5 Lean Six Sigma Concepts to Help You Reach Your Goals

By Anne Foley, MBB, CSSBB, PMP
Director of Lean Six Sigma, IIL

There is a popular quote that says the definition of insanity is doing the same things the exact same way while expecting the results to change. That is what tends to happen when we have a goal without a plan. It would be like a farmer expecting to reap a harvest without planting anything.

Here are five concepts from the Lean Six Sigma framework that will help you to reap the harvest you need in 2016. Not only have I used these concepts to make improvements to processes and results at work, I have used them to accomplish personal goals.

Concept 1 – Clearly Define the Necessary Improvement

Saying you want a better year in 2016 isn’t enough. What is it that you want to improve? Identify the starting point and a realistic goal. Do you want to increase sales or reduce billing errors?  The more specific you are about your goal, the higher your probability of achieving it.  This also applies to personal goals. For example, many people resolve to lose weight in the New Year. That’s a good start but things go south quickly when they try the same tactics that they’ve tried in years past, expecting different results.

Concept 2 – Identify the Factors That Impact Results

There is a statistical expression that you probably learned at some point of your educational journey that states y = f (x). If you were like me, you quickly forgot this expression because you had no idea how it can help problem solving and goal fulfillment. Believe it or not, this easily forgotten statistical expression is a key part of improving results.

As a quick review, y is the statistical symbol for an output. It is something measurable that you want to change. In our weight example, the “Y” would represent weight loss. X is the statistical symbol for inputs or factors that generate the “Y” output. The factors are going to be things like caloric intake, exercise, and water intake, just to name a few. So the first step is to identify all the factors that impact the result.

For example, I once ran something called a Design of Experiment (DOE) to determine what the correct factors and levels of those factors are to help me lose weight. I learned that my optimal recipe (pun intended) for weight loss is to eat 250 calories, five times a day, and drink no less than 64 ounces of water daily. Additionally, I have to walk and jog in intervals for 30 minutes per day – five days per week. For me, that results in a 2-3 pound weight loss per week. I don’t share this with you because I expect it to be your optimal recipe. The levels of these factors might be different for you but you could easily identify your own factors and levels by learning to run a Design of Experiment.  This means experimenting with key factors in a controlled environment and measuring the results.

Concept 3 – Expand your “Line of Sight”

Knowledge is the power we need to accomplish our goals. Measurement is a great way to gain that knowledge. What things do you measure? In your business, I expect you to measure revenue, labor costs and some sort of customer satisfaction metric. What about in your personal life? I know someone who sets a goal to read a certain number of books each year and keeps track of how many he reads. I once had a student who decided to measure all the factors around his family’s consumption of gasoline for their cars. He tracked how often they purchased gasoline, the number of miles per gallon they were getting, the number of times they drove somewhere per week, and where they drove and why. The information he uncovered from his data collection helped his family reduce their gasoline expenditures by $1,000 that year.

If your goal is to save more money this year the first thing to evaluate are the factors that will allow for this. The obvious ones are to reduce expenses or increase your income/revenue. Whichever one you chose should be broken down into the factors that will drive that result. In the previous example they decided to focus on the reduction of gasoline expenditures.  Others may focus on reducing food expenditures. There are many paths to the same result and each of us has the freedom to choose our own path.

Concept 4– Get Rid of Waste

Another goal of the Lean Six Sigma methodology is to reduce the amount of time wasted in trying to fulfill an objective. By reducing the waste, you speed up the process. One of my favorite techniques from Lean is utilized to create better organization in your life. It is called 5S.

  • Sort. Take a look around your work or home environment. Do you see anything that is outdated, broken, or just collecting dust because you never use it? Get rid of it.
  • Set in Order. Once you remove all the waste, evaluate what is left and find a place for each item. That place should be clearly labeled and arranged in the order of use. If the extension cord for the snow remover is located across the garage from the snow blower… behind the stack of boxes… rearrange the garage. The point of this step is to promote the most efficient flow, with the things that are used most often, located in an area that is easily accessible.
  • Shine. This is also known as systematic cleaning. At a pre-determined time – daily, weekly or monthly depending on what space you are in, clean out the space. If you notice that inventory is low, follow the process to refill. Things that you frequently use should be inventoried. There are two goals for this step. First, to ensure that the space is kept clean and free from things that could cause problems. Second, to ensure that you can clearly see when you are low in inventory so you can restock.
  • Standardize. Make it a point to put things back in the same space after each use. The rest of your colleagues or family needs to do this too. That means labeling spaces and making sure everyone knows where the most commonly used items belong.
  • Sustain. Schedule a 5S review on a regular basis. Most people do some sort of spring or fall cleaning and it’s a large undertaking. If you do this frequently, those types of full day cleanings can be spent doing something more enjoyable.

Concept 5 – Put Things in a Logical Order

When ATM machines first came out, the user got their card back prior to the money and 60% of users left their card in the machine within the first year. I guess the cliché “take the money and run” is true. Banks re-arranged the order of the process to have the card come back before the money and it reduced the problem by 90%. Things have a natural flow and you’ll have fewer defects/costs if you set up your process to match that flow.

If you are feeling hopeful about 2016, take advantage of the energy surge that the New Year brings. Apply Lean Six Sigma concepts to different aspects of your life and you will dramatically improve the likelihood of meeting your goals!

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anneAnne 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.


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.

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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.

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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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