Effective problem solving, holistic process management, and data-driven decision making using a systematic and structured approach comprise the core elements and ideology of Lean Six Sigma, commonly referred to as LSS, and is premised on achieving the following four (4) goals and objectives:
- Reduce operational cost and risk
- Increase efficiency
- Reduce or eliminate variance
- Increase revenue
- Reduce or eliminate losses
- Zero Defects
- Improve customer service
- Perfect Value
- Enhanced customer satisfaction
- Delivery on time and in full
- Continuous improvement
- Improve effectiveness and efficiencies
- Incremental changes daily as there’s always a better way and more than one solution.
Those familiar with Six Sigma will recognize the DMAIC problem solving model where DMAIC is an acronym for:
- D – Define the problem
- M – Measure
- A – Analyze
- I – Improve
- C – Control
In their book, Lean Six Sigma (The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course), authors Sheila Shaffi and Shahbaz Shahbazi state:
“Six Sigma’s fundamental goal is to reduce operational variance by improving the overall quality and performance levels of business processes.”
A broad definition of variance can be described as a measure of the spread or difference between numbers in a data set. From a business perspective, variance is the difference between planned and actual results.
Lean Six Sigma can be applied to any process where measurable variance exists. For this reason, Lean Six Sigma is not constrained to the realm of manufacturing or product quality alone.
After the Fact
Many companies attempt to use lean six sigma tools as a means to solve problems when they are reported by the customer – after the fact. Although variance can only be observed or measured from a process that already exists, this is not to suggest that lean thinking or lean initiatives can only be applied after the fact.
Customer complaints are indicative of inadequate controls, containment measures, and / or a lack of understanding of customer expectations. One of the objectives of Lean Six Sigma is to prevent non-conformances from occurring at the source.
Performance expectations serve as the base line by which variance is measured – Plan versus Actual. Predictability requires the analysis of any variance – good or bad – in our systems, processes, products or services where any variance from plan represents an opportunity to discover and increase our current level of understanding of the current state and to make the necessary improvements from this new found knowledge.
The focus of lean is the pursuit of perfect value by optimizing the flow of products and services through the entire value stream through the elimination of waste. The seven (7) forms of waste are summarized as follows:
- Unnecessary transportation
Often times, lean workshops are held to identify elements of the causes of waste in the value stream in an effort to achieve single piece flow, standardization, increased efficiencies, and improved resource utilization. Once the value stream is created, a constraint or bottle neck that impedes the flow of value in your process typically becomes the focus of improvement initiatives.
The same “deep dive” that occurs in a workshop or “after the fact”, when non-conformances are identified internally or externally by the customer, can be performed when the process or system is being developed and designed.
Why Lean Six Sigma?
Lean serves to improve the speed and efficiency of processes, while Six Sigma attempts to improve quality and reduce any variation in the process. Although Lean and Six Sigma initiatives can co-exist as separate entities, a strong correlation exists between them – inextricably intertwined.
OEE as an Example
Overall Equipment Effectiveness or OEE is one of several key indicators commonly used in manufacturing and can be used to identify the major contributors to “lost” production time – essentially accounting for time where a given asset is “idle” when it should be producing parts.
Downtime events result in machine “idle” time and can occur at any time for any number of reasons. In many cases, however, it is possible to anticipate and mitigate the duration of these events. From a process design perspective, consider options that may prevent the downtime event from ever occurring.
In manufacturing, a robust process performs at rate and yields high quality products. Planned maintenance and rigorous process controls sustain predictable performance levels. Conversely, significant variances observed in the process will yield infinitely variable OEE results and will be evidenced in Availability, Performance, and Quality.
Unplanned downtime events consume available capacity that in turn constrains planned preventive maintenance activities. Failing to address variance and anomalies in the process significantly impedes our ability to achieve flawless execution and improve OEE.
Lean Six Sigma provides a model for solving problems – even before they occur – regardless of their scope and scale. The core process must be capable of consistently yielding a quality product that conforms to customer requirements and expectations.
Lean Six Sigma provides the tools to identify and eliminate or minimize the affect of variance in your process. Some would argue that unless the process is stable, it becomes increasingly difficult to assess the affect of changes that are introduced. To the contrary, variance measurements will reflect the affect of any change.
Typically, decisions to change a process are based on inadequate data. Lean Six Sigma provides the tools we require to perform an in-depth analysis and interpretation of measurements that enable us to make data driven decisions. ANOVA or analysis of variance is commonly used to provide a statistical assessment of process capability.
Although an OEE of 85% is considered world class, our OEE goal is to continually improve and yield a positive trend over time. We don’t have to settle for just being world class.
Variance is present everywhere and in everything we do. A culture that embraces and fosters Lean Six Sigma seeks to achieve perfect value and is committed to the pursuit of excellence through flawless execution, the elimination of waste, and continuous improvement in all facets of their business.
While we can learn from our mistakes, the ideal solution is to avoid making them at all. Deploying a lean six sigma strategy from the onset of any new product or service significantly increases the probability of success.
If customer satisfaction is first and foremost in your organization then Lean Six Sigma is your strategy of choice. Get your copy of “Lean Six Sigma – The McGraw-Hill 36 Hour Course” by Sheila Shaffie and Shahbaz Shahbazi to learn how to integrate and reap the benefits of all that Lean Six Sigma has to offer.
Until Next Time – STAY lean!
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