Lean Six Sigma's Success Rate - Would Better Messaging Help?

(THIS IS NOT A POLITICAL ENDORSEMENT OF TRUMP - ITS A DISCUSSION ABOUT MESSAGING.) Blogger Daniel Greenfield's article:  To Understand Trump, You Have To Understand New York, brings up the importance of messaging.

"There's a simple fact that is key to understanding why Trump is winning. He's the first Republican presidential candidate since Bush II to lay out a positive, specific and easy to understand plan for making things better. Cruz has (a) plan for eliminating everything Obama did. Rubio has a vague plan for being really positive about America."

Assuming he's correct, that it's messaging that's driving Trump's rise, then I wonder if the same thinking and analysis should be applied to Lean Six Sigma (LSS)? While it's one of the most popular of improvement approaches today, it's widely quoted for having a dismal success rate. And its complicated, so messaging isn't easy. In the same vein as a candidate, does LSS lay out an easy to understand plan for making things better? I don't think so. 

To understand Lean Six Sigma's messaging issue, try explaining it to a lay person or worse yet, someone that's had a negative experience with it in the past, as so many have. Maybe it's as simple as applying some marketing principles to improve it. Though I'm a sample size of one, I’ve never heard of LSS training that included a serious discussion on how to communicate what it is and how it works.

But, maybe the problem is deeper. Maybe it's the thinking that combined the two approaches, i.e. the sum is greater than the parts. I don’t believe it is in this case. To me, Lean should be used for people driven process improvements. If the issues are more machine, material or environmental, then Six Sigma tools may be needed. Combining the approaches, in my view, has created jacks-of-all-trades who are more focused on LSS methods than business performance improvement. They get hung up on “using all the tools,” getting "certified" or creating phase gate PowerPoints. I never hear of modern technology giants with widespread LSS deployments. I wonder why? They appear to be more reliant on innovation, leadership and unleashing the power of their employees (oops, without knowing it, I think I just described Lean.) If that approach works for them, why won’t it work for others? What's with all the LSS complexity?

For decades now, LSS discussion groups have blasted management for killing LSS efforts. And while I understand this, maybe it's time to look in the mirror.  Dare I say it, maybe there are some Lean Six Sigma flaws! Some practitioners act as though its exempt from the idea of improvement! 

I’ve worked with LSS Master Black Belts (MBB) that adhere so rigidly to the LSS methodology they create muda to do so. One example; a MBB presented a functional area manager with 50 or more printed Minitab charts and asked “do you see any in here that can help you?”  MBB or not, that's pure incompetence.

I say it's time to look in the mirror and ask ourselves, does LSS have a messaging problem? Or is it deeper than that? 


Here's an interesting take on Six Sigma at GE from a few years back.