Book Review: Best Practices in Lean Six Sigma Process Improvement, ISBN 978-0-470-16886-8

This book by Richard J. Schonberger is a fantastic book on the process improvement method, regardless of your experience level.  In the preface of the book, Mr. Schonberger discusses how he uses “carefully referenced data about best practices in process improvement”, rather than simply writing about his years of experience.  This is a good approach since so many books just focus on the writer’s experience.  Mr. Schonberger focuses on the core fundamentals of Six Sigma, making sure the reader has a solid grasp of the concepts.

While the book does focus on fundamentals, it isn’t the standard “Learn the DMAIC method” model of book that is so frequently found in our industry.  The first part of the book is about hyper-competition.  Chapter one covers the subject of Magnitude Advances in Competitive Standards and Technologies.  In some ways, this chapter is about the history of six sigma.  It goes deeper than your standard history lesson however, covering topics like how intensive competition created the great companies of Japan (Sony, Mitsubishi Electric, Honda, Canon).  It also discusses how the 1980s were the heady days of just-in-time (JIT) and total quality control (TQC).  This is certainly true; both Six Sigma and total quality management were quickly becoming the standard for quality control in the manufacturing industry at that time.

Chapter 2 (Global Leanness: An Unstable Phenomenon) discusses project failure.  This is something that many Lean Six Sigma books skip over or intentionally leave out.  On page 19 the author discusses “Why doesn’t Lean last?”.  One exert reads “We posited fatigue plus changing executive priorities and interests to explain why long-term lean scores fade. But wait a minute. Lean and its close partner, total quality, should not give ground so easily. Consider what they are based on and what they entail: simplicity, reduction of resources, low implementation costs (mostly for training), broad application, and customer-focused synergies (quality, quick response, flexibility, and value—a mutual-improvement society, no trade-offs). Making lean/TQ a permanent fixture almost seems to be, as they say, a no-brainer.”
Chapter 4 (Ultimate Trend: Improving the Rate of Improvement) discusses eight companies that the author refers to as the “the leanest of the lean.”  Having examples of companies that have successfully implemented improvement methods is great, especially when they are well-known organizations like Walmart and Sony.  (Humble brag – MSI works with three of the company’s on this list for Lean Six Sigma training of employees).  At this point is should note that the version of the book we are reviewing was written in 2007, obviously a lot has changed since then (like the great recession, which started in 2008).  Nevertheless, the core elements of the book are just as valuable today as they were when they were written.
In later chapters, the book covers best practices in Lean Six Sigma process improvement.  For example, on page 105, the author covers Two-Stage Process Mapping.  He states “Deeper analysis entails two-stage flowcharts. The first stage tracks the process as it is; the second
stage is the process as it is planned to be, or is after improvement“.  and “A common perception is that the future-state map is equally valuable. It is not. The reason is that the future state commonly becomes a set of numeric goals. That encourages management by goals and metrics, rather than just-do-it process improvements.

This book can help you prepare for the following certifications: