Lean (eliminate waste) and Six Sigma (reduce variation) translates to boosting efficiency, consistency, and standardization to drive value.
Part two of a series.
Does anyone really know what Lean Six Sigma is? Depending on what practitioner you talk to or textbook you look at, the descriptions for Lean, Six Sigma, and the combined Lean Six Sigma (referred to in the rest of this paper as LSS) – all look similar. Except for some slight variances across each description.
While many companies have embraced LSS concepts and related tools, many others are extremely hesitant – resistant even – to consider what they call an “overly heavy approach.” Debates between LSS practitioners can rage for hours; trust me, I’ve had to mediate a few myself.
But keep this in mind: the details aren’t as important as the end result. There are obviously a lot of technical nuances that get tossed around in LSS discussions. But, in reality, they are all just different process improvement methodologies.
Before stressing the details, process improvement leaders should focus on the following two items that are inherent to LSS and related methodologies: 1) value and 2) approach.
Focusing on Value – Better, Faster, Cheaper
Start and maintain the focus on value to ensure success with a process improvement effort. The simplest way to look at this: you can increase value by making a process better, faster, and/or cheaper.
The simple, traditional definitions of Lean (eliminate waste) and Six Sigma (reduce variation) can be translated into increasing efficiency, consistency, and standardization to drive value. Business value can be defined in six different categories as listed below and further explained in this blog post: What Can Process Excellence Do For Me?:
- Financial Performance
- Business Agility
- Reliability & Predictability
- Customer Experience
- Visibility & Transparency
Applying a Proven Approach
Much like LSS, DMAIC is often intimidating to those who don’t fully understand it. For those who haven’t been exposed to it, DMAIC stands for: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.
While it’s defined as a data-driven improvement cycle and is generally associated with Six Sigma projects, almost all good process improvement projects at least loosely follow DMAIC. It actually follows the same process as the Scientific Method.
To be successful in a process improvement effort, you must understand your current state (D, M and some A); determine, develop, and implement your future state (more A, followed by I); and apply a method to ensure the improvements stick (C).
This approach can be applied to “just do it” improvement activities, brief improvement workshops (Kaizen events for the more technical crowd), or larger scale projects. The application is more rigid for larger projects, but general concepts remain the same.
Even after being told “we don’t want any of that Six Sigma stuff” at the beginning of a project, applying DMAIC methodology without specifically calling it out helps ensure desired business outcomes.
End Results Are What Matter
To build a strong process improvement foundation, think of these methodologies as a means to an end (an improved process), focus on achieving business value (across the six value drivers), and leverage the DMAIC approach. The rigor with which LSS methodologies are applied or related tools are utilized can vary.
As long as a process improvement effort is rooted in value and DMAIC, the organization can achieve short term success while establishing the starting point for more sophisticated improvement efforts.