Lean Six Sigma: Blending methodologies to reduce waste and improve efficiency

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Lean and Six Sigma are the perfect pair when it comes to improving customer value by reducing waste, boosting productivity and reducing defects and variations in products and services

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4 July 2019 | 0

Waste is a big concern for organisations large and small – especially when it comes to time or money. Lean Six Sigma combines two methodologies, Lean and Six Sigma, to help accelerate specific processes so organisations can solve problems faster, while creating more value for customers. Lean methodology is aimed at reducing waste to improve customer value, while the Six Sigma methodology helps organisations reduce defects and variance by improving processes and fixing inefficiencies. Together, they create a powerful methodology for keeping businesses ahead of schedule and under budget, enabling organisations to create processes that support the organisation and its employees, while saving money, adding value and improving productivity.

The eight types of waste

The main focus of Lean Six Sigma is reducing waste. The methodology categorises eight kinds of waste: defects, over-production, waiting, non-utilised talent, transportation, inventory, motion, and extra-processing. Once your organisation reduces these types of waste, you can solve problems faster, reduce process inefficiencies and boost productivity.

“Lean Six Sigma creates a powerful methodology for keeping businesses ahead of schedule and under budget, enabling organisations to create processes that support the organisation and its employees”

Over-production includes all excess products that are made beyond what the organisation actually needs, creating wasted time and effort. Non-utilised talent waste is when organisations put someone in a position that they are not trained for. Transportation waste is also called delivery waste and covers all the time spent in between when an order is placed and once it is shipped to the client or customer. Inventory, work and operations or motion waste includes all wasted time that does not make money and any time that isn’t spent wisely. It also includes extra-processing waste, when there is a surplus of resources, parts or products, including rejected or defected parts waste that need to be thrown out or remade.

Lean Six Sigma principles

While Lean and Six Sigma have their own sets of principles, Lean Six Sigma offers a separate set of principles that combines elements of both frameworks.

According to Purdue University, the five main principles of Lean Six Sigma are:

  • Work for the
    customer:
     Ensure any changes you implement will benefit
    the customer and will offer the highest standard of quality according to market
    demands.
  • Find your problem
    and focus on it:
     Avoid getting distracted by other issues
    while you are working on fixing processes in the organisation. Determine the
    problem you want to address and stay focused on that area of business and address
    other issues once you have wrapped up fixing the main problem.
  • Remove variations
    and bottlenecks: 
    Optimise your
    processes by finding ways to decrease defects and potential future defects.
    Streamlining your processes will help your business stay efficient and maintain
    quality.
  • Communicate clearly
    and train team members:
     Implementing a
    Lean Six Sigma strategy can create a sense of upheaval in the company. Ensure
    everyone is trained and prepared to implement Lean Six Sigma so you maintain
    clear communication and reduce the risk of project failure.
  • Be flexible and responsible: As you embark on your Lean
    Six Sigma project, know that you will likely need to refine your approach and
    pivot your strategy. It doesn’t make sense to cling to a failing strategy, so
    stay agile and flexible during the process if you want the best outcome.

Lean Six Sigma belts

Lean Six Sigma designations follow a similar structure as Six Sigma, which borrows from martial arts. As you gain experience and work your way up the certification ladder, you will earn different belts until you reach the final “Champion” level.

  • White Belt: At the entry-level designation, you will report process issues to
    Green and Black Belts. You should understand the basics of Lean Six Sigma,
    including common terminology and the basic structure and goals of the
    methodology.
  • Yellow Belt: You will still report up to Green and Black Belts. As a Yellow
    Belt, you will need a strong grasp of the leading principles of Lean Six Sigma.
    You will also participate on project teams and receive more training.
  • Green Belt: As a Green Belt, you are responsible for starting and managing
    Lean Six Sigma projects and are expected to provide training to White and
    Yellow Belts. At this level, you should have a detailed understanding of the
    Lean Six Sigma methodology.
  • Black Belt: As a Black Belt, you report to Master Black Belts and have
    advanced knowledge of Lean Six Sigma. You will be viewed as a mentor, coach and
    project leader for Lean Six Sigma projects.
  • Master Black Belt: This designation is responsible for implementation and driving
    necessary culture shifts. You will work directly with executive leadership and
    will be expected to coach, mentor, monitor and lead Lean Six Sigma projects.
  • Champion: The top Lean Six Sigma designation is for executive leaders who
    help identify and select the right projects and then ensure teams have the
    support they need to be successful.

How to integrate Lean and Six Sigma

Integrating Lean and Six Sigma is relatively easy, especially if your business already has one or the other implemented. And it’s likely that most companies are already using some form of Lean in day-to-day business practices, even if they aren’t calling it that. Lean was originally borrowed from manufacturing, where it was used as a business methodology to improve the manufacturing process by reducing defects and waste. Six Sigma also originated as a business methodology for operations, helping streamlining processes in large organisations for more operational success.

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) states that most successful implementations begin with the Lean approach, which boosts efficiency and makes the workplace as “efficient and effective as possible, reducing waste and using value stream aps to improve understanding and throughput.” After that, whatever process problems remain can be addressed with “more technical Six Sigma statistical tools.”

The overall idea is to use the best of both methodologies to build a well-rounded IT process improvement strategy. Alone, there are weak areas in both methodologies, but used together it is easier to fill in those gaps. For example, according to the Business Process Management (BPM) Institute, Six Sigma will “eliminate defects” but it won’t actually “address the question of how to optimise process flow. Similarly, Lean can offer a shallow view of your organisation’s processes defects and the methodology lacks the “advanced statistical tools often required to achieve the process capabilities needed to be truly ‘lean’.” 

Every organisation’s strategy will be different when integrating and implementing Lean and Six Sigma. Lean uses less technical tools such as kaizen, workplace organisation and visual controls, according to the ASQ. Whereas Six Sigma relies on tools such as statistical data analysis, design of experiments and hypothesis tests. Some organisations might be fine relying on mostly Lean principles, while other companies will need to expand into more in-depth Six Sigma analysis.

Lean Six Sigma certification and training

You can get certified in Lean Six Sigma a number of ways. At larger organisations, it is likely the company has an internal system for testing and certifying employees in Lean Six Sigma belt level. You can also get certified in each belt through the International Association of Six Sigma Certification (IASSC), which offers third-party certification exams as well as a free study guide to help you prepare for your Lean Six Sigma certification exam.

IDG News Service

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