Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Scrum vs Six Sigma: which one is right for you?


Author
by Thiago Earp


If you can’t decide whether to use Agile Scrum or Lean Six Sigma for your next project, we’re here to help. This article compares both methods to help you settle the debate.

Project and process management are an integral part of every company’s business. With the right approach to project management and optimised processes, companies can significantly reduce costs, improve efficiency, increase collaboration, and reliably grow their revenue.

According to PwC, 97% of companies recognise the importance of project management. Additionally, through the implementation of various methodologies, project performance is rising on a global level. In 2018, nearly 70% of projects leveraging lean or agile methodologies successfully met their goals.

With the growing complexity in conducting global business in the digital age, a solid managerial framework is arguably no longer a plus for companies - it’s a necessity for any enterprise that aims to remain competitive.

That said, determining the right project management methodology can be a bit trickier than you might expect. For example, should your company go agile vs lean, and what’s the difference?

We’ll look at the difference between the two approaches, as well as the benefits that Agile Scrum and Lean Six Sigma can provide, to help you make an informed decision.


Scrum vs Six Sigma Summary


The following table shows how Scrum and Six Sigma compare in a glance:

Scrum vs Six Sigma comparison table


What Is Agile?


Agile is a flexible approach to project management geared towards projects with continually changing requirements. Agile divides projects into “sprints” — shorter development cycles, typically two to four weeks long.

Rather than spending precious time and resources on meticulous documentation, Agile puts collaboration and interaction at the forefront. That allows agile teams to develop and test features one at a time, thus, regularly providing value to their clients while embracing the changing requirements.

The Agile Manifesto first introduced the concept as a way of streamlining software development. Companies have since tweaked agile to suit their business and project needs.

As a result, we now have multiple agile methodologies companies in various industries can employ. Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP) are among the most popular ones.


What Is Scrum?


Scrum is the most widely utilised agile framework. The 13th Annual State of Agile report shows that nearly 72% of software teams rely on Scrum or a Scrum hybrid. While Agile provides the core values and principles the project teams should follow, Scrum further defines the development process.

The Scrum process consists of multiple events. Project work is done in sprints, which are time-boxed to one month. In other words, sprints can take from one to four weeks, but not longer.

Before each sprint, the team convenes and creates a sprint plan. Here, the product owner, Scrum Master, and the Scrum discuss which features take priority. Then, they select items from the product backlog the sprint should involve. Finally, after they determine the work necessary to complete the sprint, they put together an outline.

Apart from sprint planning, Scrum includes daily 15-minute meetings where the development team shares what they’ve worked on the previous day and what they’re working on presently. Additionally, they talk about any obstacles that prevent progress, and the Scrum master helps resolve them.

After each sprint, a detailed sprint review and sprint retrospective follow. The team goes over the completed work in the sprint and presents the functionality to the PO or other stakeholders that can provide feedback for future sprints. During the retrospective, the team looks at the successes and weak points of the sprint. That way, they learn how they can improve the process in the next. 

Who Is Scrum Ideal For? 


Scrum is ideal for agile software development companies, but it can work just as well in other industries. As an agile framework, it’s excellent for projects with changing requirements, where the focus tends to shift during the project’s life cycle.

It’s also a good fit for organisations that don’t have a strict hierarchical structure, where the accent is on communication and collaboration between the development teams and individual team members.

Scrum allows agile companies to plan out each sprint and stay within the defined timelines while maintaining flexibility and adaptability, as well as consistently delivering value to their clients.

Scrum’s strong suit is that it recognises that teams and projects evolve. Although it provides a solid framework for organising teams, planning out sprints, and scheduling work, it simultaneously allows you to approach each project with maximum flexibility.

That is because the framework can be adjusted to fit the organisation’s and the project’s needs, rather than strictly prescribing how the work should be done.


Benefits of Scrum


Through daily Scrum meetings, sprint reviews, and retrospective, Scrum encourages team communication, collaboration, and process improvement. Additionally, since this approach develops, tests, and delivers features in two-to-four-week periods, it reduces the time-to-market.

With Scrum, features are prioritised by importance, allowing development teams to focus on the ones that will have the highest impact. Simultaneously, the Scrum framework allows the teams to shift focus, regardless of which stage the project is in. It also lets them easily adapt to changes or new requirements.

Another benefit of Scrum is that the product owners are much more involved in the project (than, say, in a waterfall framework). The ability to give feedback on the team’s work, request changes, or even new features, ultimately leads to higher customer satisfaction.

If you’re interested in becoming a certified Scrum master and reaping the benefits this approach offers, check out our comprehensive Scrum course.


What Is Lean?


The lean approach to project management has a fundamentally different goal from agile. At their core, lean methodologies aim to improve processes and increase the quality of products while reducing waste and eliminating redundant work. In other words, rather than providing a detailed framework, lean approaches seek to optimise existing processes.

That is done by meticulously analysing every aspect of work, identifying areas that hinder progress or take too many resources without producing enough value, and then figuring out how to remove these obstacles and increase productivity. Lean inherently implies a focus on documentation and data analysis, as well as highly structured organisation.

Therefore, lean approaches are best suited for larger manufacturing companies with clearly defined roles, with a primary goal of boosting the quality of their products through continuous improvement of processes.


What Is Six Sigma?


Six Sigma is a lean approach to project management that strives to minimise defects and variations throughout product development. The term refers to the highest level of process efficiency where there are only 3.4 defects in 1 million products manufactured.

As we’ve mentioned, defining and accurately measuring the processes is the backbone of a lean approach such as Six Sigma. Therefore, it’s best for companies that are working on several large-scale projects. That especially goes for projects where the requirements, roles, and responsibilities are fixed, and all the relevant data is properly documented.

Six Sigma relies on a series of statistical and analytical tools. Any adjustments to the manufacturing process are a result of informed decision-making, rather than on-the-fly decisions.

To produce the best results, Six Sigma must be applied company-wide. On the one hand, this means that it requires significant resources. But on the other hand, it improves collaboration, boosts performance, and increases the quality of products. In the long term, these improvements will justify the initial investment and lead to an increase in revenue.


The Organisational Structure in Six Sigma


Six Sigma comes with predefined roles, based on their responsibilities and the level of competence in the methodology.

There are six “belts” (positions within the organisation) in Six Sigma. At the top of the hierarchy is the Champion. They are responsible for Six Sigma implementation and ensuring projects align with the organisation’s goals.

  • The Master Black Belt is the highest in-house authority, with the primary role of training other belts. They are also responsible for ensuring that the processes the teams are applying adhere to Six Sigma standards;
  • Black Belts assume the role of team leaders, organising project tasks, overseeing the work, and guiding project teams;
  • Green Belts are typically in charge of data analysis. They may also lead smaller projects;
  • Yellow Belts are the people working on the projects, performing a wide range of daily project activities;
  • Finally, White Belts are trainees who are still learning about Six Sigma and training to join the ranks of either Yellow or Green Belts. 

Benefits of Six Sigma


As we’ve mentioned, the primary benefits of lean Six Sigma are waste reduction (including resources, time, and wasted effort) and higher product quality. However, introducing Six Sigma into your organisation will also inevitably lead to a higher level of collaboration between project teams and higher management.

Additionally, you will have a wealth of data to rely on, allowing you to accurately assess which changes to the process will yield the best results. However, keep in mind that Six Sigma focuses on iterative and incremental improvements. Although you may use it to design new processes, it does not support radical changes to the existing ones.

Lastly, since the highlight is on product quality and cost reduction, successfully implementing Six Sigma ultimately leads to higher customer satisfaction and an overall increase in revenue. If that aligns with your company’s goals and meets your project’s needs, head over to our Lean Six Sigma course.


Scrum vs Six Sigma - Which One Is Better for Me? 


Comparing Scrum vs Six Sigma in order to define which one is better calls for a deep reflection on the context. Although both seek to improve processes, they tackle fundamentally different problems from different angles:

  • Scrum focuses on making the projects more manageable through short “sprints” and consistently delivering value through prioritisation. It provides flexibility and adaptability necessary to handle projects with frequently changing requirements. It also includes the product owner and stakeholders in the decision-making process. Finally, it encourages the development teams to embrace change. 
  • Six Sigma, on the other hand, focuses on smaller, incremental tweaks to an already established process. It heavily relies on data analysis and enforces a statistical approach to methodologically root out the problems and identify obstacles that are impeding progress. With Six Sigma, cost reduction, efficiency, and product quality all lead to the ultimate goal of perfecting the production processes and increasing revenue. 

Neither approach is strictly better in every situation. Both Scrum and Six Sigma come with unique benefits, requirements, and considerations. In the end, your company’s goals and the nature of the project should dictate which approach you opt for. 

Naturally, there are many other approaches you might want to consider for your next project. But if you want to learn about Scrum and Six Sigma or similar methodologies, feel free to browse or extensive library of Project Management courses.




Thiago Earp is Global Content Specialist at Firebrand Training. He’s fascinated with technology, human behaviour, and complex systems, and writes on a range of tech-related topics.