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Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry

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  • Franciscus Gasthuis & Vlietland

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From 2001 onward, books and papers about the application of Lean Six Sigma (LSS) in service industries describe typical LSS deployment characteristics, such as the human element. The objective of this paper is to identify which LSS attributes affect employee and management attitudes and how the contextual frame affects this relation during the LSS change initiative. This study was conducted in the financial services industry. The research examines how the attributes of LSS affect attitude in terms of acceptance, contribution, or rejection of the LSS change initiative by managers and employees. A thorough qualitative multiple case study comprising five companies and 25 interviewees is seeking to answer how the attitudes toward the LSS change initiative differ per case. After exhaustive withinand cross-case analysis, theoretical and practitioner conclusions are drawn and the three main findings are discussed: 1) of all aspects of LSS, cost saving is the likely candidate to receive long-lasting attention; 2) the tendency to simplify the accounts of the LSS change initiative forms a fertile basis for misconceptions and extreme interpretations; and 3) the drive required to keep the LSS initiative going comes from a gradual and incremental implementation of LSS. The implications for LSS practitioners and managers implementing a LSS change initiative are discussed.
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www.asq.org 29
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma:
A Multiple Case Study in the
Financial Services Industry
BART A. LAMEIJER, UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM, AMSTERDAM BUSINESS SCHOOL
DAVID T. J. VEEN, UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM
RONALD J. M. M. DOES, UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM
JEROEN DE MAST, UNIVERSITY OF AMSTERDAM
© 2016, ASQ
From 2001 onward, books and papers about the
application of Lean Six Sigma (LSS) in service
industries describe typical LSS deployment charac-
teristics, such as the human element. The objective
of this paper is to identify which LSS attributes affect
employee and management attitudes and how the
contextual frame affects this relation during the LSS
change initiative. This study was conducted in the
financial services industry. The research examines
how the attributes of LSS affect attitude in terms
of acceptance, contribution, or rejection of the LSS
change initiative by managers and employees. A
thorough qualitative multiple case study compris-
ing five companies and 25 interviewees is seeking
to answer how the attitudes toward the LSS change
initiative differ per case. After exhaustive within-
and cross-case analysis, theoretical and practitioner
conclusions are drawn and the three main findings
are discussed: 1) of all aspects of LSS, cost saving is
the likely candidate to receive long-lasting attention;
2) the tendency to simplify the accounts of the LSS
change initiative forms a fertile basis for misconcep-
tions and extreme interpretations; and 3) the drive
required to keep the LSS initiative going comes from
a gradual and incremental implementation of LSS.
The implications for LSS practitioners and managers
implementing a LSS change initiative are discussed.
Key words: case study, deployment, financial indus-
try, Lean Six Sigma, Lean, perception, Six Sigma
INTRODUCTION
Lean Six Sigma (LSS) is a methodology focused on
improving operational efficiency and effectiveness for
companies in various industries (George 2003). While
the method has its origins in manufacturing, it is
increasingly used in service organizations as well.
From 2001 onward, books and papers have been writ-
ten on this subject; some of them describe typical
LSS deployment issues for service organizations such
as a lack of tangible output, a lack of a process view
of work, the scarce availability of useful measure-
ments, and a greater human element (Antony et al.
2007). Today, the academic literature has established
a vast amount of research on determinants for suc-
cessful implementation of LSS change for competitive
advantage (Nonthaleerak and Hendry 2008; McAdam
and Lafferty 2004). Apart from substantial technical
and “how-to” bodies of literature, scholarly reviews
of lean and Six Sigma implementation have mostly
focused on financial and operational performance
gains and stakeholder effects (Fullerton and Wempe
2009; Behrouzi and Wong 2011) for lean (Lewis 2000)
and Six Sigma (Parast 2011). The number of publica-
tions that study employees’ feelings and perceptions
during and after LSS implementation (the human
element as Antony et al. (2007) specifically notes for
service organizations) are few (Shafer, Tepper, and
Meredith 1995; Losonci, Demeter, and Jenei 2011).
The literature on lean change success in manufactur-
ing dictates that in the majority of cases, the main
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
30 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
(George 2003). Lean and Six Sigma combined prove
to be an effective improvement method. Lean does not
entail the reduction of variation and statistical control.
Six Sigma is not developing a link between quality
and speed. Therefore, the combined instrument of
LSS can lead to greater efficiency and better quality in
the financial services industry (De Koning, Does, and
Bisgaard 2008b).
Attitude Toward Lean Six
Sigma Change Initiative
There are various challenges when applying LSS in
the service sector, as described by Antony et al. (2007).
Data collection issues, dealing with highly dynamic
processes, and presenting analysis results using the
service language rather than the statistical language
to gain support for the recommendations are the most
prominent challenges. The human element in service
organizations is of great importance in achieving
LSS objectives: 1) human behavioral characteristics
such as courteousness, eagerness to help, honesty,
and so on have a major influence on service processes
that determine the quality of services provided to
customers; 2) the resistance to change in a service-
focused environment is comparatively higher than in
a manufacturing setting due to the high involvement
of soft issues, such as human behavior, friendliness,
honesty, courtesy, and so on; 3) service processes in
general are much more dependent on human and
organizational change than manufacturing process
change. Changing a machine’s parameter settings
is quite different than training staff or adjusting
work procedures or tasks. Research into employee
and manager perceptions has been performed in the
LSS-related fields of quality improvement (see Boiral
[2003] for ISO 9000 and Zbaracki [1998] for TQM);
however, there has been little research on the percep-
tions of LSS change in the service industry, including
research at various organizational levels (Shafer,
Tepper, and Meredith 1995). Losonci, Demeter, and
Jenei (2011) note that the feelings and perceptions of
those involved in an LSS deployment have remained
unreported. The authors expect perceptions of lean
barriers to achieving successful lean change are related
to the human element; insufficient communication
and employee opposition are among other important
reasons (Bhasin 2012). Nevertheless, the results from
studies on lean and Six Sigma perception by employees
are scarce, contradictory, and inconsistent, though very
relevant for lean and Six Sigma change success (Vidal
2007). There seems to be a knowledge gap in under-
standing LSS perceptions within the service industry.
The objective of this research is to study how manager
and employee attitudes in terms of acceptance of, con-
tribution to, or rejection of the LSS change initiative
are determined. The focus is on two possible variables.
The first is which LSS attributes are experienced and
how these LSS attributes affect employee and man-
agement attitude. The second is how the contextual
framing affects the relation between LSS attributes and
attitudes during the LSS change initiative. Thereby,
useful insights for LSS practitioners aiming at LSS
deployment are generated.
This study focuses on the financial services industry,
with the addition of a case from healthcare as a control
variable, as efficiency gains are considered to be large
in the financial sector, and more and more financial
institutions are adopting LSS (De Koning, Does, and
Bisgaard 2008a; Delgado, Ferreira, and Branco 2010).
The next section further introduces the discussion
on perceptions of LSS and the key concepts involved.
In this section, the concepts of framing of the change
initiative by employees and managers and ideologi-
cal positioning of these employees toward the change
initiative are used to structure the search for percep-
tions of LSS. The main features of lean and Six Sigma
separately, as well as their joint operation as defined
for this study, are stated. The third section presents the
methodology and the research strategy. The fourth sec-
tion presents the results, and the fifth section provides
discussion and managerial conclusions.
LITERATURE REVIEW
As mentioned previously, LSS is a method that can
drive the improvement of operational efficiency and
effectiveness of organizations in various industries
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 31
and Fishbein 1980). TRA states that the most impor-
tant determinant of behavior is behavioral intention.
A direct determinant of an individual’s behavioral
intention is his or her attitude toward performing the
behavior. Thus, a person who perceives that positively
valued outcomes will result from LSS change (for
example, better working conditions or less rework
without loss of paid work) from performing con-
tributing behavior (for example, engage in process
optimizations and standardize daily work) will have a
positive attitude toward that behavior (contributing).
Conversely, a person who perceives that negatively
valued outcomes will result from LSS change (for
example, loss of autonomy) from the contribut-
ing behavior (for example, participating in daily
improvement sessions) will have a negative attitude
(and thus not apply contributing behavior). Hence,
TRA holds that employee perception of LSS change
explains attitude toward behavior and consequently
actual behavior, which will have a significant impact
on LSS change success, as argued by Antony et al
(2007). Following the existing literature on employee
attitude and corresponding behavior, the following
research questions are proposed:
Research question 1a: How do the attitudes toward
the LSS change initiative differ per case?
Research question 1b: How do the attitudes differ
between managers and employees?
Perceived Lean Six
Sigma Attributes
The concepts of lean and Six Sigma are introduced to
help distinguish which LSS attributes carry the most
weight in management and employee perception of the
change initiative. How and why lean and Six Sigma
are more effective while applied as LSS together is a
separate debate that is thoroughly covered by George
(2003), among others.
Lean Since Womack and Jones (2003) introduced
the notion of lean thinking, many interpretations of
the lean philosophy have been discussed (Bhasin and
Burcher 2006; Bicheno and Holweg 2009; De Mast et al.
success to differ, as the process characteristics differ
from case to case, thereby endorsing the importance
of lean and/or Six Sigma attributes. A review of
12quantitative studies in manufacturing published
by Hasle et al. (2012) on the subject of perceptions
noted that both positive and negative effects of lean
and/or Six Sigma have been reported. Much depends
on employee framing of the context, implementation,
and application of LSS change.
Attitude In research done on employee responses
to a merger, Howard and Geist (1995) captured
the concept of ideological positioning (attitude).
Ideological positioning “reveals individual beliefs,
values, and perceptions about cultural norms that
define and/or clarify their position on an issue.”
Ideological positioning occurs “as organizational
members attempt to rationalize and explain the
choices they make in response” to a change initiative.
The ideological positioning concept moves on two
axes: acceptance vs. rejection (positive responses versus
negative responses) and active vs. passive (attitudes
of being empowered vs. attitudes of powerlessness).
Differences in attitudes of the LSS change initiative
between hierarchical layers in organizations are held
as important drivers for unintended consequences of
change initiatives (Harris and Ogbonna 2002; Jian
2007). Therefore, attitudes between managers and
employees are compared. These differences hold true
for cultural changes or restructuring efforts especially
(McKinley and Scherer 2000).
Furthermore, narratively constructed attitudes
toward change at an individual level have been shown
to significantly affect change outcomes. The individual
attitudes of top management may have a more imme-
diate effect on the change initiative compared to the
attitudes of individual employees (Choi and Ruona
2011). As attitude will most likely result in correspond-
ing behavior, attitudes close to active acceptance are
more desirable than attitudes close to passive rejection
in LSS change initiatives.
Behavior The theory of reasoned action (TRA)
focuses on theoretical constructs concerned with
individual motivational factors as determinants of the
likelihood of performing a specific behavior (Ajzen
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
32 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
more vague in prior quality management methods (Zu,
Fredendall, and Douglas 2008).
From these attributes, the “formula” for LSS can
be stated (see Figure 1). The integration of lean and
Six Sigma is to combine Six Sigma’s project manage-
ment and DMAIC roadmap as a general framework
for problem solving and process improvement with
lean standard solutions and mindset. For a detailed
description of lean management, Six Sigma, and their
complementary characteristics, see Bendell (2006).
Following existing literature’s LSS attributes known
to date, the following research question is proposed:
• Research question 2: How do the perceived LSS attri-
butes differ per case?
Framing of the Lean Six
Sigma Change Initiative
In order to study and explain why perceptions of LSS
change differ per employee, it is crucial to capture how
2012; Slack, Chambers, and Johnston 2010). Pettersen
(2009) distilled the collective terms that apply to all
variants of lean and concluded that there is sufficient
convergent validity for the term “lean” to carry mean-
ing as an independent concept. The result is a list of six
essential and two less vital concepts (see Figure 1).
Six Sigma Lists of Six Sigma’s unique attributes
vary somewhat among authors, but Kwak and Anbari
(2006) cite a strong customer focus, data analysis
tools, a focus on financial results, and a useful project
management structure. Although the use of metrics
to reduce variation is far from unique to Six Sigma,
Schroeder et al. (2008) assert that specific metrics such
as defects per million defect opportunities (DPMO),
critical to quality (CtQ), and process sigma mea-
surements are innovations introduced by Six Sigma.
Another important aspect of Six Sigma is the structured
improvement method of define, measure, analyze,
improve, control (DMAIC) for process improvement,
and define, measure, analyze, design, verify (DMADV)
for process design—something that was left much
Figure 1 List of LSS attributes that define LSS as a methodology
(Pettersen 2009; Kwak and Anbari 2006)
Definition of Lean Six Sigma attributes Description
Definition of Lean (Pettersen 2009)
Just in time (JIT) Producing when and what is needed by customer pull
Resource reduction Nonvalue-adding steps of a process, often cited as the seven forms of waste
Improvement strategies Participation in improvement circles and finding root causes of problems
Defects control A strong focus on quality and eliminating root causes of defects
Standardization Standardization and 5S practices, resulting in continuous improvement
Scientific management Rational allocation (or reduction) of resources in a process
Human relations management Bottom-up participation and a basic understanding of lean principles
Supply chain management Active supplier involvement and management
Definition of Six Sigma (Kwak and Anbari 2006)
TQM Corporate culture in which all employees actively participate in continuous
improvement (Dahlgaard, Kristensen, and Kanji 1998)
Customer focus Definition and measurement of customer requirements and expectations
Additional metrics Advanced statistical data analysis tools to measure performance
Financial results Measured and reported financial results
Structure improvement method Following the DMAIC procedure for improvement projects
Project management structure Organized according to project management methodology and tools
©2016, ASQ
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 33
1994). The qualitative nature of the research is reflected
in the research questions, where there are many more
variables of interest than data points available (Yin
2003). In methodological terms, the study uses “locally
grounded” or “thick descriptions” suited for finding
meaning rather than statistical relations (Miles and
Huberman 1994) and is therefore considered “theory
generating” after Ketokivi and Choi (2014). The study
follows the structure as proposed by Eisenhardt (1989).
Within-case analysis provides detailed write-ups for each
case to get intimately familiar with the cases and dis-
cover patterns. Then, the authors search for cross-case
patterns by selecting categories and looking for within-
case similarities and differences. Finally, they compare
the findings with external theory, as conflicting theo-
ries offer an opportunity by invoking creative thinking
(Eisenhardt 1989).
Transparency and repeatability are dealt with in
accordance and contain, among others: 1) a clear
description of sampling strategy; 2) coding procedure;
and 3) enclosure of within-case analysis (Barrat, Choi,
and Li 2010). In addition to the previous point, valid-
ity is addressed by means of structuring the article
according to the chain of evidence (Stuart et al. 2002).
Finally, all the interviews are thoroughly documented
in accordance with the guidelines for reproducible
research and are available as supplementary material
(Voss, Tsikriktsis, and Frohlich 2002). The transcripts
amounted to 265 pages of plain text.
Four firms within the financial services industry
and one hospital participated in this study. Company1
(C1) is a medium-sized Dutch retail and wholesale
bank. An LSS program was first carried out successfully
in its operations unit, after which the entire com-
pany engaged in a full-scale LSS change program
executed by Black Belts. For this case study in the
operations department, the change initiative started in
2010. Company 2 (C2) is a large Dutch pension funds
administrator. The organization is part of a much
larger corporation, with activities across Europe. An
LSS program was carried out successfully by Black
Belts in another corporate business unit prior to imple-
mentation within this unit. For this case study, the
change initiative started in 2008. Company 3 (C3)
employees frame the LSS change initiative. The concept
of framing the context and content captures the differ-
ences in meaning between groups or individuals and
therefore allows for situational comparisons (Dewulf et
al. 2009). Context frames relate to the way actors view
the context and reasons behind the change initiative.
Content frames regard the main goals of the change
initiative. Content frames help one understand which
practices are dominant in the perceptions of employees
and management. Following the existing literature
on the framing of employee attitudes, the following
research question is proposed:
Research question 3: How does the framing of the
LSS change initiative differ per case?
METHODOLOGY
The objective of this paper is to explain employee and
manager attitudes toward LSS change initiatives by
studying which LSS attributes are perceived by employ-
ees and managers of study. Manager and employee
framing of the LSS change initiative’s context and
content is believed to moderate the perception of LSS
attributes. Hence, framing affects how the LSS attri-
butes are perceived and results in a specific attitude
toward the LSS change initiative (see Figure 2).
Research Strategy
The authors’ research is set up as a qualitative multiple-
case study. As this study attempts to explain for
phenomena under different conditions, the multiple-
case setup is particularly suitable (Miles and Huberman
Perceived Lean Six
Sigma attributes
Attitude toward Lean Six
Sigma change initiative
Framing of the Lean Six
Sigma change initiative
Context
Content
Results
Figure 2 Conceptual model of the research
©2016, ASQ
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
34 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
attributes. To check and improve accuracy, a second
round of coding was done by a second researcher.
A “discourse” label was added, signalling frames of
how “others” viewed the LSS change initiative in general
terms from the interviewee’s point of view. The discourse
label was assigned to any passage where the interviewee
made statements about the views of colleagues, superiors,
or subordinates regarding the change initiative.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The analysis is structured according to attitude
toward the LSS change initiative, perceived LSS attri-
butes, and framing of the LSS change initiative. The
resulting references made per category of study are
displayed per company and are divided into manage-
ment, Black Belt, and employee results (see Figure3).
The displayed references can be direct or indirect
(discourse) references. For example, managers in C2
have eight rejecting references. The content of these
references does not only apply to their own attitudes,
but also to what they believe are the attitudes of
others (the discourse).
The case segments are combined into short
“within-case” descriptions of each case, highlighting
the main findings per case in Figure 4 (Eisenhardt
1989; Miles and Huberman 1994). The within-case
display combines the narratives of managers and
Black Belts for two reasons. First, some case managers
also had the role of Black Belt. Second, the differ-
ences between the managers’ and Black Belts’ attitudes
appeared to be limited (see, for example, Figure 3).
The subsequent cross-case analysis highlights the
most interesting findings and leads to the search for
cross-case patterns and differences to answer the afore-
mentioned research questions (Eisenhardt 1989).
Attitude Toward Lean Six
Sigma Change Initiative
Overall the management group is accepting of the
LSS change initiatives (see C2 for an exception).
Management mentioned how LSS change can help
them meet their objectives by using tools such as
is a Dutch subsidiary of a European life insurance
company, and is a relatively small player on the Dutch
market. The organization employs about 450 peo-
ple. Implementation of an LSS change by Black Belts
started in 2009. Company 4 (C4) is a Dutch gen-
eral hospital. It is one of the larger general hospitals
in the Netherlands, employing almost 3,000 people
(including about 200 medical specialists) at several
hospital locations and laboratories. Implementation
of LSS started in 2009 by training middle manage-
ment to become Green Belts. Company 5 (C5) is a
medium-sized pension and life insurance company.
The firm employs about 700 people and is a subsidiary
of a larger corporation. The organization started imple-
mentation by LSS Black Belts in 2007.
All five companies in this research are characterized
by the fact that they all began implementing LSS. The
first project-based phase, in which pilot projects are
started with the expectation of significant impact with
effort only from project leaders, is present in all five
companies. Then all five companies started projects in
core processes or service segments, training more Black
Belts for these projects. Senior management monitored
results and presented a clear vision on the applica-
tion of LSS. Despite the similarities, these companies
do hold meaningful contrasts for theoretical reason-
ing (Yin 2003). Differences between the cases exist in
terms of industry contingencies (for example, power of
employees over managers, familiarity with organiza-
tional change), LSS approach (for example, bottom up
vs. top down, use of external consultants), and intensity
of the LSS change initiative.
For every participating company, five interviews
were arranged with people at different organizational
levels who had recently been involved with or con-
fronted with an LSS change initiative. Three types of
respondents were incorporated: managers, employees,
and Black Belts. The interview setup intended to invoke
a narrative account of the LSS change initiative by
the semi-structured nature (interview questions avail-
able as supplementary material). The transcripts were
coded in two iterations (transcripts are available as
supplementary material). In the first coding phase, all
transcripts were coded for attitudes, frames, and LSS
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 35
Figure 3 Quantitative within-case results
Roles
Company 1 Company 2 Company 3 Company 4 Company 5
Managers
Black Belts
Employees
Managers
Black Belts
Employees
Managers
Black Belts
Employees
Managers
Black Belts
Employees
Managers
Black Belts
Employees
Number of respondents (N=25) 212202222302113
Attitudes (# categories mentioned per role)
Active 2334 5335 213
Acceptance 4563 21113 1 13
Passive 213 41121 112
Rejecting 1118161 3 2
Perceived LSS Attributes (# categories mentioned per role)
Six Sigma
Just in time practices
Resource reduction 341 1233 1 12
Improvement strategies 5241 12557 2237
Defects control 3
Standardization 3122 211 4 1 17
Scientific management 3121 21159 2112
Human relations management 6365 33438 5321
Supply chain management 8 1 1 4 5 1 1 2
Lean
TQM 14 213 2612 817 5162
Customer focus 2111 23375 3222
Additional metrics 10 137 43613 12
Financial results 2 2 1 3 2 2 2
Structured improvement method 3 22 11115 143
Project management structure 7125 41225 21
Framing of LSS Initiative (# categories mentioned per role)
Content
Pressures to reduce costs 21 12223
Low customer satisfaction 2 1 2 2 1 1 2
Organizational improvement 2 1 2
Context
Improving service and quality 7582 889813 75414
Reducing the cost-base 9489 988511 95411
Improving employee well-being 7463 68787 73313
Improving employee efficiency 4498 998514 95415
Increase process reliability 7 66888 45314
Increase process flexibility 5 39849 84510
Increase speed of delivery 6 897812 95514
©2016, ASQ
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
36 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
The employees’ group has a passive acceptance/
attitude about the LSS change. Rejection of LSS change
is passive and not active (see employee references of C2
in Figure 3), while acceptance is active. C5 employees
are actively accepting of LSS, stating that the aspect
of improving processes together with colleagues is
“inspiring.” C1 employees have an accepting, though
not active, attitude toward LSS change. They perceive
the LSS change as possibly improving one’s work,
problem solving and integrating the voice of the
customer within the organization. The managers’
doubts relate to factors that are not controllable but
must be managed by them (for example, little con-
trol over program deployment, the program focus on
data interpretation/financial measurement instead of
trusting management experience, the pace and struc-
ture of LSS change implementation, and the skill
level of Black Belts).
Figure 4 Qualitative within case descriptions
Attitudes
(Toward LSS change initiative)
Perceived LSS Attributes
(During the LSS change initiative)
Framing of LSS Initiative
(Context/Content of initiative)
Company 1
Managers and
Black Belts
Accepting and active
Management doubts at deployment
and fear of loss of leadership control
Telling the story and leading the
change by exemplary behavior
Focus on additional metrics
Low customer satisfaction and
consequently cost reduction
Employee satisfaction
Employees More accepting than active
Transparency increased work stress
Bottom-up approach in structured
improvement
Opportunity to learn and contribute
Cost reduction by means of process
optimization
Improving employee efficiency
Company 2
Managers and
Black Belts
Accepting although critical of the
LSS methodology
Strong focus on realizing company
objectives with LSS
Insight in performance metrics
perceived as blessing
Clear project management structure
Initiated to improve customer
satisfaction
Strong focus on cost reduction
“always FTEs”
Employees Rejecting the LSS change initiative,
perceived introduced attributes as
waste of time
LSS expert support perceived
asabsent
LSS in-house training perceived
asinsufficient
Low customer satisfaction
Improved efficiency should lead
tocost reductions (a means to
reduce cost)
Company 3
Managers and
Black Belts
Accepting and active
Lack of vision caused chaotic
implementation
Fun to solve the problems
Searching for root causes of
problems with employees
Voice of the customer research
putforward
Trend to restructure and optimize in
financial industry
Focused on realizing efficiency gains
Employees Accepting
Desire to see LSS further
implemented in the organization
Knowing what customer value is
remains vague
Measurements are rough estimates
due to lack of data
Assignment from local management
to start
Focused on process improvements
Company 4
Managers and
Black Belts
Accepting
LSS only one of many management
instruments
Difficulty in adopting each other’s
best-practices
Management received LSS training
to execute projects
Increased competitive pressure
onmarket
Improved service, quality, and
employee efficiency
Employees Passive
Initiative primarily focused on
middle and higher management
Measurement of process data is
perceived more important than
theiropinion
No training, less involved
Reputational reasons as main driver
Focus on cost reduction and
employee efficiency
Company 5
Managers and
Black Belts
Active
Customer focus achieved through
application of LSS
Management involvement
is important though doesn’t
participate in LSS initiative
Received LSS training
Management decision
To enhance reputation
Reducing a certain amount of
man-hours per year
Employees Accepting and active
“Inspiring” to improve processes
together
Team worked step by step toward
a solution
Unify service by standard operating
procedures
Management decision
Reducing a certain amount of
man-hours per year
Personal savings targets
©2016, ASQ
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 37
Perceived Lean Six
Sigma Attributes
Four attributes are mentioned most often: the manage-
ment involvement aspect of total quality management
(TQM) (C1, C3, C4, and C5), human relations manage-
ment (C1, C2, and C4), improvement strategies (C1, C3,
and C5), and additional metrics (C1 and C2). Scientific
management (C4), standardization (C5), project man-
agement structure (C2), and customer focus (C3) are
mentioned only sporadically. However, just in time (JIT)
(C1, C2, C3, C4, and C5) and defects control (C1, C2, C3,
and C5) are not mentioned at all (see Figure 3).
Management involvement One element of
TQM—management involvement—resulted in clear
differences in perception by management and employ-
ees. For C1, setting direction and pace are examples of
continuous improvement and are perceived by manage-
ment as their role in the LSS change process. The Black
Belt focused on LSS change on the workshop floor and
employees perceived lower management involvement
only in executing the LSS tooling for the change. C3
management perceives the organization as too undeter-
mined to make the LSS change into a lasting success.
However, C3 Black Belts perceive a culture of continuous
improvement among employees, although they think
management involvement in terms of leadership and
LSS knowledge is lacking. C3 employees perceive lim-
ited management involvement and are not really sure
whether they are expected to continue LSS change. At C4
top management is perceived as determined to imple-
ment LSS, while middle management is perceived as not
involved. Employees perceive that there is a need for a
wider commitment toward LSS change, which should
be reinforced by management. C4 employees perceive a
significant “not-invented-here” mentality that hinders
LSS success. At C5, the manager, the Black Belt, and the
employees indicate that management involvement is
important though management doesn’t participate in
LSS change (although they do “allow” it).
Human relations management At C1,
management and the Black Belt perceive a bottom-
up approach to LSS change and employees describe
although it increased work stress for the employees
due to improved performance transparency. C3 and C4
employees have an accepting though passive attitude
toward the change initiative. C3 employees agree that
it would be good to implement LSS further and more
formally in the organization, feeling that management
support for the initiative is lacking and the LSS work
methods are fading away. C4 employees cite the LSS
change as providing opportunity for them to show and
develop skills they would normally be unable to access,
although they were only generally aware of what the
program should achieve. C2 employees have a pas-
sive rejection attitude and claim that required daily
activities are a waste of time. They indicated that if LSS
change implementation would stop today, everyone
would be relieved.
Research question 1a: How do the attitudes
toward the LSS change initiative differ per
case? Almost all managers are accepting of the LSS
change, although some are active and some are pas-
sive. More in-depth analysis revealed that in all cases,
when managers talk about each other’s attitudes, they
reference the passive attitudes of others. This may be
a signal of professional acceptance, where no personal
motivation is felt. From this functional perspective a
manager cannot be against LSS once it is deployed.
This interpretation is supported by the observation that
interviewed managers indicated that other managers
have less acceptance, while employees indicated that
their managers probably accept LSS. Management is
simultaneously subject to, as well as responsible for, co-
implementing the LSS quality improvement discipline,
so a passive or rejecting attitude would hinder the suc-
cess of the implementation (Boiral 2003).
Research question 1b: How do the atti-
tudes differ between managers and
employees? Employees’ attitudes vary more than
managers’ attitudes. Nevertheless, people who
oppose the LSS change remain passive rather than
protest. Both employees and managers indicate that
most employees, when fearful of losing their jobs,
would prefer to not be part of and/or to not under-
stand the LSS change initiative (that is, a passive or
rejecting attitude).
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
38 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
attributes are mentioned most often, being the
management involvement aspect of TQM, human
relations management, improvement strategies, and
additional metrics. These findings align with previous
research. These studies had the objective of finding
critical success factors (CSFs) for LSS improvement
projects (Coronado and Antony 2002; Brun 2011) and
addressed: 1) management commitment and support
for projects, training, selection, and prioritization
of projects: 2) the link of LSS to human resource
management; 3) structured approaches to project
execution; and 4) a focus on metrics. In this study,
scientific management, the use of standards, project
management structures, and customer focus are less
frequently perceived and mentioned. These are con-
sidered important CSFs for LSS project success and
not frequently perceived by the respondents. JIT and
defects control are not mentioned at all.
Framing of the Lean Six
Sigma Change Initiative
Context Management perceives contextual factors
leading to LSS change initiatives as mainly low cus-
tomer satisfaction due to bad reputation, the need to
reduce the company’s cost base through efficiency
optimization, and the need to improve the competi-
tive position of the company. Interestingly, when a
top management priority was perceived as a primary
contextual driver, there was not one underlying reason.
Rather, the reasons varied between cost reduction,
competitive pressure, and reputation enhancement,
which indicates that there is not one clear strategic
reason to commence LSS change initiatives. When
middle management or employees did not understand
that a top management priority was to start LSS, they
perceived customer satisfaction, enhancing the com-
pany’s reputation, and cost optimization as equally
important. Employees perceive contextual factors to
commence LSS change initiatives as the need for cost
reduction by means of optimization or a bad reputation
among customers. Here one can see that perception
of contextual factors is similar between management
how the bottom-up character created the opportunity
to be involved and share ideas. Employees perceive
involvement by starting with small-scale projects and
increasing effort, while in the meantime receiving train-
ing in LSS tooling. At C2 both the in-house training
program and the in-house LSS expertise were negatively
mentioned. Still, the continuing effort to train employ-
ees at various levels and ingrain certain daily habits and
activities is considered an important aspect of the LSS
program. C4 managers receive LSS training (Green Belt)
to be able to execute LSS change projects. Employees
perceive the LSS change as projects that are being exe-
cuted by management and favor a different program,
which integrates employee participation.
Improvement strategies At C1, improvement
ideas are generated by employees in small steps in a
learning-by-doing fashion. Management perceives this
as something that needs constant attention. Employees
describe that new ideas for improvement are less easily
generated. At C3, management and Black Belts perceive
the search for root causes for problems, together with
the employees, as a continuous process. Employees
perceive improvement strategies as defining the stan-
dard and looking for ways to improve this standard
with a pragmatic approach, without any structure. C5
respondents indicate the pleasure in getting voluntarily
together in a multidisciplined team (improvement
strategy). By starting with a joint problem indica-
tion, the team worked step by step toward a solution
(structured improvement method). The problems were
manageable, and because of representation of all
departments concerned, decision making was fast and
results became quickly visible.
Additional metrics At C1, additional metrics
are mentioned in the discussion about the data in the
daily huddle, the so-called performance dialogues. The
perception is that people can learn from each other,
but data are a burden, as they require an explanation
for worse or better performance. At C2, looking at indi-
vidual and team performance is described as a blessing
for management but is described as extra work for
management by the team level.
Research question 2: How do the per-
ceived LSS attributes differ per case? Four
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 39
perceive that employees view the LSS change as a one-
off result and not a way of performing daily work.
One employee group is clearly happy with the results
of the LSS change initiative. Colleagues are happier,
and there are clear examples of reduced waste and bet-
ter customer service. Also, they like the opportunity to
learn, participate, and make mistakes. Despite this per-
ception of success, there is a fear that not everybody is
willing to keep on using LSS attributes in their work
and that things might revert to their previous state.
Another group of employees is not so clear about the
results and perceives the LSS change as unsuccessful.
To them, the one-off results of LSS are not clear. Their
way of working changed and became more focused on
continuous improvement, but the decrease in manage-
ment attention on LSS affected the adoption of LSS
change attributes throughout the organization. As noted
by other researchers, this gap between management and
employee perception of results may exist because man-
agement uses the rhetoric of success to further drive and
develop their change initiative (Zbaracki 1998).
Research question 3: How does the fram-
ing of the LSS change initiative differ per
case? What stands out in the framing of LSS change
initiatives so far is that contextual reasons for LSS
change are perceived as similar among managers and
employees. This indicates that there is alignment of
management and employee understanding about why
LSS change has commenced. This is supported by the
observation that management does perceive top manage-
ment decision making as a contextual factor contrary to
what employees perceive. Top management reasons to
begin LSS change vary for three cases, but in these three
cases employee perception is aligned with management
perception of top management reasons to commence
LSS change. This finding is supported by the existing
literature on LSS deployment, whereby a first and impor-
tant element is a strong organization-wide recognition of
the need for change (Kumar et al. 2007).
Content perception differs between management
and employees. Employees perceive the cost reduction
objective the most. Management perceives customer
and customer-related objectives, such as service and
quality improvements, which will lead to a better cost
and employees. Management does incidentally perceive
more contextual factors than employees or different
contextual factors.
Content The perceived content, or objectives,
of the LSS change initiative are divided between two
management groups. One group perceives LSS change
objectives to be primarily related to customer service
and quality improvements, in which cost reduction is
a means to an end. By improving processes, improv-
ing quality, and reducing errors in the service delivery
process, higher customer satisfaction will follow.
Higher employee efficiency is one way to achieve
this; as a result, lower costs will be a significant ben-
efit. The other group of management perceives LSS
change objectives as primarily focused on cost reduc-
tion. Statements such as “people never asked for
how many improvements, but asked about the FTE
reduction” are exemplary for this group. Cost base
reduction by improving reliability and flexibility of
processes is of primary focus.
Employees perceive LSS change objectives to be cost
driven, in which cost reduction is the ultimate objec-
tive. Employees have seen FTE numbers decrease ever
since the LSS change initiative was deployed or feel
that the focus on employee efficiency has intensified.
By improving service and quality delivery and employee
efficiency, more work can be handled, if necessary,
with fewer people. Employees do perceive LSS objec-
tives to be about employee well-being as a means to
improve efficiency and reduce the cost base. Employees
incidentally perceive employee well-being as an LSS
change objective by means of process improvement.
Management incidentally believes that employee well-
being is an important objective, as a means to better
performance, of LSS change.
Management for all companies claims the LSS
change initiatives were successful. The projected cost/
income advantages were accomplished, customer sat-
isfaction increased, better lead times were reported, less
rework was accomplished, and direct report managers
actively use LSS to continuously improve the service
delivery with their teams.
Managers doubt the perseverance of the LSS way
of working and the continued use of LSS. Managers
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40 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
employees and managers seem willing to engage in the
change initiative. As was mentioned in C4 (that is, the
hospital), in a context where competition is increas-
ing, the quest for efficiency will result in more work
that is handled by fewer people. The “bad” context
effect certainly seems the case in C2. However, market
conditions were also unfavorable for C1, C3, and C5,
without triggering a negative response to implementa-
tion of LSS. Even though employees in C5 were faced
with a major reorganization, including a significant
cost-saving operation, employees did not blame LSS
implementation as a cause for the loss of jobs. This
suggests that market conditions alone are insufficient
to predict attitudes toward LSS. Managers overall seem
less averse to the cost-saving focus, which consequently
weighs less heavily on their overall attitude toward
LSS. It is theorized that managers are less afraid of
cost-saving initiatives. Managers have a more active
attitude, and when faced with adversarial change they
simply decide to leave the organization (it was stated
in C2 that several managers chose to leave the orga-
nization when the change initiative was started). In
most cases (C1, C3, C4, and C5) perceptions of too little
management involvement are reported. The result is a
lack of LSS leadership and knowledge, as observed by
employees and Black Belts. As management expecta-
tions are not clear, employee interpretations about
the rationale of LSS are not managed and can unin-
tentionally induce a cost-saving perception of the LSS
change initiative.
Theoretical propositions From a theoretical
perspective, the relation among market conditions,
cost-saving versus improvement strategy, and employee
attitudes toward change forms an interesting triangle
that allows modeling (and testing) in multiple ways.
It can be hypothesized that a relation between mar-
ket conditions and attitudes to LSS exists, which is
modified by the perceived balance of cost saving versus
improvement. This mediating effect is expected to be
stronger for employees than for managers.
Recommendations for practitioners The
authors believe that companies implementing LSS can
face a cost bias problem. This means that of all aspects
of LSS, cost saving is the most likely to receive wide,
base. This indicates that employee perceptions about
LSS change objectives are not fully aligned with
management. Contrary to management, employees
perceive employee well-being objectives as a means
to meet cost reduction, while management generally
does not perceive employee well-being as a means
to meet any LSS change objectives. Employee narra-
tives about well-being mainly highlight the positive
influence of LSS change involvement. This indicates
that the perceived importance of employee responsi-
bility in meeting LSS change objectives is not always
addressed by management (as management does not
perceive employee well-being).
In two cases, employees indicate that the one-off
results of the LSS change are not clear. In all other
cases, management and employees undoubtedly
perceive the one-off results as successful. The main
reasons for doubt about the success by management
and employees lie in the perceived acceptance and
adoption of the LSS change attributes in the way of
working. This indicates the importance of employee
involvement and ownership of LSS change initia-
tives. Again, employee narratives about well-being
mainly highlighted the positive influence of LSS
change involvement. However, only being involved
does not ensure ongoing LSS change attributes
deployment by employees.
INTERPRETATIONS
AND CONCLUSIONS
Three factors that stand out in this study are considered.
Employee and Manager
Attitudes: Balancing Cost-Saving
and Improvement Focus
In a negative organizational context with unfavorable
market conditions (the “bad” context), LSS perceptions
are related to fear and resistance. In a positive organi-
zational context with more favorable market conditions
(the “good” context), the improvement aspect of LSS
will naturally receive the most attention. Then, both
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 41
to keep emphasizing a broad range of LSS aspects, both
communicatively and in practice. As the content frames
of LSS are generally quite narrow, attempts to broaden
the perception of the change initiative to include more
than, say, improvement strategies and standardiza-
tion may have a positive effect on the perception of the
change initiative as a whole.
Employee and Manager
Framing: Differences in Lean
Six Sigma Approaches
C1 and C5 are framed as the most involved in the
change initiative, actively engaging employees in
the entire change program, with both employees and
management framing the change initiative as bring-
ing lasting change, and creating bottom-up demand
for further implementation.
C2 is characterized by a strong top-down imple-
mentation. C4 is characterized by a similar approach,
with LSS explicitly framed as a tool that could be used
to achieve certain goals in specific situations and was
targeted to a large extent at the managerial level. At C2
and C4 specifically, managers were wondering how to
implement the next step, noting that despite significant
investments the change initiative would not carry on
without continued management pressure and sup-
port. Managers were wondering when the LSS change
initiative would realize bottom-up participation and
noticeable cultural change.
The change initiative in C3 could best be described
as unobtrusive, with no significant pressure on either
employees or management to implement the LSS
change program. There was no sense of a bottom-up
initiative carrying the program further, with imple-
mentation being portrayed as instrumental in nature.
The purported idea behind it was that the organization
could have achieved more over the past years when the
initiative was carried bottom up.
No firm viewed the implementation of LSS as a
way to distinguish it from others or obtain sustain-
able competitive advantage. If anything, LSS was seen
as a basic requirement or table stake for competition.
long-lasting, and negative attention. In general, best
practices in this regard seem to entail at least: 1) being
clear upfront about the aims of the change initiative;
and 2) decoupling cost saving expectations from LSS
implementation in communication and in practice, at
least below the management level. This research shows
convincingly that management needs to consciously
and continuously deal with the cost bias problem.
Perceived Lean Six Sigma
Attributes: Narrow Employee
and Manager Perception
For each interviewee a few aspects stand out, while
most others are not mentioned at all. JIT production
methods, as well as supply chain management, are
not mentioned at all. Standardization, for example,
looks to be an important feature of all LSS programs,
but—except for C1—remains implicit. Much the
same goes for the element of defects control. Solving
problems and looking for root causes is perceived as
the most well-known, important, and enjoyable way
to be involved as employees and management (C1,
C3, and C5). Four LSS attributes are perceived repeat-
edly (TQM, HRM, improvement strategies, metrics),
whereas others such as JIT or defect control are not
mentioned at all (C1-C5). One explanation is that ser-
vice industries do not produce services in advance and
are therefore less subject to the concept of pull. Hence,
there is a tendency for managers and employees to
base their attitude toward LSS on just a few attributes
of the LSS change program.
Theoretical proposition In this study, the
framing of the LSS change initiative is quite narrow
compared to the broad scope of these LSS attributes that
are applied in the change initiatives. In conjunction
with the aforementioned cost bias problem, a particu-
larly narrow framing seems to further encourage strong
responses. One can hypothesize that the more narrowly
LSS is portrayed, the stronger the response will be. This
can be an avenue for further research.
Recommendations for practitioners The
discussion suggests that conscious effort seems required
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
42 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
Third, one of the drawbacks of open-ended inter-
views and qualitative case studies in general is the
low generalizability of research findings. The small
sample size and uniqueness of each data point forced
the authors to carefully limit the scope and ambition of
their research conclusions.
Another inherent drawback of the research setup is
the fact that the evidence gathered is mostly anecdotal
in nature. The danger lies in taking one account of a
certain phenomenon and turning it into a generalized
statement. Aware of this problem, the authors have
attempted to reconstruct the accounts for each case
using all the available data.
Further Research
An interesting question that seems promising for
further research involves the particular change char-
acteristics associated with each LSS program. LSS
requires change to be both incremental and radical
(Womack and Jones 2003), technical and cultural,
organizational and behavioral (Bhasin and Burcher
2006), top down and bottom up, and systemic and
local (Bicheno and Holweg 2009). These require-
ments seem to be contradictory. The concept of
dualities places central emphasis on this idea (Seo,
Putnam, and Bartunek 2004). The authors go on
to list eight different dualities, together forming the
16 change characteristics. The authors suggest first
order vs. second order, continuous vs. episodic, and
open vs. closed dualities may be the most interest-
ing dualities to research. As they have seen, some
firms struggle to create second-order change, which
ultimately leads to a “next-step problem;” it would
seem worthwhile to further specify a construct to
capture this difference between a first- and second-
order change focus. The difference between the lean
and Six Sigma approach may be most pronounced
in their treatment of change as either continuous or
episodic. In conjunction with the two aforementioned
dualities, an open vs. closed approach indicating
bottom-up participation or top-down implementa-
tion seems to be an important design choice for the
change program.
The authors note that this is unlike most successful
firms in manufacturing.
Recommendations for practitioners Based
on the authors’ findings, there will always be a dis-
tinction between quick wins (gained from discrete
application) and long-term goals (targeted by a more
ostensive approach). A tension between long-term
incremental improvement supported by lean theory
and a more radically directed approach purported by
Six Sigma seems at play. This research suggests that
while the Six Sigma approach can have a larger and
more immediate effect, the drive required to keep the
initiative going after initial management- initiated
projects are exhausted comes from a much more
gradual and bottom-up implementation of LSS at the
shop-floor level.
LIMITATIONS AND
FURTHER RESEARCH
The authors acknowledge their methodological
approach has some drawbacks.
Limitations
The first thing to note is that interview selection may
have been biased up front toward employees and
managers who were actively involved in the change
initiative. It would take courage for people who actively
resist the program to come forward. In addition, the
propensity for the interviewees (especially employees)
to describe the views of colleagues toward the change
initiative as more negative exists. Of all the people
invited, those with the most positive attitude toward LSS
are more likely to accept the invitation.
Second, there is the risk of falling for the nar-
rative fallacy. The narrative fallacy entails the fact
that humans tend to make sense of events after they
have occurred, constructing and simplifying mean-
ing, breaking down complex stories to manageable
accounts (Kahneman 2011). This plays a role, for
example, in the question of which aspects of LSS
received the most attention.
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
The authors are very grateful to the reviewers and the editor.
Their comments and suggestions have greatly improved the
content and readability of the paper. The authors declared no
potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
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BIOGRAPHIES
Bart A. Lameijer is a doctoral candidate in the Department
of Operations Management of the University of Amsterdam,
Netherlands. His research interests comprise lean management
and Six Sigma methodology deployment. He is currently combin-
ing research activities with his role as Lean Six Sigma Master
Black Belt in the financial services industry. He can be reached by
email at b.a.lameijer@uva.nl.
David T. J. Veen is a senior consultant at PMT Group in the
Netherlands and is specialized in operational change manage-
ment and information technology. He received his master’s
degree in business studies from the University of Amsterdam in
2013. Veen is Lean Six Sigma Green and Black Belt educated. He
can be reached by email at dtjveen@gmail.com.
Ronald J. M. M. Does is professor of industrial statistics in the
Department of Operations Management of the University of
Amsterdam. He is also director of the Institute for Business and
Industrial Statistics and the Institute of Executive Programmes at
the University of Amsterdam Business School. Does is an expert
in the fields of industrial, medical, and mathematical statistics,
psychometrics, and operational excellence. He is a Fellow of ASQ
and ASA, academician of the International Academy for Quality,
and elected member of the International Statistical Institute. Does
can be reached by email at r.j.m.m.does@uva.nl.
Jeroen de Mast is professor of methods and statistics for opera-
tions management at the Department of Operations Management
of the University of Amsterdam. He received a doctorate in statis-
tics from the University of Amsterdam. He is an expert in statistics,
operations management, and industrial engineering. de Mast can
be reached by email at j.demast@uva.nl.
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 45
APPENDIX: PERCEPTIONS OF LEAN SIX SIGMA:
EXTENSIVE WITHIN-CASE ANALYSIS
COMPANY 1
(five interviews, two business managers,
one Black Belt, two employees)
Company 1 (C1) is a medium-sized Dutch retail
and wholesale bank. An LSS program was carried out
successfully in the operations unit, after which the
entire company engaged in a full-scale LSS change
program. For this case study in the operations depart-
ment, the change initiative started in 2010.
Attitude Toward the LSS
Change Initiative
Management and the Black Belt show acceptance and an
active attitude toward LSS change. Employees who accept
the LSS change though are more passive than active.
Management attitudes Management is accept-
ing and active in their support of the LSS change
initiative. Both managers mention being proud of
the success of the initiative, and one describes him-
self as a “lean believer.” Nevertheless, they both have
their doubts. One criticizes the moment of LSS change
deployment, which was just before a grand cost saving
reorganization. The other blames the focus on data col-
lection and management as a premier reason for loss of
his management control. The Black Belt is positive as
well and calls the LSS change a great success. Despite the
success, the Black Belt describes the overall involvement
of management as minimal and mainly encouraging.
Employee attitudes Both employees are pos-
itive toward the LSS change, more accepting than
active. Reasons for positivism about LSS change
include: 1) the opportunity to improve one’s work;
and 2)“because it works.” However, on the downside,
the LSS change has also increased work stress for the
employees due to improved performance transparency.
Discourse attitudes Employees mention that
colleagues have been afraid of losing their jobs due to
enhanced efficiency. Reports of faulty measurements by
employees are stated, after which too many employees
were sent home (and others were rehired later). Also,
employees mention that their management is prob-
ably prohibited to be negative about the LSS change.
Management perceives a difference in acceptance among
managers, with statements such as, “I think I am the
most positive.” Management believes that employees
perceive the LSS change as a cost-saving operation,
though some have truly accepted the LSS change.
Framing of the LSS
Change Initiative
Context: perceived reasons behind the LSS
change Employees perceive the main reason behind
the LSS change to be cost reduction by means of opti-
mizing processes. Management indicates that the main
reason is low customer satisfaction, a bad reputation of
the company from a service perspective, and projected
synergy of the recently implemented merger.
Content: perceived goals of the LSS
change The main focus of the LSS change is per-
ceived by employees to be cost driven. They say they
have seen the reduction in personnel while working on
the LSS change. Management, however, perceives the
goals more as customer- and cost-reduction oriented,
that is, working toward better customer satisfaction by
reducing errors and optimizing processes. Then cost
reduction will logically follow. One manager indicates
that this should have been communicated more clearly
(see Figure 1A).
Management states that cost base and employee
well-being are of primary focus. Employees state that
improving service and quality delivery, and employee
efficiency are of primary focus. Management perceives
cost reduction as a means to an objective (side effect),
while employees perceive cost reduction as an objec-
tive. Employees feel that the LSS change was a success.
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
46 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
Colleagues are happier; they give examples of reduced
waste and better customer service. Also, the opportunity
to learn and make mistakes is mentioned. Management
also mentions the LSS change as being a success
because the projected synergy has been accomplished
and direct report managers are actively using LSS tools
to continuously improve the work with their teams.
Perceived Lean Six
Sigma Attributes
Four attributes are mentioned most often: TQM,
human relations management, additional metrics, and
improvement strategies. Here, JIT, defects control, and
financial results are not mentioned at all (see Figure 2A).
TQM is frequently mentioned with regard to manage-
ment involvement in the LSS change implementation
process. Telling the story and leading the change is a
key role for senior management, as described by man-
agement. Setting direction and pace and making an
example of continuous improvement are mentioned by
management as some of their activities. Also, the impor-
tance of a continuous improvement culture is mentioned
as a necessity. The Black Belt mentioned the focus of
the LSS change on the workshop floor and less on man-
agement and stressed the importance of the culture of
Figure 1A Perceived goals rated on a 1 to 5 scale by the respondents
Management Average Employee Average
Improving service and quality 3.5 5 3 3.8 444
Reducing the cost base 5444.3 354
Improving employee well-being 3443.7 333
Improving employee efficiency 2422.7 4 5 4.5
Increase the reliability of the processes ––––––
Increasing the flexibility of the processes ––––––
Increasing the speed of delivery ––––––
Figure 2A Lean Six Sigma attributes cited by respondents
Management Black Belt Employees Total
Lean
Just in time practices 0
Resource reduction 1241 8
Improvement strategies 4123111
Defects control 0
Standardization 12111 6
Scientific management 1 2 1 2 6
Human relations management 4233315
Supply chain management 4 1 5
Six Sigma
Total quality management 8 6 2 1 17
Customer focus 2 1 1 4
Additional metrics 7312114
Financial results 0
Structured improvement method 1 2 1 1 5
Project management structure 3 4 1 2 10
©2016, ASQ©2016, ASQ
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 47
continuous improvement. One employee stated that
his manager was heavily involved in executing the LSS
change tooling, which was considered helpful.
Human relations management is discussed by
management and the Black Belt as the bottom-up
approach of the LSS change, starting with small-scale
projects and increasing the effort, while in the mean-
time training the employees in LSS tooling. Also,
the involvement of employees in executing analysis
on the work floor by the Black Belts is described by
management. Employees describe the bottom-up
character of the LSS change and the opportunity to be
involved and share ideas.
Additional metrics are described by management,
the Black Belt, and employees as the daily huddle that
started after the LSS change program began. They all
mention the discussion about the data in the daily
huddle, the so-called performance dialogues. One
employee and one manager describe how they can
learn from each other, but even more so how data
put a burden on them, as they must explain better or
worse performance.
Improvement strategy is described as the way in
which improvement ideas are generated by employ-
ees, and management perceives this as something
that needs constant attention. Employees describe
improvement as something that is done in small
steps—learning by doing—but it is hard to maintain,
as new ideas for improvement are less easily generated.
The main difference between management’s and
employees’ perception is how management describes
how management involvement and a culture of con-
tinuous improvement are of key importance. On the
other hand, employees hardly mention the subject, let
alone how they have experienced the role of manage-
ment in the LSS change.
COMPANY 2
(four interviews, two business managers,
one team manager, one employee)
Company 2 (C2) is a large Dutch pension funds
administrator. The organization is part of a much
larger corporation with activities across Europe. An
LSS program was carried out successfully in another
corporate business unit prior to implementation
within this unit. For this case study, the change ini-
tiative started in 2008.
Attitude Toward the LSS
Change Initiative
Unit level management was generally accepting of the LSS
change, but at the team level there was notable resistance.
Management attitudes The higher-level man-
agers who were interviewed accept the ideas of LSS,
although one said that it alone was not enough to
bring about all the necessary changes. Their view
on LSS is complemented by an active stance toward
achieving the aims set out for the organization. They
are critical, however, of the way in which the change
initiative was implemented, its achievements during
the first years, and the level of the in-house LSS experts.
Employee attitudes Employees are even more
critical of the LSS program, quite clearly rejecting
the way it was implemented. The daily activities are
described as a waste of time. The employee indicates
that if management would stop implementation of LSS
today, everyone would be relieved, nobody would care,
and as far as he can tell, nothing would be missed.
Discourse attitudes Top management is
described as being very enthusiastic about the LSS
change program. Employees are perceived as less
enthusiastic, as they wouldn’t fit the “standard
approach” that LSS prescribes. For them, it feels like
a “must do” and is not perceived as a means to an
end. Also, the LSS change is perceived as a nice way
(customer focus, continuous improvement) to bluntly
cut costs. Looking back, most of the tooling is thought
to be badly perceived. Only the daily huddles are men-
tioned as valuable for colleagues.
Framing of the LSS
Change Initiative
Context: perceived reasons behind the
LSS change The main reasons behind the LSS
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
48 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
change are perceived as quality improvement (pro-
cess improvements) and customer satisfaction
improvement, and as a side effect, efficiency opti-
mization (cost reduction). Both the employee and
management indicate that LSS change was mainly
initiated to improve the company’s reputation
toward the customer.
Content: perceived goals of the LSS
change When asked for objectives of the initia-
tive, the main focus of the LSS change is perceived
to be cost driven. “People never ask for how many
improvements, but do ask about the FTE reduction”
one manager stated. Also, the employee mentions the
bottom-line result of cost reduction of improved effi-
ciency (see Figure 3A).
Management states that cost base, reliability, and
flexibility of processes are of primary focus. The team
level states that improving service and quality delivery,
employee well-being and efficiency, and speed of deliv-
ery are of primary focus, which results in reducing the
cost base. Management perceives cost as an objective,
and the team level as a means to an objective.
Upper management is very clear about the
results; they see LSS as successful because of the
improved returns and higher customer satisfaction,
as a one-off result; the way of working (continuous
improvement) has not significantly changed, and
that jeopardizes the chances of continuing success.
The team level is less clear about the results; they
indicate that the returns are not clearly visible, but
this group did experience a change in the way of
working (continuous improvement).
Perceived Lean Six
Sigma Attributes
Three attributes are mentioned most often: addi-
tional metrics, project management structure, and
human relations management. Here, JIT, resource
reduction, and defects control are not mentioned at all
(see Figure 4A).
Additional metrics are for upper management an
important aspect of lean; taking measures and collect-
ing data are stressed. Looking at individual and team
performance is described as a blessing for manage-
ment, but it is thought of as extra work to be done for
management by the employees at the team level.
Project management structure is mentioned by
upper management as the way LSS change is
implemented, with LSS experts who are assigned to
implement continuous improvement in a structured
manner (waves) and educate employees and manage-
ment. The team level mentions project management
structure as LSS experts who are supposed to deliver
continuing support for the continuous improvement
initiatives at the departments but did not do that.
Human relations management in the accounts of
both managers and employees comprised the in-house
training program. Almost without fail, this training
program and the level of the in-house LSS experts are
mentioned in a negative fashion. Still, the continuing
efforts to train employees at various levels, and ingrain
certain daily habits and activities, are considered an
important aspect of the LSS program.
Figure 3A Perceived goals rated on a 1 to 5 scale by the respondents
High management Average Team level Average
Improving service and quality 2 – 2 4 4 4
Reducing the cost base 5 4 4.5 5 4 4.5
Improving employee well-being 1 2 1.5 333
Improving employee efficiency 444544.5
Increase the reliability of the processes 4 3 3.5 333
Increasing the flexibility of the processes 3 2 2.5 2 1 1.5
Increasing the speed of delivery 423444
©2016, ASQ
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 49
The main difference between management’s and
employees’ perception is in the comprehension level
of the LSS attributes. For the aforementioned attributes
(additional metrics, project management structure,
and human relations management) upper manage-
ment mainly describes what it is and the team level
mainly describes how it works or does not work. For
example, additional metrics are described by upper
management as insights into team performance to
compare and improve, whereas the team level describes
the difficulties in getting the management informa-
tion available and the uncertainty about its use. The
same applies for human relations management; upper
management describes the in-house training availabil-
ity, whereas the team level talks about the lack of LSS
expert availability in continuous support.
COMPANY 3
(six interviews, one board member, one business
manager, two Black Belts, two employees)
Company 3 (C3) is a Dutch subsidiary of a European
life insurance company and is a relatively small player on
the Dutch market. The organization employs about 450
people. Implementation of an LSS change began in 2009.
Attitude Toward the LSS
Change Initiative
Acceptance with a more passive than active modus is
found at the managerial level. Employees are accepting
though passive in their efforts to do more with LSS change.
Management attitudes Both top-level and team-
level management seem accepting in their support
of LSS change, with one saying that implementation
would be enforced even in the face of open resistance.
At the operational level, a lack of clear vision caused a
chaotic implementation. Management generally enjoys
the challenging work of implementing the change
program, stating that it is good to look at the basic
problems of the company and try to fix them. The Black
Belts generally share the same enthusiasm.
Employee attitudes Both employees state a
desire to “do more with lean,” feeling that manage-
ment support for the initiative is lacking and stating
that the LSS way of working appears to be fading away.
While one of the employees did not feel empowered to
change this personally, rather waiting for management
to make a move, the other tried to use the acquired
skills to actively initiate change. Both employees agree
Figure 4A Lean Six Sigma attributes cited by respondents
High management Team level Total
Lean
Just in time practices 0
Resource reduction 0
Improvement strategies 1 1 2
Defects control 0
Standardization 2 2 4
Scientific management 1 2 3
Human relations management 2312 8
Supply chain management 1 1
Six Sigma
Total quality management 1 2 2 5
Customer focus 1 2 3
Additional metrics 342211
Financial results 1 1 2 4
Structured improvement method 111 3
Project management structure 2313 9
©2016, ASQ
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
50 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
that it would be good to implement LSS further and
more formally in the organization.
Discourse attitudes Both Black Belts report the
missing of a true sense of urgency by management and
employees due to the lucrative past years of insurance
companies. However, when a specific solution for a spe-
cific problem, such as capacity management, is offered
as an LSS tool, management becomes interested—not
in the tool but in what it can do for the company. One
employee indicates that the direct colleagues are not
that interested in LSS.
Framing of the LSS
Change Initiative
Context: perceived reasons behind the LSS
change Reputational or competitive reasons are not
perceived. Mainly, the trend in the financial industry
and the resulting cost-optimizing benefits are perceived
as the main argument for the headquarters decision
to start the LSS change. One Black Belt perceives the
direct operational problems as the main reason why the
headquarters initiated the LSS program. Management
agrees that a true sense of urgency is still lacking.
Employees perceive the reasons to start simply as an
assignment from local management and sharehold-
ers demands. Also, employees state that competitive or
reputational reasons are not at hand.
Content: perceived goals of the LSS
change The goals of LSS change are mainly perceived
to be focused on optimizing the processes, in a way that
processes deliver more quality, and are more efficient,
reliable, and flexible at a higher speed of delivery.
Management perceives the content of the LSS change
to be focused more on service and quality improvement
by means of efficiency gains (and resulting cost ben-
efits). Employees perceive the content of the LSS change
to be focused more on service and quality improve-
ment by means of process improvements (and resulting
improved employee well-being) (see Figure 5A).
It is interesting to see the difference between man-
agement and employees: Management perceives cost
reduction, employee efficiency, and process flexibility
as more important goals and employees see improving
employee well-being and process reliability as more
important goals.
The implementation of LSS is regarded differently
by every group. Management perceives LSS change as
largely successful, ranging from a team manager who
has less inventory, better lead times, and no rework, and
thus perceives success—to upper management who
mentions that LSS tooling is not used everywhere in the
organization to its greatest potential—though sees the
LSS change as successful. The Black Belts perceive the
LSS change as a success, though they feel the pace of
change could be faster, especially if management shows
more exemplary behavior. Employees perceive the LSS
change not as successful; that is, for their department
they do, but not when they look at the whole organi-
zation. They feel management attention toward LSS
change is falling and only a group of LSS enthusiasts
(employee level) keep the way of working alive.
Figure 5A Perceived goals rated on a 1 to 5 scale by the respondents
Management Average Employees Average
Improving service and quality 53544.3 4 4 4.0
Reducing the cost base 4 4 3 5 4.0 2 3 2.5
Improving employee well-being 5 3 4 3 3.8 4 4 4.0
Improving employee efficiency 5 4 4 4 4.3 2 3 2.5
Increase the reliability of the processes 3 3 4 4 3.5 4 4 4.0
Increasing the flexibility of the processes 5 4 4 4 4.3 2 2 2.0
Increasing the speed of delivery 5 4 4 3 4.0 4 4 4.0
©2016, ASQ
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 51
Perceived Lean Six
Sigma Attributes
Three aspects of lean and Six Sigma are mentioned in
particular by the respondents: improvement strategies,
TQM principles, and customer focus. JIT and defects
control are not mentioned at all (see Figure 6A).
Improvement strategies are perceived by man-
agement as searching for root causes for problems,
together with all the employees and as a continuous
process. Black Belts mainly perceive improvement strat-
egies as searching for root causes. Employees perceive
the improvement strategy as defining the standard and
look for ways to improve this standard with a prag-
matic approach without any structure.
Management perceives the organization as too
undetermined to make the LSS change into a lasting
success (cultural change). The Black Belts perceive
a culture of continuous improvement among the
employees, though not enough management involve-
ment in terms of leadership and LSS knowledge.
Employees perceive management involvement as
too little and are not really sure whether they are
expected to continue the LSS change. They do per-
ceive management pressure on improving processes,
though how they do this is up to them.
Customer focus is mainly described as the LSS tools
used to investigate the voice of the customer by man-
agement. The Black Belts indicate that the voice of the
customer is of little interest to the company. Employees
mainly perceive customer focus as a driving force
of change actively communicated by management,
though actually knowing what customers want is per-
ceived to be unclear.
Management and the Black Belt mainly perceive
the attributes as what they should do and employ-
ees perceive at the operational level whether the
attributes work. From a customer focus, manage-
ment perceives the voice of the customer; employees
perceive a lack of understanding of the voice of
the customer. From a scientific management per-
spective, management describes how they apply
measurement and balanced scorecards, employees
perceive the measurements as rough estimates due
to the lack of data. The same example applies for
supply chain management.
Figure 6A Lean Six Sigma attributes cited by respondents
Management Black Belt Employees Total
Lean
Just in time practices 0
Resource reduction 1 1121 6
Improvement strategies 2 414112
Defects control 0
Standardization 1 1 2
Scientific management 115 7
Human relations management 3 312110
Supply chain management 2 2 4
Six Sigma
Total quality management 42575326
Customer focus 3 3 5 2 13
Additional metrics 21511 10
Financial results 1 1
Structured improvement method 1 1 1 3
Project management structure 1 2 1 1 5
©2016, ASQ
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
52 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
COMPANY 4
(five interviews, one unit manager, two
team managers, two employees)
Company 4 (C4) is a Dutch general hospital. It is
one of the larger general hospitals in the Netherlands,
employing almost 3,000 people (including about
200medical specialists) at several hospital locations and
laboratories. Implementation of LSS started in 2009.
Attitude Toward the LSS
Change Initiative
The interviewees generally accept the ideas of LSS and
valued the change initiative. On the part of employees, how-
ever, there is considerable passivity regarding the change
initiative. There is a general feeling that implementation
of the program lies with management or other employees.
Management attitudes While managers agree
with the basic premises behind LSS—describing it as
a useful tool to achieve certain goals—all managers
interviewed stressed that it was only one of many man-
agement instruments. One manager said that LSS was
in fact not the top priority for investment, and that the
initiative had been allowed to burn low for a while.
At lower-level management, positive attitudes regard-
ing the content of LSS and the potential for improvement
that it carried are coupled with a general feeling of lack of
time and lack of effort on the part of colleagues. In addi-
tion, the financial focus of LSS is considered annoying.
Employee attitudes Employees claim that it is
nice to have the feeling that improvements came from
the organization’s own personnel, as opposed to being
forced upon them by quality label demands or govern-
ment regulations. LSS was also cited as an opportunity for
employees to show and develop skills they would normally
be unable to, and to grow in this regard. Both employees
interviewed, however, also said they did not know LSS
in-depth, and were only aware of what the program was
supposed to achieve in the most general terms. It was sim-
ply not considered an important aspect of daily routine.
Discourse attitudes Management states that the
medical staff in particular was not very happy with the
LSS change initiative in the beginning. The increased
visibility was not welcomed, although the financial
benefits of LSS change initiatives were welcomed by
those who benefitted from the results. Employees men-
tioned the lack of LSS understanding among their
colleagues, which made it hard for them to change.
Framing of the LSS
Change Initiative
Context: perceived reasons behind the LSS
change The main reason behind the LSS change—
as perceived by middle management respondents—is
that it is a top management decision. Employees per-
ceive reputational over competitive reasons as the main
driver of the LSS change initiative; the hospital wants to
be known as the highest-quality hospital. Management
believes that the increasing competitive pressure in
the deregulating Dutch hospital-care market is a clear
reason behind implementing the LSS change initiative.
Content: perceived goals of the LSS
change The goals of LSS change are mainly per-
ceived to be increasing employee efficiency, increasing
speed of delivery, and reducing the cost base. Reducing
handling time, total handling time per patient, and
corresponding cost reductions are important factors
in the narratives of management and employees.
Management perceives that the way to achieve this is
by focusing on improved service, quality, and employee
efficiency. Employees mainly perceive the focus on cost
reduction and employee efficiency (see Figure 7A).
Management states improving service and qual-
ity as the most important goals, and employees see
reducing the cost base, improving employee well-
being, and increased reliability and flexibility of
processes as the most important goals. Management
expects more from the employees (employee effi-
ciency), and employees expect more from the
processes (and employee efficiency).
The implementation of LSS is viewed both by
managers and employees as largely successful.
Management perceives operational benefits such
as cycle-time reduction, improved profitability, and
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 53
reduced resources. On the other hand, management
feels skeptical about the true acceptance of LSS attri-
butes. They state that if the CEO would leave, the LSS
change would stop. Employees cite successful projects
as examples of the success of LSS change, though they
often see colleagues who do not use LSS attributes.
Perceived Lean Six
Sigma Attributes
Three aspects of lean and Six Sigma are mentioned
in particular by the respondents: TQM (here mainly
management involvement), human relations manage-
ment, and scientific management. JIT is not mentioned
at all (see Figure 8A).
TQM references are mainly about the determined
attitude of top management and the lack of determi-
nation by the middle management (themselves). The
main reason mentioned is the difficulty in getting
managers to adopt each other’s best practices. Besides,
middle management perceives LSS as one of their tools,
among others. Employees perceive that there is a need
for wider commitment toward LSS change and that
management should enforce this more. Today, there
Figure 8A Lean Six Sigma attributes cited by respondents
Management Employees Total
Lean
Just in time practices 0
Resource reduction 2 1 1 4
Improvement strategies 115119
Defects control 1 2 3
Standardization 112 15
Scientific management 4 1 4 2 11
Human relations management 4 4 2 3 13
Supply chain management 122 16
Six Sigma
Total quality management 4762322
Customer focus 4 1 3 8
Additional metrics 2 1 3
Financial results 1 2 3
Structured improvement method 2 2 1 5
Project management structure 3 2 5
©2016, ASQ
Figure 7A Perceived goals rated on a 1-5 scale by the respondents
Management Average Employees Average
Improving service and quality 5354.3 3 4 3.5
Reducing the cost base 4433.7 4 5 4.5
Improving employee well-being 3222.3 5 2 3.5
Improving employee efficiency 5454.7 5 4 4.5
Increase the reliability of the processes 4312.7 – 4 4
Increasing the flexibility of the processes 4413.0 444
Increasing the speed of delivery 5434.0 4 5 4.5
©2016, ASQ
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
54 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
is too much of a not-invented-here mentality, and this
hinders the success of LSS change.
Human relations management is about the train-
ing (Green Belt) that management receives in order
to execute LSS change projects. Employees perceive
the LSS change as projects that are being executed by
management; they would like a new program in which
employee participation is more integrated.
Scientific management is described by manage-
ment and employees as the measurement of process
data. Management describes how measurements really
help convince stakeholders to change processes and
employees experience that data are perceived as more
important than what they think.
The main difference between management and
employee perception is in: 1) standardization, where
employees perceive this as a checklist and manage-
ment perceives this as the frustration that best practices
are not shared between departments; 2) the use of
measurements is perceived as convincing by and for
management, though employees feel that the data are
more important than their opinion; 3) management
has many Six Sigma references where employees only
mention TQM and customer focus. This is due to the
fact that management is trained to execute LSS project
and employees feel less involved.
COMPANY 5
(five interviews, one manager, one
Black Belt, three employees)
Company 5 is a medium-sized pension and life
insurance company that employs about 700 people and
is the daughter firm of a larger corporation. The orga-
nization began implementing LSS in 2007.
Attitude Toward the LSS
Change Initiative
Active acceptance is the dominant attitude for four out
of five interviewees.
Management attitudes Despite their active
stance, LSS is viewed as an obligation rather than
an asset. Mostly, however, the importance of cus-
tomer centricity is emphasized, with lean viewed as
a constructive way to achieve this goal. Being able
to delegate challenging and constructive tasks (for
improvement cycles) is viewed as an important—and
even fun—aspect of lean management.
Employee attitudes Employees focus on the
“inspiring” aspect of improving processes together with
colleagues, which most would actively promote. This
active stance is coupled with the reported pleasure of
improving customer experience and reducing errors,
and generally of participating in improvement projects
with colleagues.
Discourse attitudes Attitudes reported in others
are marked less positive, stressing the lack of influence
on chosen measures and the increase in workload as a
result of LSS. Also, the focus on man-hour reduction is
mentioned as an underlying reason for the participa-
tion of colleagues in the LSS change. The result is a
fear that engaging in improvement ultimately results
in a reduction in jobs.
Framing of the LSS
Change Initiative
Context: perceived reasons behind the LSS
change Middle management respondents and
employees perceive the main reason behind the LSS
change to be a top management decision. Four out
of five perceive that management decided to start
the program to enhance the company’s reputation
to customers. Every respondent perceives competitive
advantage to be the least important reason to go ahead
with the LSS change program.
Content: perceived goals of the LSS
change The goals of LSS change are mainly
perceived to be cost driven. Employees and manage-
ment indicate that the LSS change had a focus on
reducing a certain number of man-hours per year.
Incidentally, management and employees mentioned
that the focus of the LSS change was not on only cost
saving, but also on improving customer satisfac-
tion. Immediately following this statement it was
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
www.asq.org 55
mentioned that the motivation of employees to par-
ticipate is perceived to be driven by personal savings
targets (see Figure 9A).
Interestingly, management states that cost reduction
and flexibility are more important goals and employees
see improving employee well-being, efficiency, and pro-
cess reliability as the most important goals.
The implementation of LSS is regarded both by
managers and employees as largely successful. Even
though implementation takes time, initial projects
made enough gains that top management remains
committed to further implementation. Yellow Belt train-
ing has given employees some tools for implementing
smaller changes. More importantly, there is a tentative
bottom-up demand for lean initiatives. This makes it
easier to start new LSS projects.
Perceived Lean Six
Sigma Attributes
Four aspects of lean and Six Sigma are mentioned in
particular by the respondents: improvement strate-
gies, TQM (here mainly management involvement),
structured improvement method, and standardiza-
tion. JIT and defects control are not mentioned at all
(see Figure 10A).
Figure 10A Lean Six Sigma attributes cited by respondents
Management Black Belt Employees Total
Lean
Just in time practices 0
Resource reduction 1 1 1 3
Improvement strategies 2 3 1 1 5 12
Defects control 0
Standardization 1 1 3 3 8
Scientific management 1 1 1 1 4
Human relations management 3 2 1 6
Supply chain management 1 1 1 3
Six Sigma
Total quality management 1 6 2 9
Customer focus 2 2 2 6
Additional metrics 1 2 3
Financial results 2 2 1 1 6
Structured improvement method 1 4 2 1 8
Project management structure 2 1 3
Figure 9A Perceived goals rated on a 1 to 5 scale by the respondents
Management Average Employees Average
Improving service and quality 5 4 4.5 5454.7
Reducing the cost base 5 4 4.5 4253.7
Improving employee well-being 3335534.3
Improving employee efficiency 5 4 4.5 5555.0
Increase the reliability of the processes 5345454.7
Increasing the flexibility of the processes 4 5 4.5 3433.3
Increasing the speed of delivery 5555454.7
©2016, ASQ©2016, ASQ
Perceptions of Lean Six Sigma: A Multiple Case Study in the Financial Services Industry
56 QMJ VOL. 23, NO. 2/© 2016, ASQ
Improvement strategies are about the so-called
“kaizen” approach of solving problems and are very sim-
ilar to the structured improvement method. Respondents
indicate the pleasure in getting together voluntarily in a
multidisciplined team (improvement strategy). By start-
ing with a joint problem indication, the team worked
step by step toward a solution (structured improvement
method). The problems were manageable, and because
of representation of all departments concerned, decision
making was fast and results became quickly visible.
TQM here is only about top management involve-
ment. The manager, the Black Belt, and the employee
indicate that management involvement is important,
though management doesn’t participate in LSS change
(although they do “allow” it).
Standardization is mentioned only by employees
(and the Black Belt) as a means to unify service
delivery to the customer by means of standard oper-
ating procedures.
The main difference between management’s and
employees’ perception is in human relations manage-
ment and additional metrics. Management indicates
that they received LSS Green Belt (advanced LSS)
training before starting the LSS change. Employees
are sent to compulsory Yellow Belt (beginners LSS)
training. Additional metrics are only mentioned by
the Black Belt in terms of cycle time as performance
indicators. Employees do indicate that they start with
daily huddles in which they discuss the performance
of the day but do not mention the metrics.
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