What is Lean Six Sigma?
Lean Six Sigma is a managerial approach that combines Six Sigma methods and tools and the Lean manufacturing/lean enterprise philosophy, striving to eliminate waste of physical resources, time, effort and talent, while assuring quality in production and organizational processes.
What Is Lean?
Lean is popular for its methodical approach to streamlining both manufacturing and service processes by eliminating waste while continuing to deliver value to customers.
Although Lean is widely known for these benefits, it’s not just a set of tools. It stems from cultural roots which manifest in the business world as a particular approach to management: a Lean Culture.
It is also known as the Toyota Production System or just-in-time production. Lean production principles are also referred to as lean management or lean thinking.
Lean originated with both Henry Ford and his storied assembly line and, more famously, with Taiichi Ohno who codified the Lean Management Philosophy and Practices into the Toyota Production System.
Engineer Taiichi Ohno is credited with developing the principles of lean production after World War II. His philosophy, which focused on eliminating waste and empowering workers, reduced inventory and improved productivity. Instead of maintaining resources in anticipation of what might be required for future manufacturing, as Henry Ford did with his production line, the management team at Toyota built partnerships with suppliers. In effect, under the direction of Engineer Ohno, Toyota automobiles became made-to-order. By maximizing the use of multi-skilled employees, the company was able to flatten their management structure and focus resources in a flexible manner. Because the company was able make changes quickly, they were often able to respond faster to market demands than their competitors could.
A Lean process:
- Is faster
- Is more efficient and economical
- Delivers satisfactory quality
- Lean is achieved by removing “Waste“, which is activity not required to complete a process.
After removing Waste, only the steps required to produce a product or service that is satisfactory to a Customer will remain.
What Is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a method that provides organizations tools to improve the capability of their business processes. This increase in performance and decrease in process variation lead to defect reduction and improvement in profits, employee morale, and quality of products or services. Six Sigma quality is a term generally used to indicate a process is well controlled (within process limits ±3s from the center line in a control chart, and requirements/tolerance limits ±6s from the center line).
Different definitions have been proposed for Six Sigma, but they all share some common threads:
- Use of teams that are assigned well-defined projects that have direct impact on the organization's bottom line.
- Training in "statistical thinking" at all levels and providing key people with extensive training in advanced statistics and project management. These key people are designated “Black Belts.” Review the different Six Sigma belts, levels and roles.
- Emphasis on the DMAIC approach to problem solving: define, measure, analyze, improve, and control.
- A management environment that supports these initiatives as a business strategy.
What Are The Benefits Of Using Lean Six Sigma?
By embracing the methodology that is critical to the success of Lean Six Sigma, an organization needs to make a total commitment to a culture of continuous improvement and workflow optimization. Implementation of successful Lean Six Sigma programs result in increased efficiency, higher quality and better customer service from any organization willing to make that commitment. It can further be an integral part of instilling a team culture where everyone involved in the process is empowered to take ownership in every aspect of the operation, whether it relates directly to their daily responsibilities or not.
Key to realizing the benefits of Lean Six Sigma is utilizing and integrating individuals highly trained in the process, and who have attained a certification referred to as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. An Lean Six Sigma Black Belt must go through rigorous training in planning, development, project team management, measurement systems analysis, organizational leadership and communication strategy in order to achieve their certification, of which there are several levels.
The Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt certification is earned by a person who has achieved the highest degree of training and qualification in the Lean Six Sigma process. These individuals incorporate their training and certification to objectively evaluate processes and identify areas in need of improvement. As a company or organization moves forward with the execution of these projects, it will continually become more efficient in its use of time and resources.
A primary benefit of implementing the Lean Six Sigma methodology for an organization is increased efficiency on many levels. Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belts are trained to analyze each process within a workflow for weaknesses that can be mitigated or eliminated to achieve maximum efficiency in terms of time and resource allocation. Lean Six Sigma integration can be simply explained as the whole being the sum of its parts, so each part needs to operate at its fullest potential to attain the most efficient results. Organizations that successfully implement Lean Six Sigma can expect to achieve measurable increased efficiencies in processes both large and small.
In addition to making processes more efficient, Lean Six Sigma programs focus on simultaneously achieving the highest level of quality. This is accomplished by prioritizing areas of the operation such as quality control standards and practices, inventory control, production scheduling and elimination of quality issues in literally all operational processes.
By identifying the existing standards associated with these areas, suggesting practical methods of improvement and empowering each employee to own these improvements, the Lean Six Sigma methodology can help any organization achieve a higher level of quality in their products, processes, communications and services.
Better Customer Service
By increasing the efficiency of the processes and the quality of the output, the LSS methodology will have already achieved a portion of the customer service formula. However, accurate man-hour reporting, production scheduling, bar coding and reducing time to meet customer requirements are also aspects of the Lean Six Sigma process primarily focused on delivering a better experience for the customer. By optimizing these areas of the production process, Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belts will enable their employers to achieve top-level customer service.
A Safer Workplace
While possibly not the most obvious benefit of successful Lean Six Sigma implementation, simply by nature of the cultural commitment and employee ownership that are integral components to Lean Six Sigma integration, not to mention the across-the-board process improvements, the net result is a significantly safer workplace. That is a benefit not only to instilling the team culture referred to above, but it goes right to the bottom line as well.
How Does Lean Six Sigma Work?
Lean Six Sigma is simply an effective methodology used to fix a problem. It is based on common sense practices and is completed in five phases:
Five Basic Phases
- Define: Define the problem and what is required to satisfy your customer.
- Measure: Map the current process to collect data.
- Analyze: Investigate and identify what causes the problem.
- Improve: Implement a fix that will solve the problem.
- Control: Sustain the improved results.
Simply put, Lean Six Sigma helps you identify the cause of a problem and implement a fix based on facts, rather than assumptions. This produces improved results and success that you and your team, managers and organization can be proud of.
Who Benefits From Using Lean Six Sigma?
Organizations Of All Sizes
Lean Six Sigma works for small, medium (SMBs) and large businesses. In fact, often times, the same success that is achieved within large businesses can be achieved in small and medium businesses since smaller organizations can move faster because less people, fewer resources and lower levels of red-tape are involved.
The benefits are boundless, as Lean Six Sigma increases revenue and reduces costs, while freeing up resources that can be utilized toward any endeavor your organization wishes to pursue.
- A new product or service
- Other improvement projects
- Expanding your sales force
People & Morale
Lean Six Sigma not only increases revenue and reduces costs, it positively affects people by engaging them in improving the way they work. Since employees are the closest to the actual work (production of a product or delivery of a service) of any organization, they become the best resources to understand how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes.
By participating in successful Lean Six Sigma projects, employees are able to build the confidence and develop the capability to become your business’ most important assets. Studies show that when employees feel that they have a positive affect on the organization, they perform better, are more accountable and live happier lives. And once your employees get comfortable with Lean Six Sigma skills, they can continue to find and remove problems and waste in your organization.
Healthcare costs are skyrocketing across the country and an aging population means increased stress on healthcare services. Lean Six Sigma can help you increase the amount of time care providers are able to spend with patients, reduce the time spent on paperwork, and reduce the time people spend waiting for care, waiting for claims or waiting for a call.
As consumers increasingly rely on technology, Lean Six Sigma helps businesses by delivering products with fewer defects, decreasing returns and more.
Budgets continue to tighten and resources are more limited than usual. Lean Six Sigma shortens the time to sign up new customers, reduces the time to provide customer service and brings revenue in faster.