Lean Six Sigma Explained: All You Need to Know

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In the early 1930s, Boeing was a maturing enterprise, less than two decades old. Leveraging his lumber entrepreneurship wealth and ambition, William E. Boeing had grown his sea ship manufacturing business to an all-metal aircraft construction wonder. His first airplane, the 1916 Model C, had brought the company the first financial success it needed. 

Boeing was innovating to stay ahead of the curve in the war arena. The development of the Model 299 in 1935 was the ace in the pocket that would cement Boeing’s position as a leader in air defense designs.  

The bomber made its maiden flight in July 1935, pitting itself against the Martin 146 and Douglas DB-1. It outpaced its competition, and the USAAC took an immediate shine to it. The Army Corps requested an order for 65 299s long before the competition ended.

October 30, 1935 was a dark day for Boeing. High on the July win, the company took part in another evaluation flight at Wright Field in Ohio. The pilot, Major Ployer P. Hill, and his crew took to the air before a host of army brass and industry executives. He taxied onto the runway, showing off the bomber’s large wingspan and four engines, and lifted off like a dream. 

After hitting an altitude of 300 feet, the plane stalled, nosed, and then crashed into a fiery inferno. The aircraft’s pilot and one other crew member died on impact. Investigations would prove that a “pilot error” caused the crash. The complex aircraft had so many minute but critical take-off sequences and the Major only forgot one of them. 

The incident drove Boeing to the brink of bankruptcy. The “flying fortress” was “too much airplane” for one pilot, as per the media. As you would expect, the Army Air Corps went a different route and chose Douglas’s smaller model. Boeing lost that battle. 

Boeing was, however, about to win the war. Since the plane was “flyable,” a few pilots and experts did some headwork and realized that the model 299’s pilots did not need more training. Major Hill had been the army’s chief of flight testing.

The breakthrough was deceptively simple: a process checklist. 

The successful model 299 pilot needed a systematic check for the massive plane’s taxiing, takeoff, landing, and flight procedures. Early in the aviation industry, airplanes were less complex, and takeoff was as simple as driving a car. A process checklist was unheard of. 

Aircraft, and most business procedures today, have become incredibly intricate. Dependence on memory only encourages critical errors. After the creation of the checklist, the model 299, which later became the B-17 Flying Fortress, won thirteen thousand orders from the USAAC. The aircraft gave the U.S. a decisive win against Nazi Germany in the Second World War. A simple checklist turned the tide for Boeing, and it paved the way for Boeing’s domination in the aerospace industry.

What Is a Process?

Chapter 1: What Is a Process?

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, writer and surgeon Atul Gawande says that people either make errors because of ignorance or ineptitude. Errors caused by lack of knowledge are rarer than oversights that arise from ineffectualness. 

Failures caused by inefficiency can be overwhelming, persistent, and frustrating. These failures only happen because the complexity and the volume of the task exceed your employee’s ability to safely, correctly, and reliably complete it. This is the reason every business needs processes. 

A process is a vital strategy for preventing and overcoming chronic failure. A simple process checklist can leverage knowledge and experience and help lessen human error. It is a group of work tasks with a connection. The methodology kicks off as a reaction to an event. The process fulfills a specific outcome. 

Processes are so critical to success that money investors like Warren Buffett have an investment checklist. Pilots run their crafts through procedures while surgeons now use them to bring broken bodies back to health in intensive care. A process prioritizes workflow. 

Processes make it easier for all participants to optimize and execute for success. One of the oldest processes in business is Adam Smith’s pin manufacture procedure. In 1776, the Scottish economist made a list of 18 separate actions that workers needed to accomplish to create one pin. His process would create a division of labor enabling ten workers to produce 48,000 pins daily. 

Without the process, a laborer could hardly produce a single pin in a day. Henry Ford’s Piquette Avenue Plant success resulted from processes and checklists. Ford figured that a drill and division of labor could cut down the Model T’s manufacturing time to 2.5 hours from a lengthy 12.5 hours. 

All his artisans had 84 repetitive simple actions to complete in order to speed up vehicle production. Henry Ford’s processes revolutionized the manufacturing industry. The success of the process has led to the creation of classes of procedures that include operational, management, and supporting processes. His failure at process improvement, however, lost his manufacturing business crown to newer, nimbler carmakers.

What is process improvement?

A process has documentation. It can be digital or paper and is often a standard operating procedure. It is the ingredient you need not only to steer your operations away from catastrophic failure, but also to increase a return on investment. Do you know that businesses that have processes have 280% higher rates of success than those that work haphazardly? 

A process might look very straightforward on paper, with no room for error. This is often far from reality. A winning procedure has various interdependencies and time factors that must work together seamlessly to deliver success. Delays, for instance, could prolong a good process, rendering it ineffective. 

Timing of activities is therefore paramount to process improvement. You should factor in unpredictability to your processes, meaning that you cannot carve them in stone. They have to undergo improvement to cut down on redundancies that spring from errors of time and variability. 

These shortcomings can cause a decline in productivity and bring down employee spirits. Lean and Six Sigma are two of the world’s most popular process creation and improvement methodologies. Read more about them and their benefits below.

What is Lean?

Chapter 2: What is Lean?

Toyota is the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer. Generating over $272 billion in revenue in 2019, the company has been making over 10 million vehicles per year since 2012. Toyota does not need government assistance to make it through the hard times like its American peers do. 

The company is a boon to the Japanese government. Do you know that the car manufacturer’s secret sauce, the Toyota Production System (TPS), borrows heavily from Henry Ford’s processes? TPS is the origin of Lean manufacturing. 

Lean is a philosophy, toolkit, and mindset that streamline processes through the elimination of waste. It optimizes flow and ensures that the customer is receiving value from your business.

History of Lean

Toyota Motor Corp was a loom manufacturing business in the 1920s. Sakichi Toyoda sold off the patent for the automated loom and moved on to automobile production. His first vehicles hit the market in the early 1930s. The business first made compact cars. Later expansions made it a truck, pickup, SUV, and sports carmaker. 

Toyota’s success story begins with massive failure. In 1949, the firm’s sales were at an all-time low. The business only made 1,000 units per month while the US’s vehicle manufacturers made that equivalent in a day. Toyota’s market was small, yet consumers also wanted a range of vehicle styles, which made mass production and cost a challenge. 

The carmaker thought it fit to fire its employees, and the resulting tumult forced Kiichiro Toyoda, the company’s head, to resign. At the forefront of Toyota’s problems were worker rights and unions. To restructure the business, they would have to embrace the needs of its employees first. 

Other challenges that Toyota was facing were financial. Banks were turning their faces away. Western technology, competition, and government pressure were also driving the business to the ground. In 1950, Eiji Toyoda paid a visit to the Detroit Fort Rouge plant for benchmarking. With him was Taiichi Ohno. 

The duo then came up with TPS’s Lean manufacturing, improving all of Toyota’s processes and value chain. Lean had a direct impact on the business’s partnerships with its employees, suppliers, and salespeople. It also re-imagined the company’s distribution and supply processes. 

The new school of thought gave the company systems and tools that would transform its culture, making it the business success it is today. 

How Did Toyota Leverage Lean?

Traditionally, the expert laborer on the shop floor had minor power over the manufacturing process. The organization would overlook the worker’s expertise. All the employees had to do was to perform their part as fast as they could. Should a problem arise, a consultant or specialist would deal with it. 

Eiji Toyoda and Taiichi Ono’s TPS first transferred power back to the expert—the worker. The laborer would oversee improvements to the system. TPS encourages workers to collaborate and view their contribution as part of the company’s success. 

Any company that has workers performing in isolation introduces failure to their processes. TPS built better team structures and robust relationships with all stakeholders. The new team structures brought about the just-in-time car design production, the company’s best quality control process.

The 5 Principles of Lean 

Toyota uses the five principles of Lean to continually improve its process and reduce waste. They are:

1. Value identification

Your business should sell a service or product that a customer will pay for. Add value as per your client’s needs. That value is in the problem that your product or service solves. If your production activities center on activities that do not produce value, then your business is creating waste.

2. Value stream mapping

This principle identifies every part of a process that helps create value for the customer. Value stream mapping will give you a bird’s-eye view of your processes. Use this principle to measure, evaluate, and optimize the process by eliminating any steps that cause wastage.

3. Seamless workflow creation

This step involves the elimination of interruptions and bottlenecks. Break up a process into small batches to view the workflow. Pinpoint the roadblocks and eliminate them.

4. Have a pull system

Work when there is a demand for a product or service to optimize resource capacity. A stable pull system will allow your employees to work faster, put in less effort, and eliminate waste. In contrast, push systems prepare products or services ahead of time, causing wastage by excess inventory.

5. Pursue perfection

The Lean methodology works through continuous improvement. Every employee should actively involve himself or herself to eliminate waste and add value to the customer.

The 8 Wastes of Lean 

Lean is a method that focuses on supporting and enabling workers to eliminate waste. Waste in Japanese is “Muda” and it is of central focus to all Lean efforts. In TPS, waste is all but the minimum quantity of materials, equipment, parts, workers’ time, or space that you need to add value to a product. For this reason, the process has eight classes of waste that an organization needs to get rid of. They include:

1. Overproduction

Are you making products in excess? Do you manufacture products before customers need them? Toyota uses the just-in-time philosophy in manufacturing to produce only what is necessary. This prevents high storage costs, excessive lead times, and difficulty to detect defects.

2. Waiting

Are there equipment and material delays? If the flow of goods halts, then that waste will escalate lead times for the next process. Eliminate the poor flow of material, distance loopholes, and long production runs, and cut down on waiting.

3. Transportation

Transportation does not add any value to your products. Sometimes it only leads to defects and damages. Avoid excessive handling and movement of goods.

4. Defects

Products with defects lead to wastage of money and time because you have to rework or scrap them.

5. Idle talent

Is there a chasm between your management team and the employees? This division will lead to wastage of skill and potential because the experts at the floor do not have any opportunity for process improvement. Low incentives, poor training, and misplacement of talent and skill also lead to non-utilization of expertise.

6. Unnecessary inventory

Do you have excess material or products awaiting production? Storing surplus inventory leads to more storage costs and led times. It will also bring about confusion in communication and problems of identification. Excess inventory could also go obsolete before use.

7. Excess motion

This waste relates to ergonomics and health and safety problems. Unnecessary motion increases the chances of injury and could lead to more waste in a litigious environment.

8. Extra processing

Is your business using high-precision tools when simple tools would suffice? Are you replicating your data or over-customizing products? Toyota meticulously maintains its low-cost automation to avoid inappropriate processing. Use nimble, flexible equipment to cut down on waste.

As your business cuts on waste, your process will flow faster and will be more economical. Best of all, you will meet your customer’s expectations on value.

Lean Tools

Lean tools cut down on “uselessness,” which improves oveall quality control. They are visual and easy to use. You can employ them in a wide range of industries, from engineering, finance to manufacturing. They are:

Bottleneck analysis

Addresses workflows and processes when developing services or products. It identifies any present or future operational and process problems and addresses them.

Just-in-time

Just-in-time eliminates overproduction and inventory waste. 

Value stream mapping

Have a visual guide of all parts of a process and its components. Take all the steps, people, inventory, and data and display it on a flowchart.

Overall equipment effectiveness

OEE, or overall equipment effectiveness, can determine your process’s planned productive time by analyzing your performance, availability, and quality standards.

Plan-Do-Check-Act

PDCA, or Plan-Do-Check-Act, is a Lean tool for managing change. It has four sequences: plan, do, check, and act. Dr. W. Edwards Deming came up with this tool in the 1950s. 

Error proofing

Error proofing leverages prevention, ensuring that optimum conditions are in place before a process begins. It cuts down on human error and defects.

What is Six Sigma?

Chapter 3: What Is Six Sigma?

The Lean methodology focuses on the elimination of waste for process and performance improvement. Six Sigma eliminates defects and reduces variations to achieve Lean’s results. Six Sigma (6σ) uses management tools and techniques that focus on statistical methods, and it is highly data-driven. 

The origin of the title is the Greek symbol “σ,” or sigma, the target that measures standard deviation. The full term Six Sigma is a component of the statistical bell curve. One sigma deviates from the mean. A process with three sigmas above the curve and three below the mean has an extremely low defect rate or deviation of 99.99966%. For this reason, the Six Sigma model seeks to place processes 6σ away from a specification limit.

History of Six Sigma

Six Sigma is an invention of engineer Bill Smith. In 1986 while working at Motorola, Smith came up with a mousetrap that would generate billions in revenue for the multinational telecommunications firm. The father of Six Sigma would roll out his statistical approach, helping reduce defects at Motorola and increase the firm’s profitability. 

Smith had begun his work on the concept in the 80s long before joining Motorola. At the firm, he would team up with engineer Michael Harry and explore a standard formula that would reduce defects, a major challenge for Motorola. Their approach was the measure, analyze, improve, and control (MAIC) process. 

The methodology would lead the company to outstanding success, cutting down defects on their products to 1/100th in less than four years. Motorola would achieve the Six Sigma level, producing 3.4 defects every million units of products after incorporating Bill’s Six Sigma concepts. As a result, in 1988, the company earned a U.S. Government Baldrige National Quality Award. 

A decade later, they would enjoy a 20% profit increase, five times sales in growth, and a $14 million cumulative savings because of their Six Sigma efforts. Their stock price would compound at an annual rate of 21.3%. Major corporations such as General Electric and Allied Signal would later adopt the Six Sigma philosophy to great success.

The Principles of Six Sigma

Six Sigma seeks to deliver near-perfect services or products to attain high customer satisfaction and business transformation. Its three fundamental approaches include:

1. Measurement

Your business should provide your clients with maximum benefits. You can only achieve this feat by understanding their needs, motivations to enhance loyalty and sales. The standard of quality for your business should focus on customer demands.

2. Goals

Your business processes should strive to produce Six Sigma quality services or products

3. Methodology

There should be continuous process improvement through data analysis and problem-solving for lasting performance.

Like Lean management, Six Sigma underscores the need to give control of the process to the expert or practitioner on the floor. They understand a process’s failures and know best how to improve it. The doctrine also asserts the need for predictable and stable business process results.

Six sigma also requires that all processes have steps that are definable, measurable, analyzable, improvable, and controllable. Six Sigma only works when there is a commitment to change from every member of the organization. It has an emphasis on passionate management support and leadership.

Six Sigma Methodology: DMAIC & DMADV

Six Sigma relies on the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle by Dr. W. Edwards Deming. These techniques include DMAIC that improves existing processes, and DMADV that creates new processes or products. 

DMAIC stands for:

Define

What is the need of the customer and their requirements? What are your process’s goals?

Measure

What is the “as-is” capability of the process as per key aspects of data?

Analyze

What are the cause-and-effect connections and defects in your process?

Improve

Use data to optimize your process via tools such as mistake-proofing, design of experiments, and standard work. Establish the capability of your improved process via pilot runs.

Control

Have control tools such as visual workplaces, production boards, or statistical control for your procedures to oversee the optimized process. Maintain oversight until you have hit your sigma level.

DMADV stands for:

Define

Are your process’s goals in tandem with customer expectations and business strategy?

Measure

What are your CTQs, or critical-to-quality characteristics? Measure your risks, process capability, and product capabilities.

Analyze

Examine your process.

Design

Create better process alternatives from the analysis step.

Verify

Set up your process pilot run, implement it, and hand it over to the process owner.

Six Sigma Tools

To implement the Six Sigma methodology, you’ll need some tools to help you along. Here are some of the most common tools used by businesses to help them achieve their goals:

Brainstorming 

This works in the DMAIC methodologies “improve phase.” Use this tool for creative problem solving through freewheeling group conversations. As per Six Sigma requirements, this tool should have a green or black belt facilitator in place.

The five whys

Use the root cause analysis in the DMAIC cycle’s “analyze” step. Ask “why” as many times as possible until the problem or solution is clear.

Voice of the customer

Capture customer feedback to give them the best value. Roll this tool out in the DMAIC’s cycle “define” phase.

The 5s system

The 5s methodology has Japanese roots. It aims to eliminate bottlenecks and waste from the inefficient process, resources, equipment, or tools. Its five steps are Seiri (sort), Seiton (set in order), Seiso (shine), Seiketsu (standardize), and Shitsuke (sustain).

Kaizen

Continuous improvement, or Kaizen, monitors, identifies, and executes business improvement initiatives. It cuts down on waste, bringing change even in the minutest of inefficiencies.

Benchmarking

Compare your performance with that of other businesses to have an objective appraisal of your process. You can also have internal benchmarking within your departments, or functional benchmarking with industry leaders. There is also competitive benchmarking, a technique that works for services and goods that match those of your competitors.

Mistake proofing 

Poka-yoke, or mistake proofing, is a Japanese system that steers processes away from errors. It will guide your workforce on spotting and eliminating human error and inefficiencies from a process.

Value stream mapping

As it is with Lean processes, value stream mapping uses charts to design and optimize a process through the identification of waste.

Other Six Sigma Tools

  • Flow charts
  • Cause-and-effect analysis
  • Histograms
  • Pareto charts
  • Scatter plot
  • Check sheets
  • Control charts

What Are the Six Sigma Levels?

Six Sigma methodology has training and education criteria. Learning Six Sigma will grant you eligibility to practice it under one of its six belts. They include:

White belt

This is the beginner stage, open to all newcomers. It empowers team problem-solving through the concepts of Six Sigma.

Yellow belt

The yellow belt is a project or process team member. They understand DMAIC for process improvement.

Green level

The green level qualification makes a worker a lead green belt team or project member. To qualify for the green belt, you need to have three years of work experience and comprehend Six Sigma methodologies and tools.

Black level

Black belts should have business zone core knowledge. They should have the expertise of team leadership, coaching, and have successfully led at least two Six Sigma processes. 

Master black belt

The master black belt has a black belt certificate. They either have seen ten Six Sigma processes through to completion or have at least five years of work experience. The master black belt coaches black and green belts and has all Six Sigma DMAIC processes and tools at their fingertips.

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Chapter 4: What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma combines Lean and Six Sigma principles into one methodology for process or business improvement. It focuses on teamwork, brings impressive efficiency, and improves the bottom line for companies all over the world. Lean Six Sigma eliminates waste, cuts down on variation, and will encourage a cultural change in your organization. 

Your employees’ mindsets will shift to one of continuous process optimization for sustainable growth. Lean Six Sigma has elements of the award-winning Motorola quality-control methodologies, and it borrows heavily from the efficient Toyota Production System. In 2001, the book Leaning Into Six Sigma by Barbara Wheat, Mike Carnell, and Chuck Mills came up with the first concept of Lean Six Sigma. 

The authors’ intention was the creation of a manufacturing plant manager guide on Lean and Six Sigma for cycle time and quality improvement. In that decade, other business sectors including supply chain, healthcare, and finance adopted the authors’ ideas of utilizing both Lean and Six Sigma for efficiency and profitability. 

Today, you will find the principles and tools of Lean Six Sigma working in various sectors. Its practitioners use Lean to expose wastefulness and Six Sigma to reduce variation through iterative innovation for continuous flow.

How Lean and Six Sigma Integrates to Lean Six Sigma

While Lean and Six Sigma have their own identities, they have similarities that can fuse them into one seamless method. Both systems focus on defining value as per the customer’s needs. Consequently, both approaches focus on building processes and examining them through the eyes of a customer.

They also have an extreme focus on check sheets and process flow maps. Lean is especially visual, using maps to outline production flows and to identify waste. Both methods are also very reliant on data. Six Sigma is statistical, using data analysis to support data visualization. Combining both strategies improves efficiency and reduces variation.

The Three Elements of Lean Six Sigma

1. Techniques and tools

 Lean Six Sigma has analytical tools and techniques that can guide you to a process’s problems.

2. Methodology and process

Lean Six Sigma has phases that highlight the root cause of a problem. The method will also guide you to a solution.

3. Culture and mindset

It will build a culture of data usage to realize continuous improvement and business performance goals.

The Principles of Lean Six Sigma

It addresses real-world challenges

Lean Six Sigma has a top-down approach for probe selection, and a bottom-up method that affects customers and processes. Process improvement support is manageable when both the team and the management understand a problem. The management should not dictate how to solve the problem—the team determines the root cause of the shortcoming.

Analysis is teamwork

Lean Six Sigma projects have a cross-functional team with in-depth knowledge of the process under analysis. This ensures that every step in the process undergoes an improvement and none is done at the expense of the other. In the absence of a cross-functional team, process improvement will meet delays and failures.

The analysis focuses on processes

There is no better tool out there that analyzes processes better than Lean Six Sigma. Its scrutiny improves actions in processes. It also places these actions in all preceding and succeeding steps. Using Six Sigma’s process maps and Lean’s value stream maps, Lean Six Sigma will reveal the process’s big picture.

All analysis is data-based

Lean Six Sigma eliminates guesswork by collecting data for each step of the value stream map. The DMAIC measure phase analyzes the condition of the process, measuring defects and problems. Afterward, your process improvement team will analyze the data to determine the current state of the process. After brainstorming, they will come up with a solution and engage in continuous data for ongoing improvement.

Lean Six Sigma Applications 

In the past, Lean was the automotive industry’s main engineering processes improvement methodology. Six Sigma was a darling of the high-tech manufacturer’s quality department. Lean Six Sigma brings the power of process improvement into any industry sector. The approach is particularly popular in departments such as:

  • Call centers
  • C-suite
  • Design engineering 
  • Customer service
  • Finance 
  • Marketing
  • Logistics
  • IT
  • Legal
  • Human resources
  • R&D
  • Process engineering
  • Maintenance
  • Financial services
  • Health
  • Mining
  • Higher education
  • Aviation
  • Government

Lean Six Sigma Belts

Like Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma utilizes a five-phase structure to segment roles and responsibilities. It has Motorola’s Six Sigma belts that denote progression through martial arts mastery titles. Lean Six Sigma, therefore, has the yellow, green, black, and master belt system. 

The International Association of Six Sigma Certification (IASSC) and the American Society for Quality (ASQ) offers Lean Six Sigma training and certification standards.

Lean Six Sigma’s Five Phases

Lean Six Sigma uses Six Sigma’s define, measure, analyze, improve, control (DMAIC) system for process improvement. Its tools and techniques are Lean and Six Sigma’s best. Lean Six Sigma allows the use of multiple tools in every phase. 

All your team needs to do is choose the technique or tool that best fits their process improvement challenge. Some businesses choose tools as per their historical preferences and corporate culture. The most popular process analysis techniques and tools are Lean visual tools, describing a process and its efficiencies.

They are:

Process maps

Graphical displays of process decision and step interactions.

Value stream maps

Shows primary workflows and creates customer value in every step.

As-is-process

A value stream or process map that projects all steps of a process as they are in the business setting.

To-be-process

Projects the sought-after value stream or process map. 

Data boxes

Records process steps data such as value-added time, cycle time, resources, inventory, or yield.

TAKT Time

Highlights the time required for each step to meet customer value.

Work cells

Speeds up workflow and lowers handoff time within a process’s steps.

Kanban

A visual scheduling system where each step signals the other when the process is ready for the next item. Kanban lowers inventory waste.

Visual control

A visual method that pinpoints process bottlenecks and relieves them.

Lean Six Sigma employs a wide range of Six Sigma statistical analysis implements for process improvement. These tools and techniques will assist your teams to make use of data. Some of the most popular statistical tools include:

Process capability

This statistical ratio compares process variability with process value limits. Its expressions include Pp, Cp, Ppk, process sigma, or Cpk. The final ratio determines a process’s ability to deliver defect-free products or services.

Descriptive statistics

Calculates the median, mean, mode, and deviation of normal process behavior.

Inferential statistics

Compares the performance of a statistical sample to a large population data.

Hypothesis tests

Determines whether or not assumptions about data are verifiable, determining statistical differences between data samples.

Correlation

Tests the relationships between data parameters.

Regression tests

Determines the statistical relationship between continuous data parameters.

Chapter 5: Benefits of Lean Six Sigma and How to Integrate It Into Your Organization

Lean Six Sigma for process improvement ensures just-in-time delivery, low wastage, and high-quality products and services for customers. The method will make your organization nimble, agile, and adept at problem-solving and exploiting opportunities. 

You will achieve your strategies and goals and build the best organizational culture. If you want your company to have Toyota’s successful mindset and infrastructure optimization, then have Lean Six Sigma working for you. You will meet your customer’s value and enjoy more of their loyalty.

Lean Six Sigma has loads of benefits for every stakeholder, as it is the goal of the Lean and Six Sigma methodologies. 

Benefits of Lean Six Sigma

Increase in revenue generation

Lean Six Sigma will have a positive impact on your business by increasing your capacity to carry out your processes while reducing your worker’s workload per unit in production. Your production will speed up while your quality standards will improve. Use Lean Six Sigma for process creation and improvement and do more with less.

Lowers costs of production

The methods of Lean will cut down on waste to lower costs while meeting your customers’ expectations. Lean Six Sigma tools will improve problem-solving, infusing your business with a proactive rather than a reactive approach. If you do away with low-quality inspect-and-rework cycles, you will save more resources and enjoy a better reputation with all stakeholders. 

More efficient business process

All businesses need scalable processes. Lean Six Sigma optimizes processes and documents them. It makes it easy to perform, learn, enhance, and operate for faster growth. Use this methodology to reclaim your intellectual and automation resources and revenue from your business.

More effective processes

The principles of Lean and Six Sigma place the customer at the center of process creation and improvement. They will help you define who your customer is and pinpoint their expectations. This is the value that all your processes should aim to create in production. Lean Six Sigma principles will also analyze and optimize value to elevate the customer’s experience.

Develops capable teams 

Lean Six Sigma leverages team efforts for improvement. For this reason, it will give your workforce pride in process change and make them more accountable to each other. Even better is the fact that Lean Six Sigma builds an invaluable culture of transparency and trust in every level of business. Laborers will also respect each other’s place in the organization by understanding that every person is a critical player to success.

How to Integrate Lean Six Sigma Into Your Organization

The principles of Lean and Six Sigma significantly overlap in their bid to reduce waste and variation. Because Lean is less technical and visual, most workplaces start with its tools and techniques then implement the statistical data analysis of Six Sigma later. Beginning with Lean will make your processes effective and efficient. 

As an illustration, your teams can kick off the process by building value stream maps to engage throughput and comprehension of the problem. Value stream mapping represents the flow of a process. It will map out any excess inventory, restraints, or delays in the procedure. Value stream mapping is the perfect first step toward the ideal process. 

Since all things Lean Six Sigma are team exercises with cross-functional representation, value stream mapping only needs a Lean Six Sigma expert to begin. The team leader can create the map by hand using a pencil or on a board. The key is to ensure that the tool in use allows constant reiterations and changes. 

Alternatively, you can use process creation tools such as SweetProcess. SweetProcess has excellent value stream map creation tools. It leaves room for reiteration, collaboration, and implementation of business processes, tasks, and procedures. With your visual guide at hand, use statistical tools to iron out any other process problems.

Implementing Lean Six Sigma

To implement Lean Six Sigma in your process creation or improvement strategy, you will need practitioners of the methodology onboard. Some of your employees will need to learn its principles and tools. Have a consulting statistician on call to guide them when they encounter any hitches. 

Most Lean Six Sigma initiatives start at a business’s lowest levels. There is therefore risk that upper management may not opt to buy-in to the improvement strategy. This circumstance will eventually lead to the strategy’s failure. To ensure ultimate success, ensure management support, and executive-level assistance. 

Such reinforcement will facilitate the use of data and statistical tools across the business. This is the reason black belt holders have a process-oriented approach to ensure that Lean Six Sigma becomes a business strategy that the business implements via projects.

Chapter 6: Why Is Lean Six Sigma Gaining Importance in Today’s World?

In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande notes that the human body today can survive debilitating injury. The modern day’s achievement of inpatient intensive care makes it possible to heal fatal damage. Opening doors to the activity that encompasses the term “critical care,” he lists dozens of machines and interventions that all work seamlessly to artificially control a failing body. 

To present the critical importance of processes in medical care, he digs up a case from the Annals of Thoracic Surgery. It was a near-death drowning of a three-year-old under icy water for thirty minutes before rescue. The patient was lifeless for an hour and a half before the doctors took her to surgery.

The medical team had her heart beating by the two-hour mark. Atul states that that was just the first step in putting her body back together again. The doctors had to resuscitate her lungs, tend to her brain, and later her paralyzed limbs. At five, the little girl recovered all her faculties after extensive therapy. 

The surgeon says that the process that saved the little girl’s life was so complex it had thousands of steps. All these steps had to be done correctly and at the right time to preserve life. As an illustration, the expert on the heart pump had to perform the action meticulously and not allow any air bubbles in. Such procedures have minimal room for improvisation. 

One error can cause catastrophic failure and loss of life. The author says that most loss of life in intensive care occurs because of massive intricate steps involved in life preservation. Occasionally, a team will fail at speed, a machine will break down, and one step will go clean out of an expert’s mind. 

Medical care can easily harm or heal if the expert cannot grasp the complexity of the process. Success no longer hinges on education and preparedness alone, but on avoiding mistakes. Businesses are at Boeing’s B-17 phase or the hospital’s intensive care phase. The expert employee is running overly complex tasks.

If they only depend on memory for success, they will miss the mark. A run-of-the mill process and checklist is all that stands between sweet victory and phenomenal failure. Errors and missteps in business can compound losses when thousands of goods or services are in production in one go. 

Process and its improvement are critical in a complex operational environment. In his New Yorker article, Atul says that the doctors that saved the life of the little girl lost all their patients before they had a process that increased the speed and efficiency of operations. With the process in place, they have every key player and equipment prepped before rescue begins.

 They built an operational process checklist, entailing each step of the rescue. All preparation and notification measures are in place. Through process improvement, the team’s processes go like clockwork, resulting in miraculous success. 

Real-World Example of Lean and Six Sigma Success

You can achieve success in an increasingly dynamic and complex business environment by instituting Lean and Six Sigma approaches in business or process creation and improvement. Lean Six Sigma’s continuous improvement angle assures success for the most complex of processes. 

It has proven to bring a competitive advantage to various businesses such as General Electric, Microsoft, Wipro, and Motorola. Boeing has an outstanding actual use case, where its engineers used Six Sigma to figure out why their air fans would not work on their massive twin-engine aircraft. 

Their recirculation air fans had failed functional tests leading to massive waste, more testing, and replacement expenses. Through Six Sigma they created a cross-functional team with talent from supplies, manufacturing, engineering, quality, procurement, and supply management sectors.

The team discovered that foreign debris caused the damage. Appling more Six Sigma techniques, the team dug up the source of the debris. They also made checklists that would prevent the entrance of debris into the fan system during production.

Excellent production processes will meet customer expectations and increase customer lifetime value. Additionally, they will lessen any negative reviews, which will cause low sales.

How SweetProcess Can Ease Your Lean Six Sigma Approach

Lean Six Sigma uses visual Lean tools, such as value stream maps, for process mapping and improvement. Until recently, the only mapping tools were made with paper and pen or pencil. Since Lean Six Sigma requires teamwork, paper and pen are inadequate. The medium can make it difficult to share and collaborate on process creation and optimization with the other stakeholders. 

In the search of digital process mapping tools, some team leaders will go for simple tools such as Microsoft Excel, since it has flowchart tools. Microsoft Excel however has limits and can only create the most basic of maps. The best digital process creation and documentation tools should:

  • Have quick access to features, which allow a real-time reflection of the design process.
  • Enable easy collaboration for the Lean Six Sigma team.
  • Be mobile-friendly, giving the team the advantage of process creation and optimization on the move.
  • Be online, not offline. Your team should easily access your processes on any workstation.
  • Integrate with your workplace project management tools for continuous improvement.
  • Be an all-around tool. You should make instructions on it and create complex procedures at the same time.
  • Very user-friendly, balancing functionality with simplicity. All teammates should feel competent enough to use it. If it is too complex, your process improvement strategy will miss critical input from all players.

Michel Coutu runs the Canadian vehicle loans business Location Accès Crédit. Canada has a strict regulatory environment, and his employees have to screen all loan applications with a fine-tooth comb to abide by loan regulations. With no time, Michel saw the need for standard operating procedures for his employees. The application evaluation processes were becoming complex as his workforce grew.

While he had processes for loan approvals in place, he did not have them mapped and documented. Errors in loan approval procedures were high, and this high rate of oversight was putting his brainchild at risk. To cut down on deviations from the process, Michel turned to SweetProcess. It has a 14-day free trial that does not require a trial user’s credit card information. Michel loved SweetProcess’s easy-to-use interface and robust process creation features. 

His team was soon creating processes and policies, increasing his workforce’s support to the process creation strategy. The documented policies and procedures have enhanced efficiency and employee onboarding for Location Accès Crédit. 

SweetProcess makes it very easy for teams to document repetitive tasks, eliminating all guesswork from your process improvement strategy. A versatile tool, it can help implement your company policies across your organization. 

Use it to design, optimize, and collaborate on your Lean Six Sigma value stream maps on one easy-to-use and attractive interface. Some of the best SweetProcess features include:

  • Process step tracking. 
  • A collaboration tool and optimization tool that allows every team member to propose amendments while team leaders approve them.
  • On SweetProcess you can restrict access to some of your processes, procedures, and policies to need-to-know staff.
  • Integration with 1,000 other business apps including Zapier.
  • Ability to view any changes to the value stream map. You can roll back the process to an earlier version if necessary.
  • Creation of attractive process maps complete with video and image files embedding features.
  • Real-time collaboration for your Lean Six Sigma teams, and a data capture feature for form building
  • Simple single sign-on features for team access, and easy offline manual creation process.
  • The average person needs a few productivity tools for the simplest tasks. This is the reason every process creation team needs digital tool support to lighten the load in a complex operational environment. 

Future Lean Six Sigma Trends

More use of customer data

As data becomes critical to business processes, Lean Six Sigma processes will leverage it more for process improvement. Fact and data-driven decisions through Lean Six Sigma will become key in the complex business environment.

Valid certifications

As businesses embrace the values of Lean Six Sigma, the validity of certifications will become key to all belt holders.

Modern technology 

Lean Six Sigma tools and techniques will have more computing power, allowing accurate, faster data analysis. The use of analytical tools in business will become more important.

Higher adoption

As businesses come to grasp the cost of guesswork and shortcut approaches, they will embrace continuous improvement through Lean Six Sigma. 

Higher need for team skills

Future hires will need to have more team and interpersonal skills to increase the adoption of company strategies.

Conclusion

Embracing business process improvement will cut down on waste, enhance mind share, and increase the efficiency of your operations. Your business will use its existing resources better. The refinement of business processes will identify talents and parts that require further grooming or distillation to improve the quality of the process. 

Use Lean Six Sigma tools such as value stream maps to kick off your process improvement. Download our guide that will help you to properly use value stream maps.

Lean Six Sigma – Successful Value Stream Maps Checklist Download

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One response to “Lean Six Sigma Explained: All You Need to Know”

  1. Anil Kumar says:

    Need to learn on lean six Sigma

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