After years of steady gains, lean has now achieved a clear and dominant standing over Six Sigma as the leading force in corporate continuous improvement, according to the latest study of almost 3,500 recent job postings reviewed by The Avery Point Group (, a leading global executive search and recruiting firm for lean and Six Sigma talent. The now dominant standing of Lean indicates that companies are increasingly relying on lean as the core foundation for their continuous improvement efforts to help them face the challenges of today's economic downturn.

"As an executive recruiting firm, we have a unique vantage point from which to observe the latest trends taking place in industry," says Tim Noble, managing principal of The Avery Point Group. "Trends in industry are often telegraphed into candidate requirements in job postings, and they can serve as a window into the latest corporate initiatives. Our annual study continues to serve as an industry benchmark that offers useful insight into the latest trends taking place in the area of corporate continuous improvement."

Based on its sixth annual study ( of Internet job postings, The Avery Point Group found that demand for lean talent has surpassed Six Sigma by a substantial margin as the more desired skill set, accelerating an already growing shift in talent demand toward lean. This year's study showed that lean talent demand exceeded Six Sigma by almost 35 percent, significantly widening its lead over last year's results that only showed an 11 percent edge for lean over Six Sigma. This is a dramatic shift from The Avery Point Group's 2005 inaugural lean and Six Sigma talent demand study that showed Six Sigma talent demand exceeding lean by more than 50 percent.

This year's study also found that for those companies seeking lean talent, only 41 percent require candidates to possess Six Sigma knowledge as well, a requirement that has continued to decline in The Avery Point Group's more recent talent demand studies. On the other hand, for those companies seeking Six Sigma talent, almost 55 percent are now requiring candidates to possess lean knowledge as well, a requirement that has steadily grown in its previous talent demand studies.

"For companies seeking lean practitioners, these results may be signaling a possible trend toward a decoupling of lean and Six Sigma, or at the very least a de-emphasis on Six Sigma as a core job requirement for lean talent," states Noble. "It may also indicate that companies are instead opting to consolidate their limited resources around lean as a hedge against the steep challenges of today's economic climate, which they feel may be better served by lean's more immediate and practical focus on waste, flow and flexibility."

In addition, this year's study focused on how requirements for certifications played into job specifications for lean and Six Sigma talent. This year's study found that companies which sought Six Sigma talent were almost 50 percent more likely to require some form of certification vs. those companies seeking lean talent.

"From a Six Sigma talent demand perspective, this is by no means a surprise," states Noble. "Six Sigma, due to its broader historical industry span, developed a legacy of training and certification that we are now just beginning to see for lean as it gains a broader foothold in industry. A good example of this is the newly established benchmark AME/SME/Shingo certification for lean. As lean continues to gain more prominence, we fully expect our future annual studies to show increases in lean certification requirements in job postings."

"It should be noted our firm's belief is that there is no greater 'certification' than true experience and results as a measure of a qualified lean or Six Sigma practitioner," clarifies Noble.

So where does this newfound prominence for lean leave Six Sigma in the broader landscape of corporate continuous improvement? One telling sign from this year's study is that companies seeking strictly Six Sigma skills with no lean talent requirement accounted for only 25 percent of positions posted in The Avery Point Group's broad sampling of continuous improvement-related jobs.

Does this spell the beginning of the end for Six Sigma? Not likely, asserts Noble, but Six Sigma may find itself taking a back seat to a broader lean deployment, with Six Sigma applied when and where its heavy emphasis on statistics and variation reduction is best suited.