Lean Six Sigma is a combination of two popular Process Improvement methods—Lean and Six Sigma—that pave the way for operational excellence. These time-tested approaches provide organizations with a clear path to achieving their missions as fast and efficiently as possible.
Before diving into details, it’s important to clarify the concept of process improvement. Since Lean Six Sigma is a system for analyzing and improving processes we’ll break down those terms first.
A process is a series of steps involved in building a product or delivering a service. Almost everything we do is a process—tying our shoes, baking a cake, treating a cancer patient, or manufacturing a cell phone.
Process improvement requires employees to better understand the current state of how a process functions in order to remove the barriers to serving customers. Since each product or service is the result of a process, gaining the skills required to remove waste, rework or inefficiency is critical for the growth of an organization.
Employees are hired based on their expertise in a given field. Bakers are good at baking and surgeons are good at performing surgery. Professionals are experts at working in a process, but they are not necessarily experts at working on a process. Learning to work on and improve processes requires experience and education in Continuous Improvement. That’s where Lean Six Sigma comes in.
Lean methodology has been labeled a process improvement toolkit, a philosophy and a mindset. It originated in the 1940s. At its core, Lean is a popular approach to streamlining both manufacturing and transactional processes by eliminating waste and optimizing flow while continuing to deliver value to customers.
Six Sigma is a process improvement strategy that improves Output quality by reducing Defects. It originated in the 1980s. Six Sigma is named after a statistical concept where a process only produces 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO). Six Sigma can therefore be also thought of as a goal, where processes not only encounter less defects, but do so consistently (low variability).
Although Lean and Six Sigma have been taught as separate methods for many years, the line has blurred and it’s now common to see Lean and Six Sigma teachings combined together as Lean Six Sigma in order to reap the best of both worlds.
Lean Six Sigma provides a systematic approach and a combined toolkit to help employees build their problem-solving muscles. Both Lean and Six Sigma are based on the Scientific Method and together they support organizations looking to build a problem-solving culture. This means that “finding a better way” becomes a daily habit.
Understanding both approaches and accompanying toolkits is extremely valuable when solving problems. It doesn’t matter where a tool comes from—Lean or Six Sigma—as long as it does the job. By combining these methods you have the best shot at applying the right mindset, tactics and tools to solve the problem.
Lean Six Sigma uses a 5-step method to improve processes and solve problems called DMAIC.
Organizations face rising costs and new challenges every day. Lean Six Sigma provides a competitive advantage in the following ways:
Organizational Development (OD) is the application of the behavioral sciences to the resolution of organizational problems. Organizations achieve success through the integrated functioning of people, processes and technology.
Organizational Development practitioners understand that in order to support organizational change it is crucial to understand how the systems and processes of the organization are driven by complex factors such as behaviors and cultural norms.
Lean Six Sigma offers competitive advantages as a complement to Organizational Development, particularly when business transformation requires improvement of operational processes.
Motorola and GE are recognized for their successful implementation of Lean Six Sigma. What is often not highlighted is that both companies’ change initiatives started generating incredible business results when they married Lean Six Sigma with Organizational Development techniques. These organization’s and others since have found that driving change, and business results, comes from integrating the Lean Six Sigma toolbox with the broad and effective methods of Organizational Development.
Lean Six Sigma works for any size organization. The same success achieved by large businesses can be attained by small and medium businesses. Smaller organizations may actually be more nimble with fewer people and lower levels of red tape to navigate.
This method works for businesses looking for a roadmap to effectively meet their strategic goals. Applying it helps to increase revenue and reduce costs, while freeing up resources to add value where the organization needs them most. The ultimate winners are the customers of the business who receive consistent, reliable products and services.
Lean Six Sigma not only improves profit margins, it positively affects employees by engaging them in the work of improving their own processes. Since employees are closest to the actual work of an organization—the delivery of products and services—their intimate knowledge makes them the best resources to analyze and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of those processes.
By participating in successful Lean Six Sigma efforts, employees build confidence and become increasingly valuable assets to the business. Studies show that employees who feel they’re able to positively impact an organization will perform better, be more accountable and live happier lives. By quickly mastering basic Lean Six Sigma skills, they will continually standardize work, root out problems and remove waste in an organization.
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