Can Lean Six Sigma Enable Software Process Excellence?

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Summary:
While Lean Software Development principles aim to uncover and reduce waste, Six Sigma places primary importance on customers, business results, and statistical analysis of processes. Lean also aims to make discoveries about where to target improvements compared with Six Sigma, which measures the results of process changes. By implementing both methodologies—Six Sigma and Lean Software Development—together, you can take advantage of the best in both models.

While Lean Software Development principles aim to uncover and reduce waste, Six Sigm a places primary importance on customers, business results, and statistical analysis of processes. Lean also aims to make discoveries about where to target improvements compared with Six Sigma, which measures the results of process changes. By implementing both methodologies—Six Sigma and Lean Software Development—together, you can take advantage of the best in both models. 

Together, applied as Lean Six Sigma , they address and change similar management and technical staff behaviors. The organizational change management approach with both techniques is quicker and less costly than a sequential approach and provides more benefits than an “Either / Or” approach.  This article will provide an overview of the benefits and recommendations for the training associated with the staff responsible for Lean Six Sigma implementation. Figure 1 provides an overview of the strong partnership provided when these two process improvement methodologies combined. 

Figure 1, slsep09-1

Figure 1. Lean and Six Sigma - Strong Partners

Keys to Success
When government agencies choose Lean Six Sigma implementation for improvement, there are many benefits.  A few of these follow:

    • Provision of confidence to customers about the consistent performance of the software development organization,
    • transparency of operations within the organization,
    • lowering of costs and shortening of cycle times, through the effective use of resources
    • improved, consistent, and predictable results resulting in an overall increase in production and growth,
    • provision of opportunities for focused and prioritized improvement initiatives,
    • integration and alignment of processes that enable the achievement of planned results resulting in an increase in organizational confidence,  and
    • the ability to focus effort on process effectiveness and efficiency.

Staff Responsibilities and Training
Training process champions may be the single most important part of any process improvement initiative.  However, training is only effective if it is applied.  It is important that training be part of a planned process improvement initiative based upon tangible results.  The principles must be applied to real projects and real results must be expected. 

Training for Lean
Classically, a mentor on the job or factory floor taught Lean principles.  There are courses available that now teach these principles.  The principles used in support of the Lean methodology are typically taught as separate workshops.  Each workshop combines a short training session with a Lean principle and the direct application of that principle.  Students are then advised to take what they have learned during the workshop back and apply their knowledge.

Six Sigma Training
Six Sigma training is typically broken down into phases that support the DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) process.  Individuals attending training should be provided with time in between each training session to practically apply the tools that they have learned during each training session.  Ideally, trainees then go back to their projects and apply their newly gained knowledge.  During the next phase of training, these same students would return with a renewed respect and ready for the next Six Sigma training phase.  Table 1 describes the individuals within a Six Sigma organization, their role, and the typical training that they might receive. slsep09-2

Table 1.  Six Sigma: Special Staffing and Typical Training Programs

LSS Training and Certification Issues 
Lean and Six Sigma are popular process improvement methodologies and experts are in demand.  The recent rise in the numbers and types of certification programs that offer Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certifications has been exponential.  Many offer certifications with online training in as little as two weeks.  This implies no skills growth or practical application of acquired knowledge.  The classic Six Sigma model is that as an individual trains that they climb the ‘belt’ ladder

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