How to Implement Lean Six Sigma in 5 (rather large but) Easy Steps

In my previous blog, we discussed the Lean approach to eliminating waste in work processes.  This conversation is extremely relevant and timely given the Government of Canada’s endorsement of Lean as the methodology of choice for streamlining work processes.  In fact many functional teams across Ottawa are already embarking on lean initiatives as part of their business improvement efforts, and/or in relation to Destination 2020 action plans. Now it’s time to discuss the Lean Six Sigma approach.

The Lean Six Sigma approach to process improvement shares many affinities with the Lean approach, but is normally applied to projects that rely more on data, measurement, and findings of statistical significance to guide team members in the right direction.  Let’s face it, sometimes the stakes can get pretty high when implementing organizational improvements.  For example:

  • an organization may require bottom line financial results in a timely manner; and/or
  • an organization may be facing the loss of key customers and needs to make measurable changes to keep them.

Perhaps more relevant within government departments and agencies, are those situations where key stakeholders have conflicted ideas around what should be done to improve things and agreement seems out of reach.  Knowing how to move things forward can be challenging.

In all of these cases, people’s perceptions about what should be done to improve things (although very important) may not be enough.  Lean Six Sigma provides that additional layer of statistical relevance (and a step-by-step process) to allow organizations to uncover the most significant causes of variation in their work processes.

Data rich directorates, such as IM/IT, have many performance metrics that are reported on a regular basis.  This data is not only relevant to IM/IT organizations, but is available for all business lines to understand their levels of usage and proficiency of various workflows, processes and tools.  That’s just the data that is available, who knows what further data could be accessed!  Why not consider working with those directorates in your organization that have organization-wide data.  Taking a collaborative approach and breaking down the silos that exist across many organizations is a key step in achieving real change.  It could also open the doors wide to your use of Lean Six Sigma as the preferred methodology to drive your improvement efforts!

The Lean Six Sigma 5-Step Approach

The 5 steps are organized according to the DMAIC – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control process steps normally associated to Six Sigma, but also relevant to any data-driven improvement approach.

  1. Define
  • Define the project (problem statement, metrics, SIPOC – Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers, Requirements)
  • Define the business needs (metrics) and the estimated benefits (hard, soft)
  • Refine the scope (collect VOC – Voice of the Client, link financial measures to project objectives) and plan the project (detailed project plan or gantt)
  1. Measure
  • Define project metrics and complete run charts for understanding data significance
  • Conduct value stream mapping to document processes (focus on process steps & cycle times)
  • Identify and prioritize major opportunities through brainstorming (focus on causes of variation)
  1. Analyze
  • Conduct MSA – Measurement System Analysis (if applicable) to determine the system’s validity
  • Create and analyze flowcharts and SOPs – Standard Operating Procedures (consider benchmarking information)
  • Analyze major opportunities through cause-and-effect matrices
  • Conduct FMEA – Failure Mode and Effects Analysis to further validate causes of variation
  1. Improve
  • Define and socialize improvement ideas by using visualization of data techniques (graphs)
  • Conduct inference statistical tests, confidence interval calculations of individual KPOVs – Key Process Output Variables, and conduct hypothesis tests where required
  • Gain agreement on findings and document optimum process settings, conditions, and KPIVs – Key Process Input Variables
  • Define error-proofing processes and/or improvements to workflow using additional lean tools (E.g. 5S)
  1. Control
  • Implement new processes, new metrics, and control and error-proofing measures
  • Complete operational and financial validations
  • Measure results and share successes
  • Verify improvements over the longer term

 

Following the five steps is recommended, however not all activities within each of the steps is required.  Applying Lean Six Sigma always requires a degree of fine-tuning and customization to suit the specific organizational environment.

Whether you are selecting a Lean or Lean Six Sigma Approach, the most important thing to remember is that the project will only be successful if the right people are engaged and actively advocating for its success.  Both approaches share the same 3 key requirements: dedicate the right people to the project team, engage the right stakeholders in the approach; and have the right senior leaders at the helm (as discussed in my previous blog).

Given the current workloads in any given workplace, time is of the essence.  It has never been more important to adopt proven approaches and step-by-step processes.  Solid and credible guidance is golden these days.  Adopting a Lean or Lean Six Sigma Approach greatly increases your chances of achieving truly streamlined and improved work processes.


Kathy Roy has implemented business transformation and change management projects in complex organizations for over two decades. She has worked with major companies, both public and private, and with numerous business sectors in both Canada and the United States. She is part of Systemscope's Strategic Business Consulting practice.


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