Chicago-IQPC’s Lean Six Sigma Improvement Week transpired last week, September 16 to 19, 2008, at the Hyatt Regency, McCormick Place, in Chicago.QualityMagazine was on hand as attendees crowded the conference to learn the secrets of a speaker panel sharing insights of Lean Six Sigma deployment strategies and providing real-life metrics that spoke to how process improvement programs are making a difference in business performance.

Among the highlights was keynote speaker Dr. Jeffery K. Liker, professor at the University of Michigan and author to a number of books describing the use of Six Sigma methodology at Toyota Motor Corp. In his keynote address, “Toyota Way Insight: Truly embedding a Lean Culture in Your Organization for Increased Business Performance,” Dr. Liker described how Western implementation of Six Sigma methodology has a tendency to fail because of a difference in corporate culture that exists between Eastern and Western business.

Dr. Liker asserted that Toyota culture has a “people value stream” that is as much integral as and commensurate to its “product value stream,” meaning that Toyota puts much of its resources into the development of people, with the ultimate goal of developing leaders skilled in Six Sigma methodology.

“Western leaders want quick results; Toyota leaders know that results take time,” said Dr. Liker. At Toyota, according to Dr. Liker, learning and employee development are incremental and continuous, and leaders are expected to be self-developing while at the same time coaching and developing others-continuous improvement is completely ingrained in the culture. Western business leaders, conversely, often make the mistake of implementing a process improvement initiative that begins and ends at itself, and a culture of continuous improvement is never realized. When this approach is taken, Six Sigma methodolgy is often seen as uneffective, not impacting the bottom line enough to satisfy the desire for quick results.

When confronted by an audience member who brought up that American business, through the years, has had unprecedented success through traditional thinking on the part of its leaders, Dr. Liker concurred, but stated that today corporations face new challenges, such as a global marketplace and a scarcity of raw material and energy, and to stay competitive, new ways of doing business are imperative, citing the crumbling of the domestic automotive industry as an example.

To learn about IQPC’s 2009 10th Annual Lean Six Sigma & Process Improvement Summit,