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Lean Six Sigma Must Be A Waste Of Energy

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Would you get on an airplane if it you knew the flight would fail 25-70% of the time? What if it was only 1% of the time? Would you get on an airplane if you knew one out of every hundred (1:100) flights would fail? That would be a failure rate of approximately one flight per hour, every hour, out of Newark International Airport alone (or that of any other major international airport).

It seems that everywhere I look – every article I read, every subject matter expert with whom I speak and every talk to which I listen – the message appears to be the same each and every time; Lean Six-Sigma fails. Depending upon the source, Lean Six-Sigma initiatives might fail 25% of the time or even 70% of the time. Some even claim that they never fulfill its promise or realize its potential. In fact, there are so many articles and lectures on how often and how much Lean Six-Sigma fails that it is amazing anyone would even bother trying to implement it, or otherwise select it as a path for improvement.

Yet leaders in business from around the world and across nearly every industry insist that Lean Six-Sigma programs have been wildly successful in their companies and can be as wildly successful in others – even yours.

There is an obvious disconnect; in the story, in the way it’s “told”, in the way it’s deployed and in its ending. But what might that disconnect, or those disconnects be?

As a long-time member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE) and being on the Advisory Board of its Process Industries Division (PID), as well as being on the Advisory Board of Binghamton University’s System Science and Industrial Engineering (SSIE) Department; I have been intimately exposed to the material on the subject matter being taught at various institutions and purveyors of knowledge and decided to investigate the “root cause” of such poor results being reported, as well as the increasingly poor expectations associated with Continuous Improvement initiatives.

During this exercise – and for both academia and industry from sources around the world – I examined the curriculum offered and reviewed the books and other materials used in the teaching of the various disciplines associated with Continuous Improvement in general, and Lean Six-Sigma in specific. I also examined the websites and articles written by practitioners and consultancies (including my own).

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