Six Sigma is struggling to produce sustainable results. Plenty of large organizations and government entities have chosen Lean Six Sigma as their methodology of choice, including Boeing, Ford, and the US Marine Corps. But, if Six Sigma is such an established player chosen by such powerful organizations, why is it now coming under fire? As economic situations change, companies put increasing priority on efficiency, and cutting costs wherever possible.
Process experts, Keith Stagner and Geoff Tennant recently wrote on this:
In more than 15 years … we have seen hundreds – if not thousands – of transactional processes improved, yet almost all still end with a significant amount of waste, … and [processes] gradually degrade again over time.
They also pointed out that one of the biggest issues with Six Sigma implementations, is solutions developed during an Improve Phase are typically incompatible with the various pieces of software already deployed because the implementation would be too expensive and/or time consuming. The biggest thing holding these companies back is not that they do not know what to do, it is that they cannot do it.
Lean Six Sigma has reprioritized the focus from eliminating defects to flow and value, and takes the defect elimination as a side effect. This has worked well for many, but what is still missing is the Agile nature that facilitates ever changing processes, delivering Continuous Improvement.
Similarly, BPM provides a way to fill very similar goals, but also lacks the agility so desperately needed. Traditional and Low Code BPM still need substantial code and development inputs, which create delay and cost, i.e. waste. Lean BPM removes this waste, by delivering BPM functionality directly into the hands of the business user, the Citizen Developer, who can use the BPMS without the need for coding or development skills. This allows the Citizen Developer to be truly Agile, responsive and reactive to the business environment, and able to make process changes at will.
Challenging Six Sigma
Traditional Six Sigma and Business Process Management software suites will usually provide excellent value to businesses. They will provide excellent coverage of all areas of the business it is implemented to support. It does its job. The issue with traditional Six Sigma and BPM implementations comes after they get off the ground. Trying to change the implementation is a hard, it usually involves programmers, designers, managers and a whole slew of other necessary participants. When your goal is to achieve maximum efficiency, it seems almost absurd not to expect that same level of efficiency from the tool helping you achieve that goal.
There are three steps to creating a business process. What Lean BPM seeks to do is quickly and effectively capture critical and noncritical business process, allowing you to visualize waste and error, and then automate the process. This work is done using modern Agile development methods and BPM tools.
- Defining: Define how things are done. Bob makes X, then X is given to Joan who does Y and Z. Define your process and find and eliminate duplicate work, resource waste, or any other waste you can find.
- Building: Model the real-life process you’ve found in a software tool.
- Changing/Refining: Update, add to, and improve processes however and whenever needed.
Lean BPM with Agile serves as the antithesis of the overblown Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (DMAIC) process of Six Sigma projects. These projects are often hugely time consuming, and though they can provide value, they are frequently unwieldy, cumbersome and lumbering. Value creation and process improvement from DMAIC is far from guaranteed, and frequently it results in the creation of more waste and inefficiencies for no incremental value gained.
The thought of revisiting the DMAIC process is enough to send shivers down the spine of the most experienced Six Sigma Black Belt!
Lean BPM tools seek to provide a simple solution to this problem of complexity and unwieldiness.
They simply empower the Citizen Developer in anyone who needs to make a process change, such that they can easily implement a modification or indeed, create a new process from scratch. Instead of waiting for the Improve phase, practitioners using Lean BPM can record a whole process, make radical improvements and are ready for production in a matter of days. The Citizen Developer becomes Lean, Agile and able to Continuous Improve the processes they are responsible for.