Book Review: "Lean Six Sigma for Dummies", 2nd Edition

Updated on April 28, 2018
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Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of 2, and a published sci-fi and horror author.

Introduction

“Lean Six Sigma for Dummies” the second edition is a book about Lean Six Sigma; it is written for managers, though the book is accessible to a general audience.

This book by two Lean Six Sigma experts gives a synopsis of the statistics behind “six sigma” quality, data collection and presentation tools to understand the data you have, problem solving methods you can employ and issues frequently encountered in process improvement projects. What are the pros and cons of this Lean Six Sigma book?

Cover of "Lean Six Sigma for Dummies" Second Edition
Cover of "Lean Six Sigma for Dummies" Second Edition | Source

Pros of “Lean Six Sigma for Dummies”

“Lean Six Sigma for Dummies” covers Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control or DMAIC or improving existing processes and Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Verify or DMAIV for new processes – as well as when each is appropriate. And unlike many books on a specific process improvement method, the authors admit LSS is not the best solution for every situation. They discuss the data collection required, process monitoring needed and investments required to make Lean Six Sigma work.

You don’t have to be an engineer or even business major to understand the book’s explanations on the statistical terms behind Lean Six Sigma.

This book gives good examples as to how measuring performance by some metrics hurt others. I’ve witnessed its example first hand on how measuring performance by throughput results in the complicated cases being set aside; backlog of difficult cases grows while employees prefer the quick cases to be able to say they finished a high quantity of work that day. The metrics you use affect operators and operations, and not shifting how you judge performance will undermine any process improvement project.

The book gives a decent overview of critical to quality factors, those factors that matter most to the customer. More than one “critical to quality” factor may apply, such as when people want orders that are accurate, complete and delivered in a timely manner. And factors may conflict with business objectives or be hard to improve at the same time. The entirety of Chapter 4 covers common CTQ factors and how to determine which you should try to address.

The section in this book on how the questions in a survey can bias the answers customers give and the bias that can arise from interpreting “closed” answers by the analysts should be required reading for the general public and especially by those working in the social sciences and marketing. Too many surveys are designed with such heavy bias that it nearly guarantees the answers the questioners want and are almost always interpreted in the way the authors want it to be, justifying their preconceived views or desired course of action.

The authors also give a good explanation in chapter 8 on the danger of looking for the “usual suspects” in root cause analysis instead of looking harder and longer for the true root causes.

While “lean” focuses on value added activities, the authors admit that not all actions will be value added but may still be necessary, whether meeting health, safety, regulatory or environmental needs. They address how to identify those actions in process maps.

Too many books on process improvement methodologies talk about changing the culture of the organization, as if “awareness” and emotional investment in the idea are enough to make change happen (it isn’t). Making matters worse is when the books hype up the concept and advocate creating emotional investment in various ideas, but don’t tell people how to make effective changes in processes, procedures and operations. People making sudden, unstudied changes in processes with good intent will usually have bad results – and you won’t know what change had the right results or how it affected things at all if you aren’t collecting the hard data before and after. Good intentions are not enough, and they too often do harm. “Lean Six Sigma for Dummies” advocates the data based decision making that too few other books discuss, much less explain the need for.

Cons of “Lean Six Sigma for Dummies”

The authors attribute nearly all of the concepts in this book to the Japanese, especially the Toyota Production System. They either do not know or don’t care to mention that Dr. Deming was the one who brought these concepts to Japan in the first place, when Japan’s quality rivals what we attribute cheap Chinese stuff to be like today.

Heavy use of Japanese terms like muri, mura and muda weigh down general comprehension for sections of the book. This is caused in part by the authors defaulting to Japanese examples, terms and case studies. They could have drawn from Deming and Drucker instead and avoided this issue.

“Lean Six Sigma for Dummies” touts the benefits of just in time manufacturing but not the risks it brings or inefficiency it can create.

Observations about “Lean Six Sigma for Dummies”

“Lean Six Sigma for Dummies” refers to several other Dummies books for in depth review of other subjects. This book has a short introduction to 5S but other resources have more information.

Given all of the discussion on voice of the customer and visual management, failing to include walking through the system as a customer is a major omission.

The authors list a number of websites for certification and training on Lean Six Sigma but did not include the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers, though they did include the American Society for Quality.

Summary

“Lean Six Sigma for Dummies” the second edition is an introduction to the concepts behind Lean Six Sigma, various methodologies for implementing it, and perhaps most importantly, recognizing when other methods are more effective than LSS. This book doesn’t eliminate the need for Lean and/or Six Sigma training for project leaders or hiring industrial engineers, but it is a good introduction to the concepts for managers and anyone else involved in process improvement projects.

Overall, I give this book five stars.

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