The Continuous Improvement Blog

3 ways Lean and Six Sigma accelerates business process improvement

Written by Colin McArdle on 13 Dec 2017

business_process_improvement.jpgAny organisation in the business of delivering a product or service to customers will want their internal processes to be as streamlined and efficient as possible.

Lean and Six Sigma are two different, but complementary, approaches for improving business processes. When used together they can transform the way you work; improving customer satisfaction, staff engagement, and profitability as a result.

Lean is a philosophy, a theory that acts as a guiding principle for the behaviour of people for improving processes.

Six Sigma is a methodology, a defined system, that provides a structured approach for fixing complex and chronic problems.

Organisations using both Lean and Six Sigma benefit from the customer-orientation and focus on eliminating waste inherent in Lean, and the statistical tools and systemic root cause analysis, defect reduction and capability improvement strategies of Six Sigma.

But what’s different about Lean and Six Sigma compared to other process improvement methods?

In this blog post, we discuss three key factors intrinsic to a Lean and Six Sigma approach that means it delivers results.

Provides a comprehensive toolkit for problem-solving

Independently, both Lean and Six Sigma provide an extensive set of tools for improving business processes. By using Lean and Six Sigma together, organisations are able to utilise a wider range of tools.

Six Sigma tools focus on deep exploration and analysing the root cause to fix chronic and complex problems. One example is Measurement Systems Analysis, a method of determining how much the variation within the measurement process contributes to overall process variability. Another is Control Plan, which seeks to control product characteristics and associated process variables to ensure capability and stability of a product over time.

Lean tools tend to take a more holistic approach, focusing on the bigger picture and the long-term. A core element is the involvement of cross-functional teams across the business. Gemba is a tool often implemented early on in the Lean and Six Sigma implementation. Gemba involves taking photos and videos, sampling parts, copying documents, and speaking to the workers so you know exactly how processes are operating. Then there’s Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) which works to improve processes from the ground up - starting with making sure equipment and machinery are working at maximum efficiency.

Businesses using both Lean and Six Sigma have experienced the benefits of being able to pull on the right tool at the right time.

Engages the workforce

Processes don’t run themselves, people do. So people, in other words, your workforce, need to be part of the process improvement solution. They run the processes day-in-day-out so they know them best. Naturally, they’ll have a good idea of what works well, what doesn’t, and what could be improved.

A significant focus of Lean and Six Sigma is placed on creating a culture where everyone in the company is driven towards finding better ways of working. A culture where everyone has an opportunity to put forward their ideas for process improvement.

Think about your organisation. Is there a forum for which people can voice ideas for process improvement? And how are they responded to? Would people feel comfortable expressing their views?

An important stage in a Lean and Six Sigma implementation programme is Value Stream Mapping (VSM) - a visual depiction of all activities in the end-to-end process of delivering your product or service to the customer. Crucially, the value stream map is created with input from people across all areas of the business. It provides a solid starting point for drawing the workforce into the process improvement ideology. 

By engaging your workforce, not only do you get the valuable views of those that know the processes best, but you get everyone on the same page, working together in the best interests of your customers. And any gripes staff had with current processes will ideally be eliminated, resulting in happier and more motivated employees.

Builds a continuous improvement culture

One of the challenges of any improvement initiative is making change stick. The Lean and Six Sigma approach recognises this.

Efforts to drive efficiency don't stop once process improvement initiatives have been instilled into the business. Lean and Six Sigma requires that improvements made should be constantly refined and developed.

To really succeed, you need to keep learning, adapting, and building new skills. This involves setting initiatives to ensure activities continue to deliver only what is needed, that management teams continue to support employees in the wake of changes, and that a continuous improvement culture remains alive.

A Lean and Six Sigma approach equips you with a broad toolkit to improve processes, while engaging your workforce and building a culture of continuous improvement at the same time.

If you want to find out more about implementing Lean and Six Sigma in your organisation, download our eBook below.

The Operations directors guide to improving performance eBook

Topics: Business Improvement, six sigma, lean

Colin McArdle

Written by Colin McArdle

Colin McArdle, the Founder and Managing Director of Kaizen Kulture is a Lean and Six Sigma Master Black Belt who has over 30 years industry experience. Kaizen Kulture's mission is to be true to the ethos of continuous improvement.