Lean Six Sigma for Dummies

Lean Six Sigma for Dummies – written by Catalyst trainers

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a set of powerful tools and techniques that help improve processes; reduce waste; increase quality; and enhance your customer’s experience

Lean Six Sigma is appropriate for any sized business in any industry sector and offers the following benefits:

  • Cost reduction
  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • Shorter cycle times
  • Improved employee morale
  • Increased profit margins

The name Lean Six Sigma comes from the combination of both Lean and Six Sigma:

Lean: originally developed by Toyota, is a set of principles, practices and tools aimed at maximising customer value

Six Sigma: developed originally by Motorola, is a highly structured approach aimed at reducing product and service variation by focusing on processes

Integrating these approaches provides a comprehensive and proven approach that can transform an organisation.

Lean Six Sigma Principles

Lean Six Sigma takes the principles of Lean and Six Sigma and integrates them to form a “magnificent seven” set of principles:

  1. Focus on the customer.
  2. Identify and understand how the work gets done.
  3. Manage, improve and smooth the process flow.
  4. Remove non-value-add steps and waste.
  5. Manage by fact and reduce variation.
  6. Involve and equip the people in the process.
  7. Undertake improvement activity in a systematic way.

The Lean Six Sigma Framework

Lean Six Sigma DMAIC diagramSupporting the Lean Six Sigma principles is a framework for improving existing processes in a systematic way, known as DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control). DMAIC projects begin with the identification of a problem and a series of tools and techniques are available to understand the current situation using facts to determine the root cause of the problem. Potential solutions are identified, tested, selected and piloted and implemented as appropriate.

In addition to this, a slightly different method is used for when a process doesn’t exist and you need to create a new one, perhaps for new services or products. Or perhaps your current process is so poor that starting from scratch makes more sense. In these circumstances a DMADV framework is used (Define, Measure, Analyse, Design and Verify), sometimes also referred to as Design for Six Sigma.

What is critical to any project success is effective change management and what we sometimes referred to as the ‘soft’ skills.

A pragmatic approach is best. Projects need to take as long as appropriate and often only a few simple tools and techniques are needed to secure quick and successful improvements, to win the confidence and demonstrate benefits so that more work can be done.

The key to Lean Six Sigma is to understand how and why things are done in your business. What is the purpose of your products and services and the processes that support them?  To understand this, you will need to know who your customers are, what are their requirements, and use this information to form the basis of the measurement for your processes.

Additionally Lean Six Sigma provides a number of data analysis tools and techniques to help you understand where improvements to processes can be made.

Deploying Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma provides a comprehensive collection of tools and techniques. However to ‘make it happen’  an overall approach is required to deploy these principles successfully. This comes down to three basic elements:

  • doing the right work
  • doing the work right
  • creating the right environment

Projects are run by teams usually headed by a Black Belt or Green Belt depending on size and complexity. The belt denotes the level of competency and experience which roughly following those used in martial arts. Lean Six Sigma project teams may also contain those trained to Yellow Belt level and must always have a project champion.

Executive Sponsorship is key to providing the strategic direction and support required for a successful Lean Six Sigma programme. An executive that is really passionate about the principles set out above has the potential to really transform a business and motivate cultural change.

The organisation’s culture, the values and beliefs that pervade everything, can strongly dictate what people think should be done and how. These enduring beliefs create attitudes and behaviours that may undermine Lean Six Sigma activity, especially if people see change initiatives as threatening. We place a great deal of emphasis on supporting soft skills and managing the process of change necessary to be successful.

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