What Is Lean Six Sigma (LSS)?

By David Patrishkoff

Lean and Six Sigma are individually powerful waste reduction and quality improvement methodologies. Lean creates speed by eliminating wasteful activities in business processes. Lean projects can be done in a high speed 3-5 day Blitz (Kaizen) mode of operation. Six Sigma techniques can eliminate quality and customer dissatisfaction issues by implementing disciplined problem solving techniques to get to the true root causes of complicated problems.

Lean Manufacturing logic, tools and techniques were developed by many industrial innovators in the 19th and 20th centuries but it was mostly popularized by Toyotas successes with Lean after World War II. Lean is all about economy of motion and the reduction of waste in any business. Most of the Lean concepts are part of Industrial Engineering curriculum offered by many colleges and universities.

Six Sigma tools and techniques have been standard Quality Engineering practices for many decades but these tools and techniques were rallied under an implementation banner called Six Sigma by Motorola in the 1980s. Under the banner of Six Sigma, these quality tools were given a sequential roadmap for successful implementation. When Lean and Six Sigma are combined, they offer a powerful combined toolbox of skills that we call Lean Six Sigma (LSS). LSS can create organizational breakthroughs in speed, quality and customer satisfaction. This new toolkit is used to solve one difficult problem at a time in a business by the LSS students who apply what they learned from their training. LSS tools are not intended to be utilized on every problem, just the ones with the highest levels of complexity.

LSS uses the DMAIC problem solving methodology. The DMAIC steps are summarized below.

bull; Define: Thoroughly Define the problem to be solved, identify a problem solving team, create a project charter, find and an interested management sponsor and gather customer requirements and historical baseline data on the problem.

bull; Measure: Brainstorm what the possible root causes of the problem could be and collect accurate data on all of those possible root causes. Ensure that your data and information collection methods are accurate. Do detailed process mapping on the business processes that need to be improved, looking for waste in the processes. There are 54 forms of waste that my research and consulting experiences discovered, not just the 7-9 forms of waste identified in classic and modern-day Lean textbooks and training manuals.

bull; Analyze: Use statistical root cause verification tools to sort out the false root causes and identify the true and statistically validated root causes by using tools such as hypothesis testing, Single and Multiple Variable Regression Analysis and Design of Experiments. On projects where the battle is to improve the efficiency of business processes, detailed Value Stream Maps, Process Maps, Time and Motion studies and Spaghetti charts are among the tools of choice.

bull; Improve: Here is where the trainee and their team brainstorm to create solutions to address the confirmed root causes and test those solutions during time-limited test periods called Pilots. Before and After data is collected from the process and scrutinized to determine if there has been a marked and statistically valid improvement or not.

bull; Control: Once confirmed improvements have been verified, its time to figure out how to maintain these gains. Your solutions should not only work with your A-Team but also for your B, C and D-Team. New and improved processes need to be robust, error-proofed and documented. Employees need to be trained in the new processes and monitoring systems need to be put in place to ensure that the improvements are sustained.

There are various levels of increasing competency in LSS, starting with White Belts, then moving on to Yellow, Green, Black and Master Black Belts. The higher levels of competency are achieved with more training, which exposes students to more tools to solve more serious levels of problems. A Green and Black Belt could be exposed to over 200 concepts for problem solving during the course of their 2-5 weeks of training.

There is a huge difference between being just LSS trained and being certified as a LSS practitioner. A LSS practitioner has successfully completed the training as well as proven that they can successfully apply these techniques to solve at least one real life problem in an organization. It usually takes 2 to 6 months to solve a difficult problem with LSS techniques. A legitimate LSS project addresses a problem that no one knows how to solve. The root causes are not known or they might be highly debated. It is incredibly unrealistic to assume that a LSS student can go straight from a LSS class to applying these techniques correctly on their first project without expert coaching support. Expert coaches are required to help students navigate through the details of successful LSS implementation for their first 1 to 3 projects. After that, The LSS practitioners should be able to use the large toolkit on their own to solve serious issues with the occasional support from more experienced LSS practitioners. The challenges for a successful Lean and Six Sigma implementation program are listed below.

bull; Top level LSS training must start with top management so they know how to integrate LSS into their management systems.

bull; Expert mentoring must be in place to coach trainees while they work on their first few projects and learn how to apply the new techniques.

bull; The most effective LSS learning experiences are achieved when students bring real life problems to the class so serious LSS application discussions can be started between the trainer and the student.

bull; Not all LSS instructors have the capability to relate with employees on a practical level during training so choose your trainers wisely.

bull; Employees need to be more empowered to follow the DMAIC process to be successful.

bull; Lean and Six Sigma trainees also need to be given the extra time to implement LSS improvement projects.

bull; Management must allow workers to follow the Lean Six Sigma methodology and not rush or force them to violate the rules of the DMAIC methodology.

bull; If LSS implementation fails in a company, ask 6 questions:

1. Is management really on board or are they just tolerating and not supporting LSS?

2. Was management trained in how to support and not hinder LSS successes?

3. Were the LSS projects scoped too big?

4. Were the right people sent to the training?

5. Is your LSS training program sub-standard?

6. Are the right people coaching your LSS students during their projects?

Lean and Six Sigma are not magical tools but they are very powerful if they are provided to the right people who are empowered by management. LSS is a critical element required to achieve enterprise-wide efficiency. The merging of Lean and Six Sigma is the beginning of mergers, not the end. Other tools and techniques are being merged with LSS such as Structured Innovation tools. When top to bottom enterprise-wide efficiency improvements are on the agenda, other techniques need to be linked with LSS to achieve the goal.

These problem solving tools are based on making decisions on accurate facts and data, not the loudest opinions. They focus on blaming flawed business processes, not people or employees.

Lean and Six Sigma are referred to as passing fads from time to time but they have done a great job in reviving and popularizing the pursuit of quality and efficiency in manufacturing and non-manufacturing businesses. These techniques have contributed greatly to the high efficiency and productivity levels of many companies. When they fail to create the desired results, it usually gets back to bad deployment and / or weak support by management.

David Patrishkoff is President of E3 Extreme Enterprise Efficiencyreg; LLC. David has held various worldwide senior executive positions in the past and has trained 3,000+ professionals, worldwide from over 55 different industries ina href=http://www.eeefficiency.com/ Lean Six Sigma/a and other a href=http://www.eeefficiency.com/advanced problem solving techniques/a. He is a proven business turnaround specialist.