Lean Six Sigma in the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Almost every company you can think of, every application, it’s going to be affected by Artificial Intelligence (AI)….You are going to be using Artificial Intelligence (AI), or you are going to be outpaced by people who are”—  Brian Krzanich, CEO, Intel, Wall Street Journal, October 23,2017


The notable shift from simple digitization to advanced technological innovation, enabled by the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), has forced organizations to reexamine some key industrial practices. One such practice is that of business process improvement.

Over the past decades, Lean Six Sigma process improvement methodology has delivered proven gains in efficiency and productivity to both manufacturing and service-based organizations.  Artificial intelligence (AI) can be leveraged to extend that value and drive even greater and more rapid improvement throughout the organization.  Nevertheless, in order for organizations to realize the full value from its AI investment it is necessary for the organization to first develop important organizational capabilities, such as process standardization, with the help of programs such as Lean Six Sigma.  Hence, it is this author’s position that AI does not replace Lean Six Sigma, rather it enhances it while benefiting from its core practices.

What Can Lean Six Sigma Training & Practice Offer?

Data Competence

A core element of Lean Six Sigma application is strong reliance on data analysis for decision making.  The range of skills involves data collection, identifying and interpreting causal relationships, inferential statistics, etc. Developing such data handling competence through Lean Six Sigma training supports successful implementation of an AI strategy.

Business Domain Proficiency

Knowledge and understanding of core business processes, workflows, roles and responsibilities along with an understanding of process inefficiencies are important pre-requisites for successful AI strategy implementation.

Understanding Changing Customer Needs and Requirements

In the era of AI increased access to mobile networks and data, allows for increased consumer engagement, greater transparency and new patterns of consumer behavior.  According to Kraus, companies will now have to adapt the way they design, market, and deliver products and services.

Leveraging Lessons Learned

Barrier to adoption and implementation of transformational programs such as Lean Six Sigma and Artificial Intelligence (AI) lies within “people and processes”. Organizations that have successfully implemented Lean Six sigma would have learned important lessons that can be leveraged when designing and implementing an AI strategy

Organizations are using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enhance their overall business operations by integrating algorithms that directly support their core processes. Some AI application involves the identification and analysis of data patterns that the human eye cannot interpret, automating the real time detection of defects during production and the automation of repetitive tasks resulting in improved reliability and accuracy of their process outputs.

Undoubtedly, these and other AI capabilities add significant value to the Lean Six Sigma application.

Nonetheless, the core elements of Lean Six Sigma provide the problem- solving framework and continuous improvement tools, along with the change management and leadership considerations, necessary to realize the full benefits of AI implementation.