Part of my job as a consultant is to be continually seeking out new project opportunities. Lately, I have noticed a peculiar trend within posted project descriptions. Many projects are asking for skills in Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, Scrum, BPM, Kaizen, and more, all for, and within the same project!
My question here is ‘’are we really trying to use all these different methodologies in the same project?’’. If we are, this could be cause for concern. In fact, they can be quite competing methodologies.
Let’s take a step back and define the purpose of each methodology to help clarify a few things. Please note that one can easily write a book on each individual methodology alone.
From Japan and started at Toyota. The real essence of Lean is that it is ‘a way of working, to be able to continually identify and reduce waste (activities that do not add any value in a process).
The 7 types of waste we look for are transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-processing, over-production, defects, and skills (TIM WOODS). There is a myriad of different tools that you would use to seek out the different types of waste, such as spaghetti diagrams for Movement.
As you can see, Lean would be well-suited for identifying improvements in existing as-is business processes (think ‘operational excellence).
From USA and started at Motorola. The essence of six sigma is that it should be treated as a ‘Project’ that would entail fixing a deviation from a norm that your company has set. For example, if your company wants customers to wait for a maximum of 2 mins before being helped, and this is currently not meeting the norm, Six Sigma can help achieve this by deploying the DMAIC sequence (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve Control) and a myriad of associated tools in each of the phases, like Pareto charts, house of quality, histograms and so on.
To this end, Six Sigma heavily relies on data, statistics, and scientific approaches to solve a problem.
Lean and Six Sigma are different methodologies, but many tools used in Lean do a great job in different parts of the Six Sigma DMAIC sequence. Therefore, many of us in process excellence learn and use both.
So on this occasion, I give the project poster a ‘pass’ when simultaneously asking for lean and six sigma skills.
Kaizen isn’t even a methodology when you think about it, really. Think of it more like an attitude towards improvement and change. When translating, it means ‘Change for the Better’ and it focuses on small, continuous improvements, with the thought that sudden large improvements will cause a shock to the system, and thus it is better to change in gradual, small amounts. How you deploy Kaizen is highly variable for each organization.
In this sense, Kaizen is quite the contrast from Six Sigma, because Six Sigma is all about drastic, significant, and sudden improvements. If you look back to where these two originated, it shouldn’t be so surprising, as the two cultures have had different approaches in the past (Japan – small and gradual change, USA – big, sudden changes).
So in this scenario, if I see Kaizen and Six Sigma as a requirement for one particular project, my eyebrows do raise a little. Does the customer want to solve a problem, quickly and drastically, or do they want small, iterative improvements over time?
Business Process Management (BPM):
BPM is also a process improvement methodology but looks to improve and manage the business in its entirety, from end to end (generally no ‘one-offs’). BPM, like six sigma, follows a stage model (Design, Model, Execute, Monitor, Optimize).
A characteristic of BPM is that it looks to automate wherever possible (steps that are driven by human triggers, processes, and interactions). Because it often seeks to automate, it is increasingly technology-aided (IBM BPM, Microsoft Power Apps, etc) to help manage the end-to-end processes.
Scrum is meant to streamline projects and is primarily a project management methodology.
Where Lean reduces waste, six sigma reduces deviations from the norm, scrum aims to streamline projects. While scrum could technically be used in multiple sectors, its primary home is in IT. One of the main characteristics of scrum is that it manages projects while being robust enough to handle changing circumstances (which happen a lot in IT 😊). It’s often compared to the less modern waterfall methodology where activities are completed in defined phases, and there should be no turning back once the phase is completed. Scrum offers a way of working in constant connection to the environment, which results in much less risk of a complete overhaul of requirements in the middle or end of a project.
Agile is more like an umbrella term with many methodologies included (such as scrum). Sure, both lean and agile work to streamline projects, but that’s the only commonality between the two. The relationship between agile and six sigma is marginal at best. This is because the DMAIC sequence does not match the Agile way of managing projects very well. The DMAIC sequence takes time. In general terms, when you complete a phase as it relates to a project, you do not return to it.
Agile values are about responsiveness, adaptability, continual collaboration, and functionality (over static process and documentation). The goal of agile is to stay nimble and be easily adaptable in the face of change. Six sigma and lean are really all about improving existing as-is business processes with a clear end-goal identified and defined.
You can easily go online and see any of these methodologies being ‘adapted’ to connect to the other, AGILE BPM, Agile Six Sigma, Lean-Agile, etc., This isn’t going to help in the confusion. We should not assume that these methods are generally the same and/or interchangeable. It is important that you choose the right method(s) for your situation.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t need to make an all-in choice with one method when you can see that principles from another method could be helpful. But the reality is; if you have a project where you think you need to deploy every one of these principles to be successful; the project objective, purpose, scope, and end goal likely need to be redefined.
And don´t forget this is not always easy, but there is help to be found, I´m more than happy to, just reach out!