Lean Six Sigma (LSS) is one of the most powerful process improvement methods ever developed. It combines the process effectiveness benefits of Six Sigma (created at Motorola in 1986), with the efficiency benefits of Lean (developed by Toyota). LSS benefits all types of organizations: small to large, service and manufacturing, public and private sector. Typical benefits include faster, higher quality output, less waste, lower costs, reduced confusion and smoother flow. Benefits are usually realized within 8-12 weeks of application with some early wins even occurring during training.
LSS is all about processes. A process is a series of repeatable tasks leading to an outcome. That outcome may be a decision, a product, a database update, a delivery, etc. You are surrounded by processes in your business on a daily basis. Many people feel the pain of processes that are too slow, confusing, have a lot of defective output or waste, scrap and rework. If any of this sounds familiar, read on.
Lean Six Sigma uses a proven five-step method called DMAIC (Define – Measure – Analyze – Improve – Control). Think of DMAIC as a “recipe” or a set of blueprints that guides you in how to improve broken organizational processes. The good news? It’s quick to learn and can be applied immediately.
Spend more than two minutes in the world of LSS, and you’ll hear about “belts”. The belt metaphor is used to indicate the levels of training people have. Traditionally, Belts include White, Yellow, Green, Black and Master Black Belt. Each “belt” invests more time in training, becoming proficient in broader and deeper areas of the Lean Six Sigma body of knowledge. The higher the belt, the more tools they know, and the larger and more complex problems they can tackle.
During training, candidates learn to align the right methods with the right problems. LSS projects can range from simple quick win projects people do by themselves to several-day Lean Kaizen events. Green Belt projects are broader and typically take a (part time) effort of 8-12 weeks, while more complex Black Belt projects can take 4-6 months.
In any LSS project there are many different tools that can be used to reduce waste and excess variation in process output. Candidates learn a variety of graphical, statistical, logical, and practical tools in their training. Most importantly, they learn to apply common sense in using them! While there are easily over 100 improvement tools one could learn, many projects are successfully completed using only a handful of the more common tools.
The financial benefits of LSS are well-documented and amazing. It’s not uncommon for a client to break even on their training investment after 3-6 months, and achieve a 10:1 Return on the Training Investment. In large organizations, Green Belt projects can net a $25,000 – $50,000 financial impact and Black Belt projects often see over $200,000 in benefits. It’s also good for the people being certified. According to the 2014 American Society for Quality Salary Survey, Six Sigma Green Belts in the U.S. earned $8,824 more than their counterparts without Six Sigma training.
DId You Know?
The "Six" in Lean Six Sigma refers to a "Sigma Level". Sigma Levels are a way of measuring a process and tell you the extent to which your process output is meeting Customer requirements.
For example: in a 1.5-Sigma process only 50% of the output meets requirements (with the other 50% being defective!). In a 3-Sigma process, 93.3% of the output meets requirements.
A 6-Sigma process can boast that 99.9997% of its output meets requirements, or only 3.4 defects per million - darn close to perfect!
- JCG Management Consulting