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A blend of methodologies is a recipe for success


It’s a robust methodology that offers consistent value, but everything can be optimised. Think design.


Straight out the gate, we are big fans of Lean 6 Sigma as a methodology. As it says on the box, it is an effective method to define, measure, analyse, improve, and control process problems with unknown causes. It has an undisputed ‘blackbelt’, excuse the pun, in identifying problems like wasted time and underutilised resources but if you’ve been in a leadership position at an organisation for some time, you’ll know that it can’t always solve for the human element. Data and analysis can’t fix everything, unfortunately. Especially when it comes to people.


Analogy time: The slow puncture tyre and the handyman’s toolbelt. Forgive the informality of the metaphor, but let’s compare an unidentified problem in your organisation with a slow puncture in your car’s tyre. Using the Lean 6 Sigma DMAIC five-step method will eventually lead you to the nail in your tyre that is negatively impacting the ‘flow’ of your car getting from A to B. You’ve identified that a nail punctured your tyre, and this is what resulted in the slow puncture.


Now, let’s take this a step further. You replace the tyre but a week later you have the same problem, another puncture. You replace the tyre repeatedly but every week the same outcome, a flat tyre.


You chat to your partner about the problem and discover that the customer works in a scrap yard where there is a lot of debris lying around. You didn’t factor in the customer.


That’s Design Thinking. Lean 6 Sigma just got optimised.


But why does Lean 6 Sigma need optimisation? Because it’s too data and analysis driven and not ‘humanocratic’ or customer centric enough.


1. You might be losing the customer’s voice

Lean 6 Sigma is supposed to improve existing process flows. That’s its purpose. It can help identify where these inefficiencies are, but it doesn’t necessarily provide solutions to optimise these process flows and eradicate the inefficiencies, it is focused on the problem but not necessarily on what the customer needs and wants.


Imagine a problem in a shopping centre, it’s a bottleneck or blockage that is hindering the flow of the process, customers are queuing too long and complaining.

Lean 6 Sigma can be used to identify the cause of this blockage, for example, the online credit card payment devices keep going offline slowing the payment process down considerably.

The problem has been identified, but how can it be resolved? Now what needs to happen is the humans that are needed to execute this unblocking need to be identified and empowered to do so. Are the cashiers correctly using the devices, or is the shop’s Wi-Fi not fast enough because the manager took the cheapest package? Lean 6 Sigma would have to bow out here and tap Design Thinking in. This is a people problem.


2. It’s a people issue and not a data issue

Most social scientists will tell you that people don’t always act predictably. Data and analysis involving human beings is not hard science. So, relying purely on data and analysis to find solutions to process flow problems will inevitably fall short if there are people involved because we don’t always swim in our lanes. There’s a good chance your black belts are too analytical and too data-driven and is your data rich enough to solve for the customer? It’s data AND people that are the golden thread of problem-solving. You’re so systems lead that you don’t always identify the root cause (the machine is broken but there is other data missing).



3. There is more than just one methodology (to skin a cat/get to the top))

There are many ways up a mountain. Some are better than others. Lean 6 Sigma is one effective way to reach the summit but without Design Thinking, you won’t be able to share the experience of getting to the top. It can be a creative and collaborative experience. In fact, it should be.


4. You’re trying to do it all by yourself

Lean 6 Sigma makes process flow problems a leadership problem. A handful of ‘experts’ need to gather enough data to analyse and identify waste, inefficiencies, and under-utilisation. This can often get the job done. But when you add Design Thinking to the mix you make this a problem to be solved creatively, collaboratively and in everyone’s best interest. It shouldn’t be just the “leadership”, those at the top of the food chain solving problems. Too many systems and interplays don’t always allow you to figure out what was causing the hold-up. You can’t see everything from all perspectives.


Author Michele Zanini from The New Human Movement (Humanocracy) defines a leader as “someone who catalyses positive change”. If you believe that you’ll want as many leaders in your organisation as possible. As leadership, you shouldn’t be assuming command and controlling everyone around you as you singlehandedly solve all the problems facing the organisation.


Design Thinking brings you to a new solution by drawing on everyone’s strengths because it is more collaborative, flexible, and creative. It factors people into the data and the analysis.




CTA: The global way of work is changing. Existing methodologies are also changing. If you are not questioning whether you are getting what you need from it, you’re not making progress.


Just because it’s worked until now doesn’t mean that it always will. Methodologies need to change and sometimes merge for optimal results.



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