What is Lean Six Sigma? Blending methodologies to reduce waste and improve efficiency

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.

What is Lean Six Sigma? Blending methodologies to reduce waste and improve efficiency
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Waste is a big concern for organizations 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 organizations 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 organizations 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 organizations to create processes that support the organization 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 categorizes eight kinds of waste: defects, over-production, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion, and extra-processing. Once your organization reduces these types of waste, you can solve problems faster, reduce process inefficiencies and boost productivity.

Over-production includes all excess products that are made beyond what the organization actually needs, creating wasted time and effort. Non-utilized talent waste is when organizations put someone in a position that they aren’t 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’s shipped to the client or customer. Inventory, work and operations or motion waste includes all wasted time that doesn’t make money and any time that isn’t spent wisely. It also includes extra-processing waste, when there’s 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 organization. Determine the problem you want to address and stay focused on that area of business and address other issues once you’ve wrapped up fixing the main problem.
  • Remove variations and bottlenecks: Optimize 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’ll 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’ll earn different belts until you reach the final “Champion” level.

  • White Belt: At the entry-level designation, you’ll 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’ll still report up to Green and Black Belts. As a Yellow Belt, you’ll need a strong grasp of the leading principles of Lean Six Sigma. You’ll 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’ll 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’ll 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 organizations 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’s 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 optimize process flow. Similarly, Lean can offer a shallow view of your organization’s processes defects and the methodology lacks the “advanced statistical tools often required to achieve the process capabilities needed to be truly ‘lean’.” 

Every organization’s strategy will be different when integrating and implementing Lean and Six Sigma. Lean uses less technical tools such as kaizen, workplace organization 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 organizations 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 organizations, it’s likely the company has an internal system for testing and certifying employees in Lean Six Sigma belt level. Colleges and universities such as Purdue, Arizona State University and Villanova offer online certification courses to help you earn Lean Six Sigma designations. 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.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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