Lean Six Sigma – more relevant today than ever
Robert Shank – Managing Director, IASSC
Why does Lean Six Sigma continue to be a significant methodology for business in 2022?
In the 25 years since it was first created, I think it’s become even more important.
Initially, the approach gained traction in manufacturing as an effective way of reducing waste and improving quality; and, over time, as Lean principles became a more integral part of it, Lean Six Sigma was eventually adopted in service industries too.
Today, as our world evolves it becomes more competitive based on innovation in products and services, platforms and methods of distribution. Therefore, it’s essential to have a methodology to address continuous improvement in place.
Finding a reason for Lean Six Sigma
If an organisation or individual professional is yet to delve into Lean Six Sigma, what are the criteria for adopting it?
For example, do you have disappointed customers? Are you experiencing product returns? Do your outputs need reworking at the end of a production cycle?
These are just some of the reasons why you need to have a way to identify what’s causing problems in your business and being targeted about solving them. Ultimately, you want to be able to give customers what they want at the lowest cost to you by using an orderly, systematic approach to solving problems.
At the heart of the Lean Six Sigma approach is the five-step process: DMAIC.
Define: that means everything relating to a process, starting with what a customer wants; identifying what is critical to quality and defining each step in the process, covering the who, what, which materials and outputs?
Measure: what are the critical factors along the way, such as inventory, time, number of defects, time spent on reworks, etc.
Analyse: what does the data tell you? Where is the production process being held up? What factors may be affecting the quality of the output?
Improve: how do you fix things? How do you speed up process flow? How do you manage inventory?
Control: what controls do you need in place to get feedback and to assure the fixes remain in place?
Using this process in a manufacturing setting has a major impact on quality and efficiency.
For example, Siemens Automotive’s plant in Mexico assembles instrument panels for different cars and had a reoccurring defect on the assembly line. Circuit boards were failing when installed in vehicles; using Lean Six Sigma, we helped them pinpoint the problem: human error when fitting a device that was causing the electronics to short.
Service industries can improve quality and reduce waste too
Although many of the concepts in Lean Six Sigma began in the manufacturing world, the techniques are still applicable to service industries, whether your business is in accounting, processing mortgages applications or writing code. People in these environments are still going through a variety of steps to perform their functions.
For example, getting a mortgage loan requires an application, data gathering (credit reports, etc) to end up with an approval letter for the customer. In one real-life example, we worked with a mortgage company to study their processes and reduce the decision-making period by three weeks; increasing productivity at the company and creating happier customers.
Where there is a step-by-step process, there are opportunities to improve, even though the organization is not making a physical product.
Often, we’ve asked companies: “Why do you do that?” and they tend to say: “We’ve been doing that forever”, rather than defining customer needs and doing everything to meet them.
Lean Six Sigma as a career-building strategy
Lean Six Sigma is a skillset used literally throughout the world by most major and mid-sized companies. Whatever function you work in now – or in the future – you should be familiar with what the methodology does.
And for professionals earlier in the career, combining a Lean Six Sigma certification with your degree or other academic studies could be the differentiator at a job interview – having another element that makes you different/better than the other candidates.
In recent years we have seen the delivery mechanisms for professional training and certification change. This is why I think PeopleCert can help elevate Lean Six Sigma’s availability, credibility and visibility even further.