Lean is at its core a management system, a holistic way of looking at the way an enterprise manages itself through a culture tuned to improvement, group and personal responsability, while six sigma is a quantitative process of managing in quality by getting it right first time.
Six sigma quality requires 99.997% perfect, or 3.4 defects/million. When you are manufacturing and supplying to customers even simple products, this is a very high bar indeed.
Motorola was the first US company to recognise and articulate the challenge in the face of Japanese competition in the 80’s, and they boomed, becoming the gold standard for western manufacturing, and inspiring thousands of others to lift their performance, from which we have all benefited. The article that first bought Motorola to public attention is this Fortune article from 1989, and it started a revolution.
Now the revolution appears to be over as Motorola is broken up into two separate listed companies after almost 2 decades of failing to build on the foundations built in the eighties. The leadership that followed those that built the foundation did not recognise the importance of the management systems necessary to support the continued improvement and Motorola fell back into the trap of conventional management accounting where inventory is an asset, cycle time and flow ignored as core metrics, functional management over-rides bottom up innovation, and all the other stuff that makes a lean environment work, got squeezed out.
As I work with clients on improvement initiatives that usually start with marketing and strategy, my patch, the necessity to improve operational processes to support those that engage with the customer is always a major driver, and the failure of Motorola after being the icon it was simply drives home the difficulty of not just improving current performance, but in the process, building the management and leadership processes that make the performance improvement process self sustaining.