It has already been established that the deployment of Lean Six Sigma, Design Thinking, and Agile independently are already quite effective in solving issues within an organization. So, imagine how powerful they can be when integrated together. This article briefly describes each of these methodologies and how their integration can be used to provide a stronger approach to solving organizational problems.
LEAN SIX SIGMA DEFINITION
Lean Six Sigma (LSS) is a process improvement as well as a problem-solving methodology that combines the principles of Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma to help organizations improve their operational performance in both quality and efficiency. This is accomplished by using the DMAIC methodology which includes effective techniques and tools that come with this approach to help eliminate waste, reduce variations, enhance product/service quality, as well as continuously improve organizational performance.
The DMAIC methodology consists of;
- D-Define – Define/summarize the problem and the objectives and determine the customers (internal & external) and their demands and expectations.
- M-Measure – Collect data that is relevant to the scope of the project. Focus on the ways the parameters need to be quantified and measured via different techniques and methods.
- A-Analyze – Analyze the process, the factors, and the influence of a business’ inefficiencies, and ways to enhance and improve them.
- I-Improve – Improve processes by identifying and implement possible approaches to resolve and improve organizational issues
- C-Control – Ensure improvements achieved are monitored and maintained
LSS is an effective approach to improving processes, identifying the root causes of problems, and developing solutions.
DESIGN THINKING DEFINITION
Design Thinking is a methodology that emphasizes empathy and creativity which highly involves being attentive to customers’ needs and coming together as a team to generate ideas for effective human-centered solutions to meet those needs. Additionally, it uses inductive and abductive reasoning to assess and enhance possible solutions until the best one is determined to meet the needs of the customers .
- Empathy: Research/Gain an in-depth understanding of users/customers’ needs
- Defining the problem: Gather all information and develop a clear statement of the problem
- Ideation: Generate ideas and potential solutions to the problem
- Prototype: Experiment and transform the ideas/possible solutions to life
- Test: Test out the solutions, gain feedback, and make improvements
- Implement: Put the vision into effect
Design Thinking is an effective approach when one is in need of a fresh perspective on the situation, generating new ideas, and exploring possible and better solutions from a new angle – particularly, according to the customers’ needs and expectations.
Agile is a project management approach that was initially developed for managing software development. Now, it can also be applied to multiple projects that require an iterative approach and help in developing/completing products and services in short, iterative sprints through short-term development cycles and acquiring incremental feedback .
Agile or Agile Manifesto was first introduced by software developers that define several values which can provide a system that focuses on quality control and speed  as well as to realize innovative ideas, assess user response, and shift the project schedule according to client feedback. Values described in the manifesto include ;
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Furthermore, the Agile Manifesto also includes 12 principles that touch upon the aspects of priority to customer satisfaction, competitive advantage through change, frequent and constant software delivery, cooperation among businesspeople and developers, good work environment, trust, and support to build worker motivation, effectiveness in face-to-face communication, and the value in monitoring technical excellence and design, simplicity, self-organizing teams, and regular intervals. For more information; Agile Manifesto .
The Agile approach emphasizes quick delivery, adapting to change, and collaboration which help reduces the development cycle time so that products are more adapted to the needs and expectations of end-users, allowing faster rollout of new features . Additionally, Agile focuses on breaking down work into smaller, more manageable chunks, and delivering working solutions incrementally. Moreover, it enables experts the opportunity to try innovative ideas, evaluate customer responses, and shift the project schedule in accordance with client feedback.
A successful deployment of Agile can help an organization improve project efficiency and collaboration as well as offer more operational flexibility allowing faster adaptation to change and quicker product development .
Lean Six Sigma, Design Thinking, and Agile can be regarded as complementary methodologies as they are compatible with one another in the areas of problem-solving and improvements. Fundamentally, each of these methodologies addresses different parts of the problem and lifecycle of a product or service. While Lean Six Sigma and Design Thinking focus on solving the problem directly, Agile focuses more on delivering products/services efficiently and responsive to customers’ needs and the capacity constraints of the production and development team . Hence, these methodologies can be integrated to improve project/organizational needs.
When a problem exists but you cannot be certain of it, Design Thinking can help bring everyone together to follow a creative process to identify the problem as well as generate ideas that meet customer needs . Then, Lean Six Sigma through DMAIC approach can be employed to clarify the problem, determine the causes, and select the best solutions to rectify the problem to the existing process. Finally, once the best solution is chosen and involves any form of software development, Agile can be implemented by formulating user stories have the development team sprint to complete the development of those user stories to implement the solution. From here, the solution can be implemented and the impact of the solution can be verified .
Another way of integration described in  is where Design Thinking tools can be used to determine and understand issues faced by customers to gain better customer behavioral insights and become good input for the Agile development process and ensure the right customer issue is solved. When a product/service is developed through the Agile process, the Lean approach can help evaluate and improve it to spot and eliminate waste in the value stream for improved value. Not only that, Lean can also provide input for the Design Thinking process to better understand current “pain points” in existing services/products.
Here, it shows that Design Thinking, Agile, and Lean Six Sigma can be integrated to create a powerful problem-solving approach that combines creativity, flexibility, and data-driven insights.
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