Will Lean Six Sigma be relevant in future? One of the most frequently asked questions in recent times? The short answer to the question is "Yes–100%". Those who are practising Lean Six Sigma will agree with my statement. Whenever people ask me this question, I wonder why even get this question. Each industry is with many challenges without the cause being unknown, and Six Sigma is the way out. Having seen the industry from the past 16+ years, I can confidently say that Six Sigma would continue to be in demand for a long time to come. Let me back up with a detailed explanation of how Six Sigma would continue to be useful and relevance in some of the key industries to justify my statement.
While I agree due to Automation of some of the repetitive & transactional activities in BPO & ITES this question of Six Sigma relevancy has been making rounds from 2-3 years now. If someone believes that Six Sigma projects have been limited to repetitive tasks, then that is an incorrect assumption to make. We also need to learn that Automation would be a blessing in a specific industry & would give rise to various other opportunities.
Let's take a step back and look at the Lean Six Sigma outcome once. Lean help you Accelerate the process, and Six Sigma makes the process more Accurate. Speed, Agility and Accuracy are the Buzz words today, with Lean Six Sigma we can look at achieving all of these.
The way Six Sigma will be applied will evolve to solve some complex problems. If we all recollect Six Sigma was predominantly used to solve Quality issues. Slowly Six Sigma application was extended to driving Productivity, Reduce Turn Around Time, Customer Satisfaction. From a decade or so, Six Sigma has been used to Generate Revenue or Accelerate Revenue generation process. The evaluation of Six Sigma to solve more complex problems would continue.
Let me help you understand how Six Sigma application would evolve in various industries with or without the technology intervention. I am confident, the examples listed below are limited, and Six Sigma would grow beyond this.
Though Six Sigma has evolved through Manufacturing, unfortunately not many Manufacturing organizations have embraced Six Sigma completely, Majority of the cases it is all done as stand-alone projects. One of the reasons is non-availability of data, and Six Sigma is Data-driven. Data collection is a difficult job in Manufacturing, and accuracy & precision of the Data always remain a question mark. As the world moves towards Industry 4.0 or put Automations coupled with IoT, the availability of data would be abundant & the Data Quality would be a lot better as well which is good news for Six Sigma guys. This will help Manufacturing guys to start looking at improving their output Quality towards Six Sigma standards. Design of Experiments would be far easier to apply, as carrying out experiments with the different experimental designs would be at fingertips. Manufacturing would gain immensely in terms of Six Sigma usage.
Let me explain with an example, one of the Green Belt approached recently requiring support in his Six Sigma project "Reduction of Noise Levels in Motor" this project has been around for two decades now. I remember working on a similar project almost 14 years back on the same product line. When he reached out to me for the help, the thought came to mind was "The Industry has not found a 100% fix for the problem Yet”. The underlying difficulty is Data availability. With Automation around & increase in data availability solving such complex issues would be a lot easier.
After Manufacturing the next much-talked Industry for Six Sigma application in the last decade or two is the BPO /BPS industry. BPO is also the place where RPA, AI, ML have been discussed heavily. Today, Majority of the projects in BPO are towards Accuracy, SLA or Productivity. While some of these would be still relevant in future as well, but few would not be relevant, but the usage of Six Sigma would continue in BPO with even more challenging opportunities.
Let us take an example of credit card sales team; the conversion rates are not that encouraging today. Even if we ignore complex customer as a factor, we still have little data to identify other driving factors which influence sales beyond a certain limit. I remember saying Yes to one credit card sales guy just because I like the way he sold it to me, whereas I had rejected dozens of them before. Once we have machines likes of Alexa or Google talking to a customer, the availability of Digital data of conversation between Agent and Machine would enable us to identify the drivers for revenue generation. We would be able to arrive at regression equations for Revenue generated, and this would be a game-changer. Six Sigma guys would play a key role in sales enablement. Machines would be easy to program to get the desired output. As the computers would store the previous transaction data, would enable a lot more analysis. The textual analysis would be meaningful as well, all of these improvements will be coded using AI and ML to get the best results.
Though there were quite a few Six Sigma projects in IT, ITES is where the penetration of Six Sigma has been extensive in the last two decade. Many IT maintenance, Support processes got Optimized to deliver Optimum Qualities, meet SLA's and reduce Resolution & Turn Around Times. There were projects to increase the percentage share of L1 to minimize the L2 & L3 cost. Standardization of work among Engineers to find the best way of resolving an IT ticket became predominant. Kanban of Lean became a topic itself, so much so that many ITES Engineers think Kanban is Lean and Lean is Kanban. ITES gained significantly from Lean Six Sigma; the trend would continue in ITES as an increase in Technology intervention would lead to a rise in the use of IT services. At the same time, many repetitive processes will be automated, but Quantum of work in the ITES sector would increase, and the trend of usage of Lean Six Sigma would increase as well. So, if you are in the IT/ITES sector, I am sure you will continue to have opportunities and would be infinite.
E-commerce/M-commerce are here to stay and for a long, long time. If someone is not selling their products/service online less likely that they would stay longer in the business, it is no secret that E-commerce/M-commerce would increase their relevance in the coming decade. There have been talks of usage of Drone to deliver the products in future. Having said all these majorities of the e-commerce companies are going through a challenging time in terms of being competitive. I was looking for some GB & BB jobs for someone who got trained from XergY; I was not surprised to see many of the e-commerce players that including Amazon and Flipkart had many Lean Six Sigma jobs. The trend would continue in the future as well; it's all about optimization. Given the fact, there would be a little variation in the selling price from the vendors for each of these e-commerce companies, the one who can optimize their supply chain is the one who would get the cost advantage and be relevant in the market. Who can do this optimization job better than Lean Six Sigma professionals? The answer is no one else, power Lean Six Sigma guys.
This is one area, where not much of Lean Six Sigma has been used so far, or I would not be wrong; it is Nil. Does Agriculture has problems requiring interventions of something like Lean Six Sigma; the answer is Yes. Coming from Farming background, I can confidently tell you there are plenty of Agricultural problems which have not seen the solution yet. The factors influencing the outcome are far many, Data is very limited & Quality of Data is poor as well. Conducting experiments is difficult either due to difficulty in controlling the factors or variation induced due to Noise factors is way beyond expected. Agriculture Universities might have done some studies with the use of Statistics, but many of the solutions are far away from deploying to masses. With the use of IoT solutions, with the presence of data of each factor to the best accuracy possible, having relevant noise factor data, like manufacturing this Industry would also be data-rich. Availability of data means it is work for Six Sigma guys to solve complex problems, not just the diseases in the plant but nutritious output as well, customization in the food grown can be thought of. Design of Experiments would take centre stage to conduct various studies to get the best out of the field. Technology and Data is a blessing for the Industry and relevance for Six Sigma as well.
Food processing is my favourite Industry, with an increase in competition. This Industry will eventually need to optimize their processes. I am not talking about Technology intervention but let us understand how the Food industry would start embracing Six Sigma in future minus the Technology impact.
There has been a humongous amount of food being wasted for various reasons. One of the prime reasons is the lack of a structured approach to reduce food wastage. Post harvesting losses are of the order of 20-30% or more. Don't you think Lean is all about reducing waste?
Food processing would see an increase in the use of Six Sigma methodology to make the process more robust. I happen to train dozens of professionals from the beverage company; they were able to generate more than 0.2 Mn $ in 4-6 months; this is the only tip of the ice burg. We happened to consult one of the Food Processing company recently; we brought down the rejection by 80% across the plant in less than two months by applying Six Sigma principles. Short point Food Processing industry will open for opportunities, as the segment becomes more competitive. With increased in Technology usage, the Industry will have the same advantage as of Manufacturing and would gain momentum for Six Sigma application.
Same as Food Processing, Six Sigma is not predominant today in health care. While Non-clinical side of Health care has seen descent amount of traction (not much in India though), but Clinical side quantum of work is still in nascent stages. Majority of the clinical aspects are Doctor driven and is far away from process-driven. With increasing in use of Virtual health care like of mfine, and Robot-assisted surgeries etc. would lead to an increased opportunity for expanding the process accuracy and the speed. Good news for Six Sigma again.
I remember a video talking about the reasons are why someone ends up getting cancer. The study was done based on the interview and survey of the cancer patients. I happen to validate the causes listed with someone close to me and found that his data analysis was so accurate. I was estimating the Quantum of hard work that has gone to conduct the study, studies like these would be far easier, with the availability of data. Six Sigma guys will have a task to do to build predictive models for each disease.
Today is it’s a Startup era. Startups are one area where need to build robust process would be significant in the coming days. There are many Startups well-funded, everything looked perfect but did not take off or struggling to be profitable. If you look closely, in most of the processes of the case are so weak & entire money is leaked right there`. I was looking at Google Reviews of one of my favourite Startups; if I summarize the reviews, all were pointing towards the bad processes being followed. The process is one ignored piece. Six Sigma guys are known for building Robust Processes.
Today Startups enjoy significant funding and also monopoly in the market. As the competition increases, I am sure; the sector would be no less than the Auto segment or low profitable Consumer Goods Segment where there are hardly any margins for the manufacturers. The two scenarios would eventually require Six Sigma to strengthen the process and make it leakproof. The ROI is as short as a couple of months, then why not go for it.
I will leave you with a small case study if done right how effective Six Sigma could be with my example. I had set up an e-commerce company into the supply of fresh fruits and veggies; I ran it for a year with various models Business to Business, Business to Customer, Business to Restaurants, Business to Cafes's, Business to Government. With just ~ 1 ton of shipment of Veggies and fruits per day, we were profitable by 8% for close to 5 months. We sold 99%+ of what we procured, against the industry standard of ~85-90%. I had designed the processes to Six Sigma standards. In one year, a span of time, words like Rejections, delayed deliveries were never heard off. Customer Net Promoter score was 95%+ We were growing organically without absolutely zero funding. So, the message is simple, if you set your process right, you would be profitable in year one or much before
Some of the Business functions like HR Practices, Supply Chain, Sales & Marketing, Customer Support, would also see an increase in Six Sigma in future.
Summarising the need, the Technology and the competitiveness of the market would generate higher intervention of Six Sigma to set the process right and get the best out of them.
Hope you enjoyed the reading, will see you in my next blog.
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