Lean vs. Six Sigma...What's Hotter?

Both Lean and Six Sigma are lauded for driving out waste and reducing variation in many business processes. But which continuous improvement methodology is more popular?

Lean and Six Sigma have a few things in common: Both have gained prominence in today's intensely competitive global business environment. Both help companies root out error and inefficiency. And both continuous improvement methodologies have earned a place in our everyday business language. So why not pit them against each other in a popularity contest?

That's exactly what The Avery Point Group did, looking specifically at three things...

• the number of books published each year by topic

• the number of Internet keyword searches

• the number of jobs posted online by keyword

"We monitor three main indices to give us a long- and short-term view of the disciplines we service," says Tim Noble, managing principal of The Avery Point Group, a national executive search firm.

Based on these three indices, Six Sigma comes out firmly on top of Lean.

While both methodologies have seen a huge increase in the number of books published about them over the past five years, Six Sigma still gets a lot more ink. On the second index (Internet search engine keyword search counts), Six Sigma search inquiries still outnumber Lean inquiries by a 2-1 or greater margin. However, keyword searches on Lean have been gaining ground. Meanwhile, based on Internet job board postings, the use of the keyword Six Sigma outdistances Lean consistently by more than 50%.

Why is Six Sigma more prominent? This may be because it's been able to transcend its roots in manufacturing and branch out into other disciplines, while Lean is still widely regarded as a tool to improve manufacturing processes.

"This perception is changing as more and more businesses across the board are looking to blend the best of each methodology to accelerate their continuous improvement efforts," says Noble. "Companies are increasingly realizing that these are truly complementary tool sets and not necessarily competing philosophies."

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