A Shoe or a Hammer! Which drives a screw better?

Lean and Six Sigma have taken a beating over the past several years – “It does not work for us and our environment. We are different! Our processes are different than companies that can use it! We have two many special products that does not lend itself to Lean and Six Sigma like the large companies!” However, Lean and Six Sigma a proven manufacturing methodology has been around since the 1930’s with the likes of Deming, Shewhart, Juran and others and although the terms have changed through time and I am sure they will change again with a slight twist on the meaning to get people to bite again – the underlying meanings will never change.


Lean is simply the elimination of waste. Now what company would say that eliminating wasteful steps or wastes in general in their operations or services to reduce cost does not work? Six Sigma is an organized method to apply statistics to best predict your outcome. Gosh wouldn’t that be wonderful to better understand and better predict how and why problems happen! And not just “because it does!”


Let’s look at it like this. Lean and Six Sigma tools are like the tools in your home tool box. There are many different types of tools in your home tool box. Some tools can be used for many different applications, and some tools must be used for very specific application; however, 90% of the time we use a hammer, a crescent wrench, and a screw driver. That’s what works! And in the unusual case you have a special tool that makes your job so much easier then the more power too you! It is the same way with Lean and Six Sigma tools – only a few tools will be needed to solve most of our problems. In addition, there are many specialized tools for specialized situations which help you solve the problem much easier – but these only occur about 10% of the time.


Furthermore, how many times have we misapplied tools at home? We may try to use a hammer or a shoe to drive a screw, but a screw driver works better.  Or we use a standard wrench for a metric bolt. It may work, but eventually, we have rounded the bolt head so bad, that we have to replace the bolt. In addition, you are constantly retightening the bolt (re-fixing the problem) because you cannot get the torque needed to fix the problem to start with.


Lean and Six Sigma tools are the same way. There are many types of Lean and Six Sigma tools; however, you will probably only use a few tools 90% of the time. In addition, misapplying the tools may work, but not to your expectations, and misapplications can create problems down the road, thus leading us to the result that the “this tool does not work!” or “Lean Six Sigma does not work for us!”


It is not the tool, it is not Lean and Six Sigma – the tools and the methodology work fine. It is misunderstanding the concept, misapplying the tool, and using the wrong method to solve the problem at hand. Lean and Six Sigma work, but application is critical to get the results we expect.