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What Is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is the leading process improvement strategy in the business world today.  Over the years many process improvement strategies have evolved, but most evolved along one line or the other: either efficiency or quality control.  Lean Six Sigma finally merges these two disparate trends into a single strategy, but let’s first look at each of the paths as it evolved.

Lean Seeks to Eliminate Waste Lean Production has been around for many years.  It was pioneered by Henry Ford in the early 1900’s and then perfected by Toyota as the Toyota Production System.  It has most often been associated with manufacturing, but is highly applicable to transactional processes as well.  It seeks to truly understand customer needs and then streamline processes and remove any steps that do not contribute value in the eyes of the customer.  It is the elimination of wastes such as over-production, waiting, excess movement of people or parts, and the elimination of defects.

A Lean improvement activity begins with the Voice of the Customer, which is used to identify the true value added aspects of a process or product.  It then maps the process, or as it is frequently referred to, the value stream.  It then utilizes the process mapping and VOC in order to identify waste and develop an alternate process.  This results in eliminated (non-value added) process steps, set-up reduction, and other strategies to make the process as efficient as possible.  Lean can achieve outstanding process speed and efficiency.

Save Up To 40% By Eliminating Defects With Lean Six Sigma Six Sigma finds its roots in statistical process control dating back to the 1940s and the work of Dr. Edwards Deming.  During its evolution there were many variations, such as Total Quality Management (TQM).

Sigma is the Greek letter used as a symbol of variability (standard deviation).  Six Sigma uses statistical tools and other means to reduce product or process variability and achieve consistent results.  Six Sigma stands for a measure of variability equal to 3.4 defects per million opportunities.  It provides the “How” for defect elimination.  Six Sigma has been implemented by GE and other companies to achieve unmatched levels of quality and consistency.  In most industries 25-40% of revenue is eaten up by defective products, scrap, and rework.  Six Sigma can significantly reduce all of these.

Six Sigma projects typically follow a methodology known as DMAIC.  This stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.  It is a methodical strategy for the use of the tools to analyze a process, identify root causes of issues, and correct them.  “Control” involves putting controls in place to assure the gains are not lost over time.

Reducing Variation With Lean Six Sigma Eliminates Defects Six Sigma tends to be heavy in statistical tools. Its primary focus is to eliminate defects by reducing variation. In other words, if processes and tools are controlled and repeatable the result will be a more consistent product that meets customer requirements as depicted below.

Lean Six Sigma is the merging of these two methodologies into a single process improvement strategy in order to achieve speed and efficiency while actually improving quality.  It borrows tools and approaches from both methodologies, in an attempt to use the best from each discipline.  It follows the structured DMAIC process, but includes value stream mapping and waste elimination.

Lean Six Sigma Can Convert a Practical Problem to an Analytical Problem for Resolution The emergence of this integrated strategy has resulted in breakthrough improvements in many businesses.  Companies are not just achieving tremendous gains in quality, but by achieving speed they are gaining market share and finding the agility to be first to market.

In the past the business experience seemed to be the big eat the small or the strong eat the weak.  This is no longer the case.  We are finding in 2012 that the market truism is that the fast eat the slow.  The first to market gains most of the market share; the quickest to respond to customer needs gets repeat business.  It is all about combining speed, quality, and efficiency to succeed in today’s market.

Copyright 2012 by Frank Norris, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and CAS Adaptive Solutions

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