Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints and the Mountain:

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Recently there have been a lot of discussions about which is best – Lean, Six Sigma or Theory of Constraints? Is Lean Six Sigma better than Lean or Six Sigma?

In this brief post, I will try to view this question from my viewpoint. There is a saying based on the 9th century Zen Buddhist teacher Qingyuan Weixin which I have paraphrased loosely below;

“At first I saw the mountain as a mountain. Then when I learned more and more, I realized that the mountain is not a mountain. But now that I have learned it even more, I see that the mountain is a mountain again.”

If you change the term mountain with “Lean” and “a set of tools”, we can paraphrase it as follows;

“At first I saw Lean as a set of tools. Then I learned more and more, I realized that Lean is not a set of tools. But now that I have learned it even more, I see Lean as a set of tools again.”

You can change Lean to any other philosophy in the above saying. I was taken aback by the saying when I first read it. But gradually it made more sense.

When we first learn about Lean, you hear about the tools. You perceive it as a solid and fixed set of tools. This could include 5S, SMED, Poka Yoke, VSM etc. This kind of categorization and labeling makes us believe that Lean is a set of tools and something that is static. It makes us feel that we know it.

Lean = 5S + SMED + Poka-yoke + VSM +…….

Once we learn more and more, we come to realize that it is not static but dynamic. There is no “one size fits all” solution. There is no magic bullet. The strategy that worked for one company does not work for the other. Then we start to see Lean as not a set of tools.

Lean = Eliminate Waste

However, once we learn more and more, and start applying Lean, we gain a new awareness. We realize that Lean has an overall form and is free flowing. You realize that you need to understand the problem first, and then address the problem using the appropriate tool. You become spontaneous and you just know which tool to use when and how. Now, Lean has become a set of tools again.

Lean = Understand the context of the problem, and address the problem using the right tool

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Chewbacca, Poka-Yoke and Respect for People.

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