Lean Six Sigma is a popular Process Improvement methodology for helping businesses address specific operational issues and drive business performance. This article provides an initial introduction to what Lean Six Sigma is and how the DMAIC framework can be used to enable structured problem solving in your organisation.
What is Lean Six Sigma?
There are various interpretations of what Lean Six Sigma actually means from it being seen as a measurement of quality (3.4 rejects per million) or simply a methodology for optimising processes. Our view of it is data-driven, bottom-up problem solving. The definition implies identifying a problem using data to then solving it which is the essence of our core approach working with clients. So! Let's start with the problem. Lean Six Sigma uses something called DMAIC as it's framework for problem solving. This stands for:
- Define the problem
- Measure the process
- Analyse the process
- Improve the process
- Control the process
By defining the problem it allows the solution to be centred around the issue at hand, working with management and stakeholders together with real data to understand what the issue is. This could be the fact that your average sales cycle is 3 months whereas your peers' is 2 months, or that your defect rate has grown from 0.8% to 1.2%. Once the problem has been defined and understood, it is important to measure it and form a baseline against historic norms which can be used as robust key performance indicators (KPIs) to allow ongoing tracking. Analysing the problem involves identifying the root causes within the process and quantifying their impact on performance. From a practical perspective, this requires mapping the as-is (current state) process for how things are done and be able to isolate the specific steps involved in the process that are causing the problem. In order to improve the process efficiency gains need to be identified which can be tricky and will involve deep engagement with key stakeholders to select and implement the best solutions with controlled risk. Finally, once a to-be process has been developed, management should carefully setup a programme to ensure process adoption and that the new way of working is embedded. How well process control is managed in the initial few months will determine how successful the process improvement programme is for long term value realisation.
Iterative Process Improvement
A lot of companies that embark on Lean Six Sigma programmes are keen to ensure once measures have been taken to drive process improvement that this culture continues over the years to come. We recommend Measure, Analyse and Improve phases of DMAIC be built into everyday reporting and operations. This stems back to identifying the KPIs but then building them into a company's reporting together with structured analysis so that data becomes useful information to drive actions. Process improvement is not a one-off activity but rather most powerful when it leads to iterative continuous improvement. The trick is to get the programme going and embed the right culture of efficiency within the organisation.
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