By Harry Rever, MBA, PMP, CSSMBB, CQM, CQC | Director of Six Sigma, IIL
If there is one commonality among businesses in virtually every industry, it is the desire to improve results.
Continuous improvement efforts, if successful, result in lower costs, increased sales, and more satisfied customers. Measurable improvement is a ubiquitous goal for any business leader. And there is no better way to improve results than the proper deployment and application of Lean Six Sigma.
The future of Lean Six Sigma is bright and includes the following trends:
Continued Use of Lean Techniques in Conjunction with Six Sigma
Simply stated, there are an endless amount of processes, situations, and process improvement project opportunities facing business leaders. Every situation is different and there is no “one size fits all” approach that will work every time.
A Six Sigma practitioner, such as a Green Belt or Black Belt, needs to use the tools and techniques which are appropriate for that particular situation. Thus, focusing on just Lean concepts or sticking with traditional Six Sigma techniques is a mistake. The Six Sigma project leader should utilize both sets of tools; use the right tool for the job at hand.
Smaller Projects and Daily Usage of Lean Six Sigma Techniques
The cornerstone of improving processes is a solid three to six-month project following the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) road map; this will not change.
However, including smaller “rapid improvement events” into the mix of projects will help Lean Six Sigma and process thinking to become part of daily operations. Not every process improvement effort needs to be a huge project. Making process improvement efforts simple and accessible to everyone will help transform company thinking.
Emphasis on Metrics and Fact Based Decision Making
Claiming “improvement” because a project completed on time or on schedule is not good enough anymore. Substituting “activity” for measurable results is simply not acceptable to business leaders.
Basing decisions on facts and data is now essential; gut feel or anecdotal decision making should be a thing of the past. Businesses will need a more comprehensive set of metrics based on an understanding of processes; inputs, process steps, and outputs.
Large Data Sets, Data Mining, and Comprehensive Data Analysis
There is no question that companies see the potential and power of mining their business and customer data.
The ability to glean interesting facts and trends about your industry or customer base is not only a competitive advantage for a business but provides opportunities for innovation and expansion. Data mining and data collection is great, but having the ability to properly analyze the data is what is key; and that is what a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt brings to the table.
Lean Six Sigma Certification – Beware of Worthless Certifications!
Why is it that so often people want to take the easy way out? To me, you get out of something what you put into it; it’s really that simple.
This is especially true for Lean Six Sigma certification. A good LSS certification should come from a reputable provider, have comprehensive and applicable course content, include exams, require a REAL process improvement project, and be taught by an experienced Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.
The inexpensive “take the exam and you’re certified” type of certification is essentially worthless. Unfortunately, there seems to be a trend towards the availability of those types of certifications. Buyer beware!
Acknowledgement that Powerful Analytical Tools are a Must
I completely agree that making things simple and understandable is the way to go.
Lean concepts and graphical analysis are extremely helpful; however, that does not mean businesses should forfeit the use of powerful analytical techniques, such as regression analysis and design of experiments (DOE) because those tools might be viewed as confusing or not applicable.
Experimental designs, which allow you to test multiple variables simultaneously, is perhaps the most powerful yet underutilized process improvement technique available. When processes are complicated and the simple tools are not giving you the improvement you need, then it is time to break out the more advanced analysis and testing techniques. These tools can lead to breakthrough improvements!
Renewed Focus on Interpersonal and Team Skills
Lean Six Sigma Green Belts and Black Belts are leaders; they are implementing the strategy of the company and are regularly leading process improvement teams.
In addition, they are regularly challenging the norm, pushing for continuous improvement, and helping operations with metrics, data analysis, and root cause analysis. However, to be effective, LSS practitioners need to have skills that go beyond the DMAIC steps, Lean, graphical and statistical analysis.
They need to be competent in interpersonal skills such as negotiations, conflict resolution, and leadership. Effective stakeholder management and communication are essential elements for anyone leading process improvement initiatives. More emphasis on leadership and interpersonal skills is a must.
Lean Six Sigma “Light” – a Trend in the Wrong Direction
Some things never change. The desire for instant results and instant gratification is a trait that many business leaders, unfortunately, still possess. If it was easy to continuously improve, everyone would.
Of course, that’s not the case. Processes are complex; there are many moving parts and many people and departments involved. So a disciplined approach to process improvement is a must. However, in order to “go faster,” there seems to be a trend to move away from techniques that may take more time. Instead, businesses are wanting to take shortcuts and only utilize some “easier to understand” tools for those quick wins, the “low hanging fruit.”
There is nothing wrong with quick-hit projects, but ultimately, those types of efforts will only go so far. When someone says they want to only use the easier or faster tools, beware. That type of approach is a trend to avoid!
Corporate Operational Excellence Programs Incorporating Lean Six Sigma
Senior leaders recognize that a robust continuous process improvement program is essential to be successful in the marketplace.
Therefore, many companies are establishing an “Operational Excellence” program or department. These departments are tasked with leading quality and process improvement initiatives within the company.
Lean Six Sigma tools and techniques are becoming the common thread and foundation for these internal programs. Business leaders are becoming more familiar with the DMAIC steps as well as the roles and responsibilities of Lean Six Sigma Green Belts and Black Belts.
Process thinking is becoming the norm. Data based decision making, as opposed to reactive decision making, is what business leaders expect from their management team. Lean Six Sigma is on its way to becoming a foundational aspect for company management systems.
It is no longer acceptable to just go through the motions of managing the business; the market is simply too competitive. Senior leaders recognize that they need to be efficient and effective and Lean Six Sigma is one of the best ways to achieve that end goal.
Harry Rever is Director of Six Sigma for International Institute for Learning. He is a dynamic presenter and practitioner of Six Sigma and Project Management with an innate ability to teach the concepts of quality improvement in an understandable and more importantly, applicable manner. With over twenty years as a project manager, process improvement consultant and trainer, Harry has numerous examples of what works (and what doesn’t) when managing projects and applying statistical process improvement concepts.
If you have further questions or comments, Harry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Master Black Belts contributing to the article include: Dale Wilen, John Fraser, Richard Chua, Simo Salminen, and Nosh Kapadia.