Process Improvement through LEAN and SIX SIGMA

Lean is all about process improvement

Lean is a long-term approach that seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes to impact speed, efficiency and quality. It focuses on eliminating ‘waste’ - tasks that absorb time and resources but add no value to the customer or business.

Lean was first pioneered by Ford in the early 1900’s, but more famously it can be attributed to Taiichi Ohno’s articulation of the Toyota Production System (TPS), where he first identified the seven types of waste (‘muda’ in Japanese). Taiichi Ohno’s mantra was “Waste is worth than theft”. He made the connection between spending time and money on wasteful activities, and the business. If we know about waste and we carry on with no actions to reduce the waste, you could argue that we are stealing company or customer time and money.

Improvement approaches such as Lean and Six Sigma grow out of a long tradition of quality and process improvement efforts in manufacturing. For example, Frederick Winslow Taylor’s scientific management and Frank Gilbreth’s “time and motion” studies were among the earliest prescriptions for improving the quality and efficiency of production processes.

Current thinking about process improvement draws heavily on the ideas of W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran and other statisticians whose data analysis tools and management philosophies were initially adopted by Japanese manufacturers, and have come to be known as Total Quality Management (TQM) or Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI). 

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Six Sigma is all about eliminating "defects" in processes

Six Sigma, like Lean, is a business management strategy used to improve the quality and efficiency of operational processes. While Lean focuses on identifying ways to streamline processes and reduce waste, Six Sigma aims predominantly to make processes more uniform and precise through the application of statistical methods to reduce variation.

The roots of Sigma date back to the 18th century, and Carl Frederik Gauss, who introduced it as a statistic to describe the standard deviation. The term Six Sigma was coined in 1980 by Motorola engineer Bill Smith, who used it for his quality management process, where he introduced it as an approach to improve the quality and capability of processes, and products.

The Six Sigma method of problem-solving; Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, and Control (DMAIC), specifies a sequence of phases to drill-down to the problem root cause, eliminating or reducing the impact and making sure the improvement is sustained:

  1. Defining the project goals and customer (internal and external) requirements;
  2. Measuring the process to determine current performance;
  3. Analysing and determining the root cause(s) of relevant defects;
  4. Improving the process by eliminating defect root causes, and
  5. Controlling future process performance.

Another Six Sigma methodology, Design for Six Sigma (DFSS), is used to systematically design new products and services that meet customer expectations and can be produced at Six Sigma quality levels.

Six Sigma also involves the training and certification of designated process specialists called yellow belts, green belts, black belts and master black belts. The ‘belts’ work within organisations to help guide Six Sigma improvement efforts.

Six Sigma project and program outcomes include; the expectation that process quality improvements be translated into financial metrics, customer centric enhanced or new process performance, people development through capability upskill, cross functional teamwork and improved organisation communication. Value is critically assessed where the active involvement of top management is expected in all Six Sigma initiatives.

Lean and Six Sigma

Various combinations of Lean and Six Sigma techniques have been developed, which frequently are described as Lean Six Sigma approaches. The blended approach points to the common process-centered and data-driven foundations of both Lean and Six-Sigma.

The combined approach sees organisations benefiting from utilising both the customer-orientation and focus on eliminating waste inherent in Lean along with the statistical tools and systematic defect reduction strategies featured in Six Sigma.

Process Improvement

Lean and Six Sigma

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People Development

People Development

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Project Management

Project Management

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