grow the business with the same resources. Sometimes the "wall" means chronic employee turnover or overtime. Other times, it means not providing the same level of quality and personal customer service when you started the business. Regardless of what "wall" you are hitting, these are signals that the processes that got you where you are today are insufficient to get you where you want to go tomorrow. You need to think differently about how to operate the business. Perhaps thinking about Lean Six Sigma.

6. We're not a manufacturer. Tell this to AT&T, The Coca-Cola Company, Bank of America, Merck, Starbucks, Virginia Mason Hospital, and Wal-Mart. While Lean Six Sigma may have originated in manufacturing, the principles apply equally to transaction and service environments. In fact, the service industry actually has more waste than in manufacturing primarily because so much of the work and deliverables in service are "invisible" - no tangible widgets. Keep in mind whenever you have a fairly repeatable process (i.e., employee on-boarding, order processing, delivery, invoicing, or accounts payable), with volumes driving it, and you are collecting data about the process, you have all the ingredients to leverage the principles of Lean Six Sigma.

7. Lean Six Sigma involves a lot of statistics and advanced mathematics. Most of our employees are front-line operators -- not engineers. Most organizations do not require statistics and advanced mathematics to enjoy the benefits of Lean Six Sigma. In fact, most of the principles and tools can be quickly and easily used by anyone. Some of the most powerful tools include being able to identify waste through a new set of eyes (Eight Wastes). Drawing a simple process map on a white board to identify gaps, redundancies or bottlenecks in a process. Or even asking "Why?" 5 times to get at the root cause. Challenge your team to step up to the plate. If we take the time to explain to our employees what the customer needs, you can be certain they will bring great ideas on how to solve those problems.

8. Lean is a better fit for our business. We're going to start with Lean and then move into Six Sigma. By following this logic, you are cheating your customers, your employees, your business and yourself. Lean and Six Sigma are not mutually exclusive nor have to be applied in a linear fashion. They complement each other. Lean improves the speed and throughput of your business. It's about simplifying the business, doing more with the less. Think "efficiency". Six Sigma improves the quality of products and services by reducing defects and variation. It's about striving to doing things right the first time, quality. Think "effectiveness". When you combine efficiency and effectiveness you get dramatic results. By only doing Lean you sacrifice the benefits of quality. Likewise, when you only implement Six Sigma you miss out on driving efficiencies.

9. We've tried Lean Six Sigma years ago and did not achieve good results. Ask yourself "Why didn't we achieve success?" Was it related to people, processes or technology? What was the catalyst for embarking on the program? Was it driven internally or by some key customers? Was the leadership committed to the program's success? If so, how were they committed? How was "success" defined? Were the goals and timetables realistic? Was it solely about saving money or reducing headcount? Was the organization mature enough for this type of program. Did you provide context to your employees on why you were starting such a program? Were the employees equipped with the appropriate training and tools? How were projects selected? How were projects managed? Were the results tracked and shared? Was there a recognition component to the program? Regardless of the reasons, you owe it to your customers, your employees, your business, and yourself to try again. Maybe take more time on the front end to clearly articulate the vision. Define the problems you are trying to solve with a program like Lean Six Sigma. Engage the front line and your customers to be part of the process. Remember, a methodology like Lean Six Sigma is only as good as the people managing it and the processes for how they are managing it.

10. Fear of the unknown or fear of failure. Of all the reasons listed, this one is probably the most legitimate. The problem is very few people are willing to acknowledge it or share it with others. Certainly pride is a factor. But when you think about it, fear of the unknown or failure can be paralyzing. It prevents us from learning a new skill, taking on a leadership role, or implementing a program like Lean Six Sigma. Fear must be driven out of the organization in order to innovate and thrive.


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