What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma was developed in the 1980s by a Motorola scientist. It is a collection of tools and techniques for improving process performance. It focuses on statistical improvements in a business process but advocates qualitative measures of success.

Lean Six Sigma practitioners are businesspeople who use statistics, financial analysis, and project management to improve business functionality and quality control through the review of mistakes and defectsDMAIC is the Lean Six Sigma Method’s five phases. They include measuring, analyzing, and improving.

Lean Six Sigma certification can be offered to professionals whose training levels meet specified criteria and job standards. This allows them to attain belt ranks similar to those in martial arts.

Lean Six Sigma Belt Rankings

Lean Six Sigma certification is a way for individuals to prove and solidify their professional skills. These certifications can be earned through a similar belt system to karate training. These belt levels can be:

  • White belt: Those with a white belt are not required to have any formal training. This belt provides professionals with a foundation that allows them to participate in quality control and waste reduction initiatives.
  • Yellow belt: This level offers additional training beyond that of the white belt. You can be a contributing member of a project team if you are a yellow belt. Managers with higher belts may find them useful.
  • The Level is for those who have passed the course. This training teaches them how to improve processes. Individuals who work in certain fields, such as financial or project management, can obtain the green belt certification. Many graduates go on to become project leaders.
  • Black belt: Those who have graduated from the green belt can go on to obtain the black belt certificate. Graduates who are successful can deal with more difficult jobs and projects. Through lean Six Sigma projects, they learn how to manage large-scale changes that could impact their company.
What is lean six sigma?
What is lean six sigma?

What Einstein Taught Me About Lean Six Sigma?

Should I simplify, innovate or automate when improving a process?

Hierarchy of improvements to a process

In our Lean and Six Sigma Courses, we teach the “hierarchy of improvements to a process” (Simplify, Innovate then Automate). We start by telling the students that we are going to take a baseline of how they would improve a process.

Western Union Video (the Unimproved Process)

We start by showing a short YouTube video of a complex process to certify vendors for Western Union. In the video, it takes 19 days to certify a Western Union vendor. We ask our students to take notes on the different types of waste they see in the process that contributes to this long lead time.

How would you improve the process?

After the short video is complete, we then discuss the waste that they discovered in the video. This fuels a great interaction between the students and the instructor as they talk about the complexity (or waste) in the process.

Once the students have identified most of the waste in the process, the instructor then asks them “what would you do to take 75% or more out of the process?”

You will be surprised at the answer…

Invariably, the answer comes back as “Automate the Process.” This answer does not surprise me as we live in the digital age. My response to that answer follows:

“If I were to map out the process in the video, listing each step on a post-it note, then post those on the wall to create a process map, I would have a process map that spanned several walls.” This is usually answered by nods of agreement. “I am going to give you three options to improve this process. Option #1: Do I want to add post-it notes to the wall? Option #2: Do I want to remove post-it notes and replace them with other post-it notes? Option #3: Do I want to remove post-it notes from the wall?”

The option chosen unanimously is most often Option #3.

What do the options look like in the real world?

We then talk about the first two options and what they look like in the real world.

Option #1: (Do I want to add post-it notes to the wall?)

(Do I want to add post-it notes to the wall?) shows up as checklists, increased inspection, and multiple sign-offs to mitigate a defect. This option is one of the root causes of complexity built into a process over time.

Option #2 (Do I want to remove post-it notes and replace them with other post-it notes?)

(Do I want to remove post-it notes and replace them with other post-it notes?) is basically the knee-jerk reaction to automate. We pull Post-It Notes off of the wall and replace them with other Post-It Notes (SAP, ERPs, MRPs, etc.) in an effort to improve the flow of our organization. We are basically replacing complex manual processes with complex digital processes.  The result is a process that looks different but produces the same result. We have not addressed the underlying problem of Complexity.

Einstein had a great quote that I reference when talking about Option #2: “You can’t solve problems with the same thinking that got you into them.”

Another thought that I reference that correlates with Einstein’s quote is: “What is the definition of Insanity? Doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.”

Option #3 (Do I want to remove post-it notes from the wall?)

Option #3 (Do I want to remove post-it notes from the wall?) is the cheapest and most effective solution. This is the option to “Simplify” the process. In order to do this we must separate the “waste” in the process from steps that add value. We can then prioritize the wasteful steps by the difficulty to reduce or eliminate them. As we reduce or eliminate steps, we add capacity, decrease operating costs and reduce chances for error.

Western Union Video (the Improved Process)

The class then watches a short YouTube video of the First Data process once it was improved. The goal was to reduce the lead time by 75%.

Amazing transformation!

From 19 days to 22 Minutes! This improvement came from understanding and focusing on reducing waste in the process. This improvement came from following the “hierarchy of improvements to a process” and focusing on Simplifying in lieu of Automation.