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Lean, six sigma and lean sigma: fads or real process improvement methods?

Dag Näslund (Department of Management, Coggin College of Business, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, USA)

Business Process Management Journal

ISSN: 1463-7154

Article publication date: 6 June 2008

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore if six sigma and lean are new methods, or if they are repackaged versions of previously popular methods – total quality management (TQM) and just‐in‐time (JIT).

Design/methodology/approach

The study is based on a critical comparison of lean with JIT and six sigma with TQM, a study of the measure of the publication frequency – the number of academic articles published every year of the previous 30 years – for each topic, and a review of critical success factors (CSF) for change efforts.

Findings

The more recent concepts of lean and six sigma have mainly replaced – but not necessarily added to – the concepts of JIT and TQM. lean and six sigma are essentially repackaged versions of the former, and the methods seem to follow the fad (product) life cycle. The literature offers fairly similar and rather general CSF for these methods, e.g. top management support and the importance of communication and information. What seems to be missing, however, is the need for a systemic approach to organizational change and improvement.

Practical implications

A prediction is, given the fad or product life cycle phenomenon, that there will be a new method promoted soon, something perhaps already experienced with the borderline preposterous concept of lean six sigma. On the other hand, based on the gap in time between both JIT and lean, and TQM and six sigma – a gap filled by BRP/reengineering – the next method will be process oriented. This paper concludes with the discussion of the need for a process‐based approach to organizational improvement efforts.

Originality/value

This paper is of value in that it analyzes what lessons can be learnt from organizational change and improvement efforts. The analysis includes a comparison of CSF for any change project before discussing the need for a process (systems) perspective for successful organizational improvement efforts.

Keywords

Citation

Näslund, D. (2008), "Lean, six sigma and lean sigma: fads or real process improvement methods?", Business Process Management Journal, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 269-287. https://doi.org/10.1108/14637150810876634

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited