Lean Six Sigma: What’s the big deal?

The object of Lean Six Sigma methodology is to remove variability from a process in order to decrease the variation in result. Simply put, it aims to provide more consistency in product or service delivery. But there is more to it.

Here are a few key things to keep in mind:

  • Everything is a process: With Lean Six Sigma, everything is a process, and typically there are sub-processes nestled within larger processes. If you take 10 steps back, all these nested processes create the system which is your organization. This means that when thinking about change management, it’s important to consider the whole system before making a change. Your whole organization will likely feel it.
  • Data reigns supreme: The use of data is a vital component in Lean Six Sigma because Discussing the scheme.it emphasizes the ability to quantify and measure a process. The typical metric is defects per million opportunities or DPMO, however other metrics can be used. I’ll discuss DPMO more in point four, but the takeaway is the saying, “What gets measured gets done.” There will be future blog posts on how to collect data from existing process, and how to design a Six Sigma process from scratch.
  • More than the sum of its parts: There are some very famous tools in Lean Six Sigma, but using a few of them (or all of them) does not make a lean organization. The framework, Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, or the DMAIC framework is the skeletal structure of Lean Six Sigma. It organizes the thoughts and actions, and primes the organization for sustainable change. It assumes that people in every level and every corner of an organization have a responsibility to commit to the change. It is as much a leadership and management philosophy as it is a collection of tools. Tools such as Andon lights, Kanban, Kaizen Blitz, Process Maps, Spaghetti Diagrams, or SIPOC maps are genuinely helpful, but used alone, they don’t achieve the best results. Worse yet, using them in isolation can cause an unintended ripple effect in another part of your organization.
  • Pursuing perfection (Continuous Improvement): One of the fundamental principles of Lean Six Sigma is to pursue perfection. That might seem ambitious but it can be a differentiator for your organization. The quality of a process is measured using a metric called Defects Per Million Opportunities (DPMO), and the goal within Lean Six Sigma is to have 3.4 defects per million opportunities. If you’re wondering how this translates to your process, consider this example:

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2nd Sigma Trumpet Company, makes around 6 million trumpets a year across all its national locations. The quality of the trumpet is struggling, and the organization produces a quality trumpet around 68% of the time. Leadership believes that six sigma improvement is too much of an investment, and that they should be happy with satisfying the consumer 97% of the time. But should they? At 97%, 180,000 customers will still experience defective trumpets, and at $350.00 per trumpet, the company could stand to lose 63 million dollars! Do you think Six Sigma is worth the investment?

It’s true, not all processes need six sigma level perfection, but the continual commitment to improvement will be what sets your organization apart.

Hopefully, this bit of information was able to provide you with a basic concept of LEAN Six Sigma, and has perhaps inspired you to think about ways your organization could benefit from the framework.