Projected Lean and Six Sigma Trends for 2010

Mayukh Ghosh

Lean and Six Sigma History

Being a professional with a background in operations and supply chain and having a passion for Lean and Six Sigma, I wanted to take the opportunity to share my thoughts on the evolution of Lean and Six Sigma in 2010. The Lean and Six Sigma journey has been one that has evolved over the years. In the earlier years, each was looked at as a separate paradigm with no common ground. Lean tools were used on the manufacturing floor to drive out the seven deadly wastes and make processes flexible, reduce cost and improve responsiveness. Lean tools were confined more to a manufacturing setting and the perception was that the concepts and tools would not have significant impact in the other realms of an organization. Six Sigma was looked at as a data centric problem solving methodology that used super statistics tools that would hack any complex problem to pieces and drive massive bottom-line savings.

Over the last five years or so, Lean and Six Sigma have evolved to come under the same umbrella of process improvement tools. Therefore Lean and Six Sigma are viewed as the tools that are capable of delivering an organization from a current state of excessive waste to a future state of efficient processes. This new future state now becomes current state and the journey continues…yes…forever!

What is the Next Stage of Evolution for Lean and Six Sigma?

The current economic scenario of the world is quite volatile, with global recession, rapid environmental degradation, long and complex supply chains, and repeated rebuttals of Moore’s law (read as technological advancements). The lead time for implementation of lean process improvement activities and realization of positive impact as a result of implementation activites is trending steadily downward. I am definitely not referring to firefighting, but to the phase after the fire has been doused. This is the period when an organization is trying to remove the band-aid and put in some permanent long term fixes to prevent future recurrence. Organizations want to get from Current State to Future State rapidly and also ensure that countermeasures (read new problems are created) do not negatively impact all the gains from Lean and Six Sigma projects.

Traditionally, in the application of Lean and Six Sigma we have seen both the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) structure and the DMAIC (Define Measure Analyze Improve Control) structure being applied.


In my opinion what I see happening in 2010 are the following:

1. Restructuring of time allocation within the DMAIC and PDCA Structure: Implementation of process improvement projects only in the case of genuine "process pain," as with current trend of Leaning out of resources, only the top "pain" projects will be worked on. Since the "process pain" has been defined and quantified, I envision that process improvement projects will evolve into a more Analyze phase–Improve phase (short term and long term)–Check for Effectiveness phase.

In the PDCA cycle, I envision an evolution into a more Check Act Check cycle for multiple process improvement projects for fewer resources. The Plan and Do cycles will still be exist with very limited resource and time commitment.

2. The Impact of Technological Advancements: With increased availability of innovative technology and enhancements, more and more measurements are being put in place to understand, monitor and control processes. As we know what we cannot measure we cannot improve. Available data for processes will encourage predictive modeling tools under the umbrella of Lean and Six Sigma tools. This will enable organizations to become more proactive and help with prevention and improved response times.

The lead time of implementation of Lean and Six Sigma projects will also be on a downward trend as a result of easier measurements with technology advancements, greater affordability and the evolution of Web 2.0 tools to drive productivity and efficiency.

3. The Impact of the Global Recession: The global recession was a giant "reset" for the world of business. This recession has caused a lot of job losses around the country and around the world. This is occurring as the economies of the developed and developing world are increasingly intertwined to deliver a final product to a customer. This will create numerous opportunities for productivity, inventory, service and quality. The challenge will be the prioritization of existing resources to capitalize on these opportunities. The other big challenge will be the limited availability of capital to invest in advanced technology, upgrading obsolete machines, replacement programs will be delayed.

In 2010, the big question will be which opportunities to address with the severely reduced resources. I do not foresee organizations expanding their workforce; instead they would probably use the existing resources to address the most critical opportunities. This can be worked through by prioritizing process improvement projects that will drive reduction of scrap, improve safety and overall quality.

Please note that the above statements are strictly what I see when I peer into my custom made glass Lean Six Sigma crystal ball. These comments come out of my thoughts and experiences as an individual.