Does Amazon Use Lean, Six Sigma, or Lean Six Sigma?

In 2019, Christoph Roser posted six articles on his blog about the inner workings of Amazon Fulfillment Centers, based on visits to locations in the US and Germany. His blog is called AllAboutLean but the word “Lean” appears nowhere in his articles about Amazon. “Six Sigma” does not appear either, and Christoph does not mention meeting any black belt.

In addition, in  Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon (2021), Amazon alumni  Colin Bryar and Bill Carr make no reference to Lean, and all they report about Six Sigma is using DMAIC to define metrics.

Yet you find some published descriptions of Amazon as a showcase for Lean, Six Sigma, or Lean Six Sigma but, if you consider them without confirmation bias, the evidence is underwhelming. The keywords appear, along with a few more, like “Operational Excellence” or “Scrum.”

Based on the small amount of published data, the leaders of Amazon, starting with Jeff Bezos, “learned a bunch of techniques, like Six Sigma and lean manufacturing and other incredibly useful approaches.”

In other words, they learned everything they could get their hands on while staking out uncharted territory. Then they developed their own system. Now they are sharing with outsiders a few homilies but no details, as is their privilege. Their system is to retail as Toyota’s is to manufacturing. It’s not reducible to Lean, Six Sigma, or Lean Six Sigma.

Continue reading…