The difference between Six Sigma, Lean, Lean Six Sigma and Outside-In

It’s a confusing world out there. At the last count there were over 6,000 improvement methodologies (Wikipedia) all geared to helping organizations get better at business. So at least there’s always been plenty of choice depending on your particular flavor of the month however one has to ask the question why so many and why do even the better ones fail to help our companies adapt and change? 

Regular readers of BP Group stuff will know we can be quite outspoken on this matter, and it’s best summed up by the phrase “you may be doing things right, but are you doing the right thing?”. The vast majority of techniques, approaches and methods are geared to fixing problems, and essentially getting better at doing things right. That was fine in the 20th century world where efficiency was king. Not so anymore where effectiveness, efficiency and successful outcomes are pre-requisites for business success. Just getting better at what you currently do (doing things right) is the route of diminishing returns. The harder we try, the tighter we get, the poorer the gain each time around.
Let’s contrast that with doing the right thing. Here we seek to determine what the right thing is, and in our language it centers on Successful Customer Outcomes (SCOs). And that isn’t about (just) filling forms correctly, tightening bolts or producing widgets. It is a philosophy that seeks to improve our alignment in everything we do towards the SCO. It is geared to understanding Causes rather than fixing effects, and unfortunately again so much of what is called ‘improvement’ is about fixing effects, rather than flushing out the Cause of Work (COW) and the Points of failure (POF).

The approach we have distilled from global leading companies, which we call Customer Expectation Management Method (CEMMethod), has a set of principles and philosophy that makes sure everything you do improves the SCO. CEMMethod helps an organization bring their processes, systems, strategy and people into ‘outside-in’ alignment.

Does CEMMethod work? Absolutely and that’s precisely what allows those leading companies to carry on creating clear water between themselves and the nearest ‘inside-out’ rivals.
So how could we compare the recent emergence of CEMMethod with less effective approaches like Six Sigma and Lean? Easy.

Six Sigma - Fixing problems. Doing Things Right..
For example people may not be filling in a form correctly. Six Sigma understands how often, where and what could be done to improve accuracy of the form.

Lean - Doing Things Right, and sometimes doing the Right Thing.
Similar to Six Sigma however goes a stage further in removing waste associated with form completion by removing unnecessary steps and sometimes as a consequence negates the need for a form entirely. In doing so occasionally, but not by design, stumbles into doing the right thing.
Both Six Sigma and Lean don’t challenge directly whether the form helps to achieve an SCO.

On the other hand,
CEMMethod - Doing the Right Thing. Doing it Right, doing it even Better.

Asks whether the form contributes to the achievement of the SCO. If it doesn’t we stop doing this dumb stuff. It is typical to find that a massive amount of work in a CEMM examined process becomes unnecessary and in doing so frees up scarce resource.

The good news is that those ‘outside-in’ success stories can help all of us embrace the SCO and identify and achieve immediate substantive triple crown benefits for our organizations.

Terms used in this article:

CEM - Customer Expectation Management
CEMMethod - Customer Expectation Management Method
SCOs - Successful Customer Outcomes
COWs - Causes of Work
POFs - Points of Failure
Triple Crown - Concurrently Improving Revenues, Enhancing Service and Reducing Costs.
Inside-Out - viewing the organization as a self sustaining functional enterprise focused on silo based specialism
Outside-In - understanding and living an approach that recognizes the only reason an organization exists is to deliver SCOs. In doing so achieving Triple Crown benefits which benefit the Customer, the companies employees and the shareholders.

What is your SCO and how aligned is your organization to achieving it?

About the Author

Steve Towers, Co-founder and Chair of BP Group and founder of Towers Associates, is an expert on process and performance transformation.
Steve founded the first community focused on business process management in 1992.
Steve has bases in Europe (UK) and Colorado.

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