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I discovered Lean & Six Sigma a few years back. It was not love at first sight, I gradually started to believe in it and use it. Recently, while being exposed to it through my job, I got familiar with Scrum & Agile and yes, this time I fell madly in love. I got certified in both of them, applied both of them separately in different projects and workshops but at some point of time I started asking myself how and if both of them would work together. Could it ever be possible?

Most literature on either Scrum or LSS, talks about how to implement them, what tools are most common, what each delivers and how each can be practiced. But can you apply both of them in the same project or program?

We know the fundaments of LSS are in Manufacturing while Scrum is linked with software and product development. So far not much in common. LSS is focused on reducing waste and variation while Scrum, as part of the Agile project management, manages uncertainty and delivers a working product. LSS is all about processes and tools while Scrum is more about people and the roles they have in a project as well as their empirical experience.

A lot of people believe these two have nothing in common,  except that they are both used in project management but they don’t see that actually this is the most important aspect. Projects are everywhere. Small or large, complex or not, involving technology and automation or just looking to eliminate waste, project management is all about structure and objectives and timelines and people and both LSS and SCRUM deal with that, more or less, of course.

The million dollar question here however, is not how and why these 2 are different, but more if can they be successfully merged and how? I believe that the spirit of Lean Sis Sigma can be useful to Scrum, though not fully and in the way it was created initially –  it is a pretty ‘old’ methodology compared with the ‘younger’ Scrum and Agile.

Here is one view I found on an SixSigma Discussion Forum and I fully agree with it:

“(…) LSS can help us understand and continuously lean the design/development/support processes. DMADV (LSS methodology – Define Measure Analyze Design and Verify) helps get “the product” right, and LSS applied to the Scrum model, say, helps get “the process” right. Every software development model tries to deliver working features and measurable customer value, while “burning up” effort ($$) and time. LSS helps us see the flow, the constraints, the cost and the time drains.

In short, I think there are more DMADV and LSS links and support points for Agile than meets the eye. If we are ever going to help the Agile community see those links, though, we have to appreciate the way Six Sigma manufacturing and waterfall process history can get in the way, and to provide some fresh views and examples of how the essence can be re-cast in Agile-useful ways. (…)”

And it brings a good point: we need fresh views and examples, actual real projects where there is a blend of Lean Six Sigma Tools and SCRUM model. But are there organisations that allow this to happen in their projects or this mixture only exists, as of now, at classroom level only?

The challenge in getting Agile practitioners to even consider the LSS DMADV or DMAIC methodology is mostly the profoundly structured approach of an LSS project which, as many other Waterfalls, goes against SCRUM definition, that of a ‘framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems’. By their own definitions, a methodology (LSS) is a set of principles, tools and practices which can be used to guide processes to achieve a particular goal, while a framework (SCRUM) is a loose but incomplete structure which leaves room for other practices and tools to be included but provides much of the process required. In simple words, LSS is a full box while SCRUM is an empty box.

So let’s dare to fill in the SCRUM box with some items from the LSS box. Not all will fit, not all are needed or appropriate, that is clear, but if Six Sigma is looked at from a different perspective, using Six Sigma for software development NOT to reduce variation, but to remove waste and eliminate or reduce defects, there is the possibility of a great love story. Tools such as Fishbone, 5Whys, CTQ Trees and FMEAs can prove beneficial in an Agile software development project if there is the courage to do so and not blindly follow the Agile Manifesto “Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools”.

Six Sigma offers a groundbreaking way of reducing defects in the end product – something that any software project can definitely use. Hence, it makes a lot of sense to at least be open minded and evaluate the possibilities of integrating both processes.

The benefits will be huge I am sure. Who says there is no variation in a software development? Who says that there can be no adaptation in a LSS project? There is no quarrel between LSS and SCRUM/Agile, only lots of opportunities out there if you know exactly what you want from your project and your organization is willing to dare. Take the plunge.

by Andreea Popa


— One Comment —

  1. Interesting read! I believe you are forced to adapt and try to link in the approaches. At the end of the day, Agile, yes, it’s centred around people, but so is LSS. As any process within an organization is centred around people. That’s the bottom line. The buy in for a project, the delivery, the process of implementation needs to be suitable to the organization and it’s language. Marrying different tools and best practices from different methodologies to achieve this, should only be restricted by function, not stringent ideology that Scrum doesn’t mix with LSS. It’s the same for any tools and methodology for that matter…It’s interesting to see different opinions on this matter! 😉

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