Future Trends for Lean Six Sigma

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.

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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.

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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 harry.rever@iil.com.

Master Black Belts contributing to the article include: Dale Wilen, John Fraser, Richard Chua, Simo Salminen, and Nosh Kapadia.


Applying the DMAIC Steps to Process Improvement Projects

By Harry Rever, MBA, PMP, CSSMBB, CQM, CQC    |   Director of Six Sigma, IIL 

“Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control” is the Roadmap to Improving Processes

Project managers, in just about any industry, are faced with the challenge of improving the efficiency and productivity of their businesses. To do this, they need to understand the best methodology and tools to study and analyze processes correctly. After all, to improve results, the best approach is to improve the process that gives you those results.

process-under-study

So, it is imperative for project managers to have a rudimentary understanding of process thinking when managing improvement efforts. As shown in the graph above, a process can be broken down into three basic elements: the inputs to the process, the process under study and the outputs from the process. The concept of improvement is quite simple; to improve the outputs of a process, you simply improve the inputs and the process itself. To improve the output (also called the “Y” or the “Key Measure”), identify, measure and improve the inputs and process metrics (also known as the “X’s”). Focusing on the results, the output Y measures instead of the X’s is an after-the-fact, reactive, expensive and inefficient approach to improving results. The concept that Y is a function of X (Y=f(X1, X2, …Xn) is at the core of the: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control; also known as DMAIC, steps.

dmaic-circle

The roadmap for improving processes and key measures of a business is a straightforward, easy to understand set of those five steps. DMAIC is an iterative process that gives structure and guidance to improving processes and productivity in the workplace. Project managers and Six Sigma practitioners apply the DMAIC steps and appropriate analysis tools under each step, to analyze and improve key metrics of a business. Metrics are established, variation is studied and reduced and processes are improved and optimized. The result is improved performance, fewer errors and increased efficiency and productivity.

The DMAIC steps are the true backbone of any process improvement initiative.  The steps make sense, they are easy to understand and they are logical in their sequence. The steps allow a team to adequately scope the problem, measure the current performance, analyze the root causes of problems and inefficiency, test and verify improvement recommendations and then implement changes for sustainability over the long haul. Process improvement projects are the norm these days. Improving key measures is something every project manager is going to be faced with sooner or later; therefore, a project manager should be skilled in the art of applying the DMAIC steps to improve results.

Related Courses: Lean Six Sigma Certification Programs

Understand the Process and then Measure the Process!

The DMAIC steps work because they are understandable and make sense. These steps can be applied to any process, any industry, any company to help guide a process improvement team. Before they can be applied, however, the project leader should lead his or her team to scope the problem, perhaps using a Supplier, Input, Process, Output, and Customer or SIPOC diagram as shown below. Using the SIPOC tool can help project managers scope the problem, think in terms of processes, and help the team pinpoint what and where to measure. The SIPOC tool helps link metrics to the inputs, the process, and the outputs thus allowing for the Y=f(X) thinking.

measurement-points

The SIPOC tool is something than can be done in the Define step of the DMAIC steps.

DEFINE

Essentially the purpose of the Define step is to set your project up for success.  Project managers are familiar with the things that need to be done when starting off a project. Essential project elements are accomplished in this step, such as:

  • Attaining sponsorship for the projectswim-lanes
  • Establishing the project charter and appropriate scope
  • Identifying stakeholders and team members
  • Establishing team ground rules
  • Planning and conducting a successful kickoff meeting

In addition to the normal project deliverables listed above, for a process improvement effort, the project manager would facilitate his or her team in developing an “As-Is” process map. This will help the team not only get on the same page in terms of the process, but also will help the team identify problematic steps in the process. Process maps, or Deployment maps (a.k.a. Swim-lanes), can also be useful in identifying non-value added steps and can be vital in determining process measures.

Lastly, the team may require some basic training on the application of the DMAIC steps so that everyone knows what to do and when to do it.

measure-key-metricMEASURE

The Measure step is often a step which, unfortunately, is skimmed over by most teams.  One of the biggest mistakes made when trying to improve results is to make decisions based on “gut” feeling, intuition or anecdotal information. Instead, what is imperative is to base decisions on facts and data and that is the main goal of the measure step. In the Measure step, the team should:

  • Identify and operationally define key metrics
  • Develop a data collection plan
  • Conduct a measurement system analysis to verify that the data is accurate
  • Stratify the data
  • Establish baseline charts
  • Make charts and graphs to help the team better understand what the process is currently delivering in terms of processing times, errors or defects

ANALYZE

The Analyze step is all about getting to the root cause of the problem. Too often when trying to solve a problem, people or teams tend to focus on a symptom as opposed to the true root cause of the problem. The tools and techniques in the Analyze step lead project teams to gather clues for improvement and ascertain what the root cause, or causes, are that are the most important drivers.

analyze-formula

The Y is a function of X formula is at play in the Analyze step. A team will analyze the process, perhaps using value-added analysis, statistical analysis, or maybe a fishbone chart, a cause and effect diagram, to get to what they think are the root causes. Then the team would gather data on the root causes to determine if there is a cause and effect relationship with the problem. Verifying cause and effect is a crucial step in the Analyze phase; a step which many people, unfortunately, skip or simply take for granted based on their opinions.

IMPROVE

Once a team moves through the Define, Measure and Analyze steps, they are now ready to use what they’ve learned about the process to be innovative when solving the problem at hand. Improve is the step where creative solutions to existing problems can be developed and tested, using various experiment or piloting techniques. The key deliverable in the Improve step is verifiable improvement through measurement.

improve-key-metric

The best ideas for improvement, based on what was learned in Measure and Analyze, are tested and implemented on a limited basis to determine if there is statistical evidence of sustained improvement. Once a team improves a process, the results should become quite clear on a control chart. When stakeholders can see the proof of improved performance, they will be more likely to accept and actually implement the team’s recommendations. Improve is about taking the emotion out of decision making. Improve is about verification and validation of recommendations. Often times, teams make the mistake of thinking they “know” what will work. Thus, they blindly implement what they think is the best solution without proper testing. The result, more times than not, is that there is no measurable or sustainable improvement.

CONTROL

control-swim-lanesThe real strength of the DMAIC steps is the Control step. Too often, teams do a lot of hard work, actually improve the process and results, and then implementation of the improved process doesn’t go smoothly. There is pressure to move on; time isn’t spent on having a smooth transition and the buy-in for full implementation just isn’t quite there. The result is that sustaining the improvement realized in the Improve step becomes difficult.

The purpose of the Control step is to ensure a successful implementation of the team’s recommendation so that long-term success will be attained. The new and improved process will be flowcharted and these new methods will become the new standard operation procedures. Results will continue to be tracked so that any “drift” back to previous results can be monitored and addressed in a proactive manner. The Control step is about the transfer of responsibilities and establishing plans for long-term process control.

Making Better Decisions

Once the DMAIC steps are understood, then managing the process of how to improve results becomes clear and straightforward. If used properly, the following decision tree can lead to better decision making by helping business leaders ask the right questions to avoiding making knee-jerk reactions. Instead, it encourages an understanding of variation and reinforces the use of the DMAIC steps to address as the roadmap to continuous improvement.

decision-making-tree

In Conclusion

The DMAIC steps are a proven roadmap for any process improvement project. There are only five steps so they are relatively easy to remember. They offer a structured approach to solving problems and improving results. There are certain questions to be addressed under each step and certain tools and techniques can be utilized to answer those questions through facts and data.

dmaic-table

When the DMAIC steps are properly applied, they offer any project team an organized approach, a structure, to solving key business problems. The DMAIC steps are flexible and can be used in any industry or with any type of process improvement effort. They just make sense, which is why they are so powerful. Every team leader should be familiar with, and incorporate, the DMAIC steps into all process improvement projects.

Ready to improve your Lean Six Sigma skills? IIL can help. Enroll in a Lean Six Sigma Certification Program. If you have a team to train, request a free consultation.

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About the Author

Harry Rever (MBA, PMP, CSSMBB, CQM, CQC) is Director of Lean Six Sigma for International Institute for Learning (IIL). A dynamic presenter and practitioner, he has trained thousands of employees on Six Sigma, process improvement and project management. He is a senior member of ASQ and a member of PMI. Harry can be reached at harry.rever@iil.com. [/trx_infobox]


What is Lean Six Sigma?

By Anne Foley, MBB, CSSBB, PMP
Director of Lean Six Sigma, International Institute for Learning

Back in 1987 when I was a supplier to Motorola, they asked us to provide them with our key performance metrics in something called a sigma. I had no idea what they were talking about but our team said “sure” hoping we could figure it all out. The hindsight of 28 years makes me laugh to think that we thought it was nothing more than converting a few numbers to a different format. It is so much more than numbers.

305px-Six_sigma_A.svg

Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement. It was developed by a couple of engineers working at Motorola to help the company win the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award in 1987. Today there is significantly more information about Six Sigma, and in many circles something called Lean has been added to the picture – resulting in Lean Six Sigma. I have not read many articles that explain Lean Six Sigma clearly, so let me give it a shot.

Definition of Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that focuses on improving business performance, reducing costs, and increasing efficiency and productivity. I was fortunate to have been trained on Six Sigma by Motorola University and General Electric many years ago. I can promise you that I have used the mindset, skillset, and toolset framed up in the Lean Six Sigma DMAIC structure to help me solve problems, improve results and meet goals thousands of times in my day to day life. This is knowledge worth having, and I’ll explain why so many companies have jumped onboard.

The Lean Six Sigma DMAIC Structure

In this fast-paced world where the passage of time feels more like running on a hamster wheel than moving towards a goal, workers are exhausted and burnt out. This has resulted in more mistakes, more band aids, higher costs, and increased customer dissatisfaction. Just watch the news for a couple of days and you will see the latest recall or serious effect of this growing trend.

DMAICWebdingsI

Investors are pushing executives to do something, and many of them are—they are training managers to use the Lean Six Sigma tools, techniques and concepts to manage processes and improve results. That is the main goal of Lean Six Sigma implementation. In other words, they want to effectively deliver customer products and services (fewer mistakes) as efficiently as possible (lower cost). They want to reduce the margins of error in business processes and make it easier on workers so they don’t make expensive mistakes.

Define

It all starts by clearly defining the problem. A problem is defined as a question or situation that calls for a solution. The first step in defining the problem is to quantify the frequency of occurrence and the impact when it occurs. This is harder than it sounds. Most people want to solve the problem before the problem is even defined. Some even frame the solution in the problem definition.

For example, I once had a colleague tell me that because our website lacked a well-written FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page, our tech support department received more calls than they could handle. He assumed that the solution to the problem (high volume of calls) was a better FAQ page and he stated so in defining the problem. This is not uncommon. We all have our theories of what the solution is, but I have learned that it is best to approach a problem with as little bias as possible and let the DMAIC structure lead you to the best solution.

Measure and Analyze

The Measure and Analyze phases of the DMAIC structure involve baselining a key performance metric of the problem so there is something to measure the improvement against. In the previous example, the key metric might be the number of technical support calls not resolved in 2-4 hours or whatever the customer requires. The goal will be to reduce or eliminate the calls that are not meeting those expectations. Additionally, this is the phase where the focus shifts from the effects of the problem to the possible causes. These are called factors and the best way to find the most likely factors is to facilitate root cause analysis. It is so much easier to fix a problem when you truly know the root cause(s).

So many leaders still opt for the trial and error method of problem solving which often results in fixing a symptom. I once had a leader tell a conference room full of managers that “done is better than right.”  He truly believed that we needed to prioritize speed over accuracy and circle back to fix whatever was broken. This only works if you have lots of time and money to waste.

Improve

When you reach the Improve phase of DMAIC, you are ready to generate solutions to the problem.   Albert Einstein once said, “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” This is where critical thinking techniques come in. We need to shift our thinking with variations of brainstorming such as Random Word, Morphological Box or Reverse Thinking—techniques designed to see a problem through a fresh perspective. One of my favorites is Reverse Thinking. This is where a team of individuals spends a set amount of time (usually 10-15 minutes) discussing how the problem could get worse, before allowing their minds to identify solutions. This technique creates a shift in thinking away from those top-of-mind solutions that Einstein speaks about. It never ceases to amaze me how well this works!

Control

The last phase of DMAIC is the Control phase and it primarily deals with change management. As it turns out, we humans aren’t very good with change. We might want it in theory, but our habits get in the way.  This phase deals with some necessary steps to sustain the gains made with solving a problem. Without this phase, many of the problems return, thanks to the tendency of those who need to sustain the solution, returning to what they have done before.

The results of Lean Six Sigma are substantial and proven. Companies keep track of the numbers so they can identify the opportunities for improvement. But Lean Six Sigma goes much deeper than just reporting numbers. I encourage all readers to get your Lean Six Sigma Certification. It will skyrocket your confidence in solving problems and improving results.

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anne


Anne F. Foley, PMP, MBB, CSSBB
has been teaching Lean Six Sigma (DMAIC) and Project Management for eighteen years. Anne has served as the Director of Lean Six Sigma at IIL for the past thirteen years. She is also the author of The Passages to Peace (a novel) and a frequent contributor to Project Management, Lean Six Sigma and other various publications. Anne has a Bachelors of Science degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Kansas State University.

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