New Opportunities for A New Decade of Lean and Six Sigma

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the 2021 Lean and Six Sigma Conference, New Opportunities for a New Decade. This event was an incredible success thanks to you!

For 20 years, the ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference has been the premier event for quality professionals to learn cutting-edge trends and practices, hear from industry leaders, and connect with their peers. At our 20th Lean and Six Sigma Conference (LSSC), we looked ahead to New Opportunities for a New Decade. ASQ created a unique approach to attendee engagement, and networking salons, virtual happy hours, and even a magic show meant attendees were able to get the quality LSSC experience attendees are used to. This year’s virtual format also enabled some quality professionals their first opportunity to attend LSSC, gave attendees the opportunities to take advantage of more than 60 on-demand sessions, and allowed participants to consume content on their own schedule – all while ensuring everyone’s safety.

We’ve pulled together some highlights and key learnings from the conference. If you couldn’t make this year’s event, don’t worry! LSSC recordings are available for purchase now until the end of March and watch our website, we announce our LSSC 2022 dates on Monday, March 8!

NextGen Day Header

Brand new this year, NextGen Day was created to energize emerging quality professionals and help them boost their careers while connecting them to experienced members who manage, mentor, and lead them.

The day began with “Your Best Decade: Skills, Traits and Strategies for Your Quality Career.” This panel discussion featured five lean and Six Sigma practitioners as well as a highly interactive Q&A, where panelists tackled questions about company culture, diversity, seeking mentorship, and more.

There were opportunities for emerging professionals to explore career pathing within the quality field. During the Lunch and Learn, Matt Mueleners expanded on the morning’s discussion panel and how to navigate unconscious bias to drive better decision making. In the Support and Innovation in Training session, attendees could also connect directly with the ASQ Education Team and Component Relations Team to find how to leverage additional training for their career growth, and discover which training best serves them. Professional development training, like Soft Skills To Go, was popular among attendees, along with supplementary lean and Six Sigma eLearning to help boost knowledge, like Lean Specialized Credentials.

Following the success of last years’ experience, the Six Sigma Forum hosted a virtual Escape Room where teams used Six Sigma concepts to solve riddles and escape the virtual room within an hour!  The day finished with a video tour of Cambridge Air sponsored by the Lean Enterprise Division. A group of staff members led the tour while sharing how they implemented a “2-second Lean.”


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Natalie Nixon is a global speaker, strategist, and President of Figure 8 Thinking, LLC. She joined LSSC for our first keynote speech, presenting “The Future of Work: The 4 Shifts Your Organization Must Make…Now!” It was fitting that Nixon delivered her keynote virtually. She began her presentation by explaining how the future of work will require us all to be more than just familiar with technology changes like virtual reality, big data, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Professionals must have a heightened creative capacity. Nixon guided attendees through the 4th industrial revolution, where cloud technology, automation, and cryptocurrency are all realities that must be worked with, not just reacted to. To do that, Nixon outlined the value of creativity in business, and the four shifts every organization must make to be nimble and adaptive.

Keynote Speaker Natalie Nixon and Mike Walsh
Natalie Nixon and Mike Walsh

Mike Walsh is an innovation and futurist speaker, author, and CEO of the global consultancy Tomorrow. He presented “The Algorithmic Leader” on Wednesday. Like Natalie Nixon, Walsh also started his presentation with an image of the future—a place with self-driving cars, platforms that anticipate our needs, and even robots performing complex surgeries. How can people thrive in this machine-driven future? Walsh presented tactics on how emerging leaders can upgrade their capabilities to succeed in an age of rapidly accelerating technology, as well as actionable insights on the ways companies can redesign their organizations and reinvent their decision-making to match the age of machine intelligence.


Header: Focus Areas
Header: Making the Most of Data Mining and Visualization

As the availability of data increases, being able to strategically collect, analyze, and visually represent data is more important than ever for quality practitioners. As one of four focus areas for the Lean and Six Sigma Conference, attendees were able to attend a mix of on-demand sessions and live presentations that explored how lean and Six Sigma methods can be used to gather, examine, and apply data.

In the live presentations “Good to Go: Using Process Modeling for Rapid Innovation” speaker Lars Maaseidvaag walked attendees through the benefits of process modeling to innovate with confidence and identify barriers like waste and bottlenecks early in the design phase. In the on-demand session “Root Cause Analysis in a Data Desert” presenter Jennifer Munson used examples of Kaizens she’d been presented with that had little quantifiable data. How can quality professionals make improvements in this “data desert”? Munson outlined simple steps on how to find and evaluate “non-quantifiable” data and get buy-in from stakeholders to make a Kaizen a success.


Focus Area: Lean and Six Sigma In a Continuous Improvement Culture

Quality professionals know that company culture has a huge impact on the success—or failure—of the pursuit of continuous improvement. This focus area provided attendees with on-demand sessions and live presentations that provided insight into how lean and Six Sigma elements can be infused into a company culture, and strategies to gain staff buy-in and participation.

The importance of interpersonal relationships to foster cultural improvement was a theme throughout these sessions, including in Richard F. Uphoff’s presentation “I’m Not Emotional…I’m a Quality Professional: Lean Emotional Intelligence for Leaders and Practitioners.” Uphoff didn’t need to remind attendees of the upheaval of the past year as he shared his experiences of how “work” and “life” have become closely merged for a lot of people because of the pandemic. In the workplace, this shifting emotional landscape affects individual employees, teams, and projects. This presentation aimed to help attendees understand their own emotional landscape and use the tenants of Emotional Intelligence to support the success of quality teams in lean organizations.

Dave Harry dove further into relationships in his on-demand session “Can’t We All Just Get Along Here? – Team Dynamics.” Lean and Six Sigma projects hinge on team dynamics, and dysfunctional teams can cause significant disruptions. Harry explained Tuckman’s model for group performance and the various stages so team leaders can recognize when teams are not progressing and prevent overall failure.


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This focus area combines the techniques of project management with the data and analysis benefits of lean and Six Sigma, providing attendees opportunities to optimize performance, customer satisfaction, and decision-making capabilities in their organizations. Sessions in this area highlight how quality organizations can benefit from applying lean and Six Sigma methodologies to ensure greater reliability via an evidence-based approach in a variety of project management scenarios.

Attendees for this focus area learned that defect isn’t a dirty word. In her presentation “Driving Quality Culture Change with DMAIC – Defect isn’t a Dirty Word,” Paula Evans explained how she used DMAIC and specifically defects to foster a transparent culture of quality in her organization. She showcased her data-collection tool and taught attendees’ key steps in getting leadership buy-in, including utilizing Voice of the Customer data.


Header: The Quality Trinity: Lean, Six Sigma, and Quality 4.0

Organizations are seeing rapid gains in access to data, computing power, and connectivity. Aligning the disruptive technologies of Quality 4.0 with problem-solving methodologies of lean and Six Sigma can further drive improvements in business intelligence, strategic initiatives, and product and service offerings. This area of focus gives insight into building an effective lean and Six Sigma framework to accommodate Quality 4.0 and allow for an enterprise’s data-driven transformation.

On Wednesday, March 3rd, participants attendedInfusing Data into DMAIC” presented by Scott Rutherford. The presentation began with Rutherford providing a history of operations research and management science techniques. This field of study has been around since WWII, but with the digital transformation in quality in the past 30 years, these tools are now more widely available and practical to use. Rutherford matched these tools to various phases of DMAIC, while providing specific examples of how they can be applied to help attendees implement these learnings in their organizations.

In the on-demand session, “A New Problem-Solving Strategy for Quality 4.0,” Carlos Escobar and Daniela Macias discussed how quality professionals, specifically those in manufacturing, can help position their companies to excel by implementing Quality 4.0 practices. Escobar and Macias explained how quality leaders lack the ability to communicate and create value from Quality 4.0 initiatives, leading to a lack of sustainable Quality 4.0 solutions. They introduced a Quality 4.0 initiative, Process Monitoring for Quality, while walking attendees through a 7-step problem solving strategy to analyze the likely success of the initiative. Attendees left with concrete problem-solving strategies to help ensure the success of their organization’s Quality 4.0 initiatives.


On Wednesday, prior to the closing keynote, The Six Sigma Forum Annual Award was presented to James Bossert by Scott C. Sterbenz, ASQ Six Sigma Forum Chair. Bossert is a Senior Performance Excellence Consultant at John Peter Smith Hospital, Fort Worth, Texas.

Thank you to all the quality professionals who joined us for the ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference 2021, and to the Technical Planning Committee, Six Sigma Forum, and Lean Enterprise Division for their support in making this event a success.



Thank you to all of our sponsors!

Lean and Six Sigma Conference Sponsors. ABBYY, MoreSteam, Ohio State University, QI Macros, SAS, Minitab, San Diego State University

ASQ Reading List: Lean and Six Sigma

Data scientist, industrial engineer, and Six Sigma Master Black Belt Jeff Veyera tells us what are his best book recommendations to master lean and Six Sigma.

Meet Jeff Veyera at the ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference! Veyera will be at the Quality Press bookstore, located in the Grande Ballroom, on Sunday February 23 and Monday, February 24.

Lean and Six Sigma are the two most successful quality improvement strategies, but implementing them effectively is not an easy task. Author of the upcoming book Culture is Everything: How to Become a True Culture Warrior and Lead Your Organization to Victory, Jeff Veyera has spent his career solving difficult business problems with lean and Six Sigma. Today, he’s sharing the quality and lean and Six Sigma books on his shelf that he can’t live without.

Continue reading “ASQ Reading List: Lean and Six Sigma”

September Roundtable: Agile vs. Lean

Lean and Six Sigma Conference

Don’t miss the opportunity to discuss lean and other topics like change management and risk management at the 2020 ASQ Lean and Six Sigma Conference. Register today to continue the conversation

Over the past few years, Agile has gained popularity. This methodology emerged as a solution to manage projects with a number of unknown elements and to counter the typical waterfall method. Quality practitioners have observed the numerous similarities between this new framework and Lean. Some have speculated that Agile is simply the next generation’s version of Lean. These observations have posed the question:

Is Agile the new Lean?

Members of ASQ Influential Voices shared their thoughts:

Sara Haynes:

I’ve worked with both Agile and Lean in my career. To me, asking if Agile is the new Lean is a little like asking if carpentry is the new plumbing. They are different trades, used for different purposes. Agile is a methodology of designing and developing products, and Lean is a methodology for streamlining operations. I worked at a company that transitioned from a traditional waterfall approach for design requirements, to an Agile method. What struck me most was the dramatic increase in the sense of urgency. It’s hard to get excited about a deadline that is 8 months away – 8 days feels much more real.

Lean is an approach to operations that focusses on flow. Identifying and eliminating barriers that stop flow, and implementing quick and easy solutions now vs. expensive and capital-intensive solutions. With software development, where Agile is most commonly applied, the hardest part is making the first release. Once you have the final release, it’s simply a matter of copying. Whereas with hardware development, the hardest part is not making the first prototype, it’s getting to mass production: being able to produce your design consistently, efficiently and cost-effectively. These are very different challenges that require different solutions. Agile, vs. Lean.

Read her blog.

John Hunter: 

No, Agile is not the new Lean.

There are many useful concepts, tools and practices within what people refer to as agile software development. And the same can be said for lean. But they are distinct approaches (the links in this post flush out this idea more for those interested in learning more on that topic). That isn’t to say an organization cannot design their own solution that adopts ideas found in each approach. In fact doing so for software development makes sense in my opinion.

If you decide to transform your management system using lean management practices as a focus I think you can do great things. I would delve deeply into lean and also learn about Deming and agile software development. And if you decide to create an agile styled management system then do that and learn from Deming and lean as you continually improve. In either case continually iterate and improve they management practices that are used.

Read the full article on his blog.

Nicole Radziwill:

The short answer to this question is: NO.

The longer answer is one I’m going to have to hold back some emotions to answer. Why? I have two reasons.

Reason #1: There is No Magic Bullet
First, many managers are on a quest for the silver bullet — a methodology or a tool that they can implement on Monday, and reap benefits no later than Friday. Neither lean nor agile can make this happen. But it’s not uncommon to see organizations try this approach. A workgroup will set up a Kanban board or start doing daily stand-up meetings, and then talk about how they’re “doing agile.” Now that agile is in place, these teams have no reason to go any further.

Reason #2: There is Nothing New Under the Sun
Neither approach is “new” and neither is going away. Lean principles have been around since Toyota pioneered its production system in the 1960s and 1970s. The methods prioritized value and flow, with attention to reducing all types of waste everywhere in the organization. Agile emerged in the 1990s for software development, as a response to waterfall methods that couldn’t respond effectively to changes in customer requirements.
Agile modeling uses some lean principles: for example, why spend hours documenting flow charts in Visio, when you can just write one on a whiteboard, take a photo, and paste it into your documentation? Agile doesn’t have to be perfectly lean, though. It’s acceptable to introduce elements that might seem like waste into processes, as long as you maintain your ability to quickly respond to new information and changes required by customers. (For example, maybe you need to touch base with your customers several times a week. This extra time and effort is OK in agile if it helps you achieve your customer-facing goals.)Both lean and agile are practices. They require discipline, time, and monitoring. Teams must continually hone their practice, and learn about each other as they learn together. There are no magic bullets.

Information plays a key role. Effective flow of information from strategy to action is important for lean because confusion (or incomplete communication) and forms of waste. Agile also emphasizes high-value information flows, but for slightly different purposes — that include promoting:
- Rapid understanding
- Rapid response
- Rapid, targeted, and effective action

Read the full article on her blog.

Luciana Paulise:

Companies nowadays are no longer focusing on standardizing and ensuring quality. Quality is no longer value-added, is required. Lean and six sigma implementations are falling short, not because of quality issues, but because employees are not engaged enough to change. Unhappy employees equal unhappy customers. Now what, is agile the new lean?

Lean and six sigma process improvement approaches started in the auto industry and manufacturing in the ‘50s, and were successfully applied to other industries. Nevertheless, the software industry that grew significantly during the ‘90s realized that these quality practices were not fast enough. They needed to iterate faster to innovate faster. Being the customer favorite became a survival need, and they couldn’t do it without the ideas of their employees. Millennials in their workplace started asking for different ways of working. That’s how a group of IT experts developed the Agile Thinking Manifesto in 2001. They applied lean principles and tools to reduce waste and combined them with other idea generation tools and team enablers to bring innovation to the workplace more easily.

While lean provides a set of methods like 5S, kanban, just in time, agile is a cultural mindset, a way of thinking about how an organization should work. As Stephen says in his book The Era of Agile “in any particular organization, the practices that emerge will be the result of an interaction between the agile mindset and the specific organizational context”, which may include lean practices. So it is not “either agile or lean”, you can be both. For example, when I implement 5S, I always include in the training an introduction to an agile “we culture” mindset, so that team members can understand the true purpose behind the implementation.

Read the full article on her blog:

Influential Voices Reaction to Talking Quality to the C-Suite

November Roundup: The post by Influential Voices blogger Dr. Suresh Gettala, Talking Quality to the C-Suite, looked at how quality professionals, certainly experts in their field, may fall short in selling quality to top management and offered his perspective and advice. Throughout the month of November, ASQ Influential Voices bloggers contributed their ideas on talking to top management about the importance of quality.  This month’s topic certainly generated some very interesting and somewhat diverse opinions.

Pam Schodt responded that any quality discussion with the C-Suite should be tailored for that audience and provided suggestions for accomplishing that in her post Corporate Communication, 5 Keys to Success.

Jennifer Stepniowski agreed that getting the attention of senior executives can be challenging and added even more tips in her blog, C-Suite Speak… “Quality.” She advised that quality professionals remember a call to action which needs to be clearly expressed and not just implied.

Robert Mitchell agreed that quality professionals need to speak the senior executive’s language in his post Talking Quality with the C-Suite.  He wrote that his 34 years of experience in a global manufacturing company echoed and reinforced much of what Dr. Suresh suggested.

Dr. Manu Vora wrote that the easiest way to connect with C-Suites is to use the cost of quality approach which he explains in his post Talking to the C-Suite About Quality.  He says this tool lets executives know where there is waste in the system and how they can reduce the Cost of Quality through continuous process improvements.

Nicole Radziwill wrote that it’s important to let the C-Suite know that you can help them leverage their organization’s talent to achieve their goals, then continually build their trust.  In her blog, If Japan Can, Why Can’t We?  A Retrospective, she added that the key to talking quality with the C-Suite is empathy.

Edwin Garro recalls a fascinating lecture by Deming and his startling answer to an audience member’s question in his college days.  In his blog, Deming and the C-Suite.  A Life Time Lesson for Management and Engineering Students, he writes that Deming’s definition of an effective C-Suite manager was one who understood variation, not one who forgets the voice of the customer, employee and the process itself.

In her response and blog, AUDIT, a tool to talk with the C-Suite, Jimena Calfa agreed that talking to the C-Suite about Quality is a real challenge as senior executives often consider quality to be a waste of money instead of THE tool to increase profit.

Tim McMahon wrote that getting executives in your company to want to support and then adopt Lean Thinking may be difficult but not impossible.  In his blog, 5 Ways to Get Management Buy-in: What’s in it for me?, he shares a list of ideas to help you convince your management to start thinking Lean.

However, John Hunter had a different perspective in his post Making Your Case to Senior Executives.  He believes success will come from concentrating on short term financial measures while also crafting a story to make your case for long term improvements.

Scott Rutherford also shares a different approach in his post You are not selling Quality to C-Suite. You are selling short-term relief.  While changing corporate behavior from below is challenging, he believes there are ways for quality practitioners to have influence.