Why Does Lean Need Six Sigma?

As robust as Lean is for dealing with lead time and non-value added costs, there are several critical problems that generally are not addressed in the seminal books on Lean.  Six Sigma provides robust solutions to these problems, which explains why Lean needs Six Sigma.Lean needs Six Sigma

First, Lean does not explicitly prescribe the culture and infrastructure needed to achieve and sustain results. Most Lean resources are mute on the infrastructure needed to successfully implement Lean initiatives and achieve and sustain Lean speed. It is true that many companies that have implemented Lean have been driven to develop an infrastructure similar to that of Six Sigma, but they did it as hoc, rather than use the prescriptive structure contained in Six Sigma. Companies that only apply Lean are sometimes unable to deploy it across the whole organization and sustain results because they lack the well-defined Six Sigma cultural infrastructure to generate senior management engagement, formalize training, secure dedicated resources, and so on. Thus the progress of Lean has been dependent on individual initiative. Many successful Lean implementations regress when a new manager takes over.  Six Sigma is less susceptible (though not immune to) this problem: it asserts that there is only one set of stakeholders whose interests alone must be served. Every book on Six Sigma discusses, in detail, how to sustain infrastructure; virtually no book on Lean even addresses the issue.

Second, Customer Critical-to-Quality needs are not front and center. In requiring the identification of what is “value-added” in a process, Lean does incorporate some element of customer focus, but it is introspective in its approach. The person creating the value stream map makes the decision as to whether an activity is value-add or not. In contrast, Six Sigma prescribes numerous places in improvement methods where the voices of the customers and suppliers must be included. It uses Customer Critical-to-Quality as a key metric and requires a means of capturing the VOC in the Define phase of DMAIC. Simply put, the customer is not front and center in Lean, yet is ever-present in Six Sigma. Most descriptions of Lean methodologies dive into the Improve phase (in DMAIC terminology), going right to solutions and jumping over Define and Measure. Without a prescribed Define step to understand how big the problem is, and a Measure phase to quantify the size versus the resources, people often have bitten off more Lean than they can chew, or lost themselves in a frenzy of Lean improvement events.

Third, Lean does not recognize the impact of variation. Lean does not possess the tools to reduce variation and bring a process under statistical control. Six Sigma views elimination of variation as key and provides a whole arsenal for attacking variation (from statistical process control to design of experiments). For example, allowing an acceptable defect rate of 2% to move to a 10% defect rate can increase lead times and WIP substantially. In other words, the speed and cost gains of Lean can be erased instantly by an increase in variation. An increase in defects is not the only source of variation that increases lead times and WIP. Variation in the demand for an offering and variation in the time it takes to perform an activity that creates that offering both have a major impact on process lead time, which Lean does not directly address. Variation has little effect on processes operating at low capacity. But most service organizations function at or near full-capacity, and that is when variation has a major impact on how long the work (or a customer) has to wait ‘in queue.” Customer-facing service processes often experience a lot of variation in demand because there is no control over when customers will contact us. The lesson? The larger the variation in input, the more excess capacity is needed. If there is either low variation or demand can be controlled in some way (which is more likely achieved with an internal process), then one can operate at a higher capacity without risking excessive delays.

In conclusion, anything that reduces productivity rates will result in long lead times, as people tend to remain “locked on” on type of task longer than is required to meet immediate customer demand. Lead times can be dramatically reduced by using Lean tools to allow task transitions with minimal impact on productivity. One of the primary sources of the learning curve is the complexity of the tasks performed. The larger the number of different tasks, the less often they will be repeated, and the steeper the learning curve. Thus, complexity reduction prevents, while Lean Six Sigma cures, the learning curve problem.

Contents of this article taken from the book “Lean Six Sigma for Service” by Michael L. George.


April 30, 2017 at 10:42 am Leave a comment

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April 30, 2017 at 10:13 am Leave a comment

Strategic Leadership –What’s Your Style?

Strategic Leadership is the ability of influencing others to voluntarily make decisions that enhance the prospects for the organization’s long-term success while maintaining long-term financial stability.

Continue Reading March 19, 2017 at 6:59 pm Leave a comment

How to Achieve Operational Excellence

Part 1 of 2: Understanding Operational Excellence

Operational Excellence is the foundation of business growth, profitability and competitive advantage. An organization can only begin to forge new growth strategies and business models after it has developed a mature capacity for managing its current business operations effectively and efficiently in the course of meeting the needs of its customers/stakeholders as no one can grow a profitable business on an unsecured foundation.

Based on the criteria of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, Operational Excellence must be demonstrated by results, not just by words. About half of the 1,000 points associated with the Baldrige award are results focused. In order to maximize the degree to which these 450 points are attained, an organization must show sustained improvement over time, in all areas of importance, against ‘best in class’ organizations.

Operational Excellence is therefore demonstrated by results that reflect sustained improvement over time, improvement in all areas of importance (both performance areas and segments within each area), and performance at a level that is at, or superior to, ‘best in class’ organizations. Common areas of importance for a cost center are safety, quality, people, and cost. Profit centers add the revenue generation performance, processes, and information and technology areas to this mix. Common segments within each performance area include employee groups, facilities, departments, and external customer types. Organizations today are seeking to be operationally excellent for three key reasons: costs, customers, and competitors. They are continuously seeking the best ways to achieve operational excellence (lower costs, improve flexibility and speed to market, quality and reliability, and customer/stakeholder satisfaction and value. By effectively analyzing and managing operations, organizations can produce the right products with the right features at the right cost.

Part 2 of 2: Achieving Operational Excellence, to be continued…

Question: Does your organization have Operational Excellence initiatives in place? 

March 19, 2017 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

Leveraging Lean Manufacturing with Six Sigma to Improve Business Performance

Separately, Lean and Six Sigma have changed the face of the manufacturing business. Six Sigma, the business management strategy that allows operations managers to improve quality by identifying and removing errors, uses a set of quality management methods. Lean manufacturing, the production practice focused on removing waste, also helps you increase operational efficiency in your business. Both six sigma and lean manufacturing encourage continuous improvement in terms of producing better products, processes or services. In manufacturing, this can include decreased product development cycles, fewer product defects, increased productivity and better utilization to improve  business performance.

Ensure your employees acquire skills and knowledge regarding six sigma and lean manufacturing strategies. Numerous resources are available for this, including online courses. Make sure your program gets sponsorship from your organization’s executive leadership before beginning any implementation; without acceptance and understanding from the company’s leaders, the program cannot function effectively.

Establish roles, such as champions, black belts and green belts to work in a six sigma framework (organizational structure). The define, measure, analyze, improve and control phase method focuses on problem solving. Champions typically define the project scope. Black belt personnel usually act as project leaders. Green belt staff act as team members and work to enable process improvements.

Focus on producing high quality products and establishing metrics based reliable and verifiable statistics. Reducing product defects and eliminating practices that cause waste combine to improve bottom line results.

Incorporate feedback from customers regarding quality and needs. Understand the total product usage as well as variations. Review customer requirements to identify improvement opportunities.

Use process mapping and flow charting techniques to analyze how work flows and better understand conditions and process interactions. Conduct root cause analysis to investigate defect incidents. Determine why problems or accidents occur and then institute permanent corrective action.

Minimize costs by reducing the lead time (the amount of time between the beginning of work and the end) of any process. Lower the number of things in process. Use this strategy in procurement, product development or manufacturing. Eliminating the non-value-added costs reduces your overall expenses and improves business performance. Reducing setup times can significantly improve business performance.

Use lean strategies and tools to increase the speed and efficiency of your business operations. Use six sigma strategies to reduce defects and improve quality. By using both strategies you can produce products more quickly, be more responsive to customer needs and feedback, reduce product defects and operate more efficiently and cost effectively.

Lean Six Sigma is the most dynamic program for streamlining the performance of both your production department and your back office, and providing you with the cost reduction and quality improvements you need to stay one step ahead of your competitors.

In 2017, with the promises of the new Presidential administration to bring manufacturing jobs back to the USA, are you ready to hit the ground running to produce your best quality product as efficiently as possible thereby keeping your competitive edge?

 This article contains excerpts of an article written by Tara Duggan and originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle (Chron).

January 9, 2017 at 3:20 pm Leave a comment

Lean Manufacturing: Eliminating the 8 Hidden Wastes – Part 8 of 8. The E in DOWNTIME

Excess processing is doing anything more than the minimum required to transform material into an acceptable product. It is effort that adds no value to the service or product from the customer’s viewpoint. After all, it is the customer, either internal or external, that needs to be satisfied. Clarifying customer requirements and changing the manufacturing or service orders causes different costs. If caught too late, this leads to re-work or even the rejection of shipped goods. This includes processing beyond customer values or taking extra steps that are not required. Whatever the cause, the result is predictable: wasted money, time, effort and resources. The only option is to closely examine the processes and correct them without sacrificing quality.

LOOK FOR poor process control, lack of standards, lack of or poor communication, overdesigned equipment, undefined true requirements, human error, redundant approval or inspection, non-standard business processes, re-entering data, just-in-case logic, “Not Invented Here and / or “Not My Job” syndromes, lack of teamwork or lack of adequate training.

REDUCE BY using Lean tools such as Value Added Flow Charts, Statistical Process Control (SPC), 5-Why Analysis, A3 Reports and Total Productive Maintenance.

The Value-Added Flow Chart is a tool to improve cycle times and productivity by visually separating value-adding from non-value-adding activities. Value Added Flow Charts give teams vision into where processes are creating value and where potential improvement efforts should be targeted. The charts are effective at showing current state and improvements resulting from projects. Teams can understand the value of process steps and identify waste in various forms. This tool is the cornerstone of any process improvement toolbox.

Statistical Process Control (SPC) is based on the analysis of data and requires, like any program, support from the top, and a great deal of coordination. If done successfully SPC can greatly improve a process’s ability to be controlled and analyzed during process improvement projects. The process will be most effective if senior managers make it part of their daily routine to review charts and make comments. Some practitioners share initial charts when they review them to provide visual support. Charts that are posted on the floor make the best working tools-they are visible to operators, and are accessible to problem-solving teams. While the initial resource cost of SPC can be substantial, the ROI gained from the information and knowledge the tool creates proves to be a successful activity time and time again.

The 5-Why Analysis method is used to move past symptoms and understand the true root cause of a problem. It is said that only by asking “Why?” five times successively can you delve into a problem deeply enough to understand the ultimate root cause. By the time you get to the 4th or 5th why, you will likely be looking squarely at management practices. This methodology is closely related to the Cause and Effect (Fishbone) diagram and can be used to complement the analysis necessary to complete a Cause and Effect diagram. 5-Why analysis is more than just an iterative process or a simple question asking activity. The purpose behind a 5-why analysis is to get the right people in the room to discuss all of the possible root causes of a given defect in a process. Many times teams will stop once a reason for a defect has been identified. These conclusions often do not get to the root cause. A disciplined 5-why approach will push teams to think outside the box and reach a root cause where the team can actually make a positive difference in the problem instead of merely treating symptoms.

A3 Reports are one page reports used for documenting the necessary information needed for progress reporting and decision making. They simplify project reporting because they pull from otherwise numerous and detailed progress reports and extensive background analysis. A3 reports condense the information to a single page and visually communicate to the reader using graphs, charts and succinct bullet points. Also referred to as “1 pagers”, the A3 report got its name from Toyota Motor Company and refers to the metric paper size that the report is produced on (equivalent to a paper size of 11 inches by 17 inches). This report can be characterized as a Lean tool best suited for solving relatively short duration Kaizen improvement activities. An A3 Report is comparable to today’s computerized “dashboard”.

Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) was developed in the 1970’s as a method of involving machine operators in the preventive maintenance of their machines. This was a reaction to increasing specialization and centralization of the maintenance function that had crated division of labor barriers between operators and the maintenance of their machines and equipment. TPM involves both the operators and maintenance crews working together to improve the overall operation of the equipment. The operators are around the equipment all of the time and should be the first to identify noisy or vibrating motors, squeaky fan belts or chains and oil and air leaks. Operators need to understand the basic standards for their equipment and check it closely and routinely to assure it meets those standards. As soon as a minor defect in operation is identified, maintenance needs to be notified. Catching problems early and fixing them is the key to preventing catastrophic failure or complete shutdown of expensive equipment. Equipment reliability is a cornerstone of a lean manufacturing system. With little or no buffer inventories, equipment failures directly impact production volumes and customer service; therefore, effective preventive maintenance is a critical activity. By bringing together people from all areas concerned with equipment into a comprehensive PM system, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is raised to the highest possible level. This requires the support and cooperation of everyone from top management on down.

How much profit is your company losing due to non-value added processing activities?

Watch for upcoming articles on Lean Manufacturing and the remaining Hidden Wastes of DOWNTIME…

September 15, 2012 at 11:46 am 2 comments

Lean Manufacturing: Eliminating the 8 Hidden Wastes – Part 7 of 8. The M in DOWNTIME

Motion waste is the unnecessary movement of people, product or equipment that adds no value to a process. Workers walk back and forth from the work area to supply, around unneeded equipment or perform redundant motions that can be eliminated to speed up a process. This can be one of the most frustrating wastes for workers and management. The lost time and production rob most processes of opportunities to function efficiently and make the employees work harder. While most processes are not designed to have motion wastes in them, it is one of the first wastes to creep in and cause disruption.

LOOK FOR excessive walking, moving or handling.

REDUCE BY developing and then examining a spaghetti diagram and Current State and Future State Value Stream Map (VSM) of every process to fully understand operator, equipment or material movement. Implement a Standard Work Practices program and develop an Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) record.

A Spaghetti diagram is a simple visual tool to demonstrate the flow of material, flow of information, and flow of money in a process, and is used to expose waste AND opportunity. The word “spaghetti” is descriptive because it describes flow that is not easily understood, cannot easily be followed, or if the flow is literally all over the place. It represents a point of departure, that is, what does the current state look like and what are the exact improvements needed to be made. Put another way, a spaghetti diagram is a visual representation of how bad things really are. Sometimes, through, poor thinking and poor choices, they are not just representations of how things are, but they can be representations of what we have created; sometimes we turn our processes into spaghetti diagrams. Remember, the spaghetti diagram process is not just completing a diagram but using it to fuel decisions that will improve the workplace. Ensure that operators are involved in the activity. In the results, look for large distances and repetitive movements; consider why they are made and what can be done to improve. Optimizing the workplace can only be carried out when its weak points are known.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is documenting an overhead view of a process that looks all the way from the finished product back through a process to the raw materials or request for action (information) which is where most processes start. VSM can help to clearly understand and communicate all of the steps in a process and also allows you to identify those hidden wastes that exist within a process. From the raw materials storage to delivery of a finished product or service, materials flow throughout a process and are handled many people and machines. Information also flows all the way from initial request for a product or service through to the customer reception of the product or service. Historically, most flow charting or mapping processes did not include this crucial element called information flow. VSM not only includes information flow, but also shows how it is intertwined with material flow, machines and manpower.

Standardized Work Practices allow process steps to be decomposed and optimized into simple easy to follow steps that any operator can easily perform. Standardized practices allow operators and workers to perform tasks the same way each time by combining and using all resources effectively such as time, technology, tools on shadow boards and raw materials. By breaking down any process into clearly defined tasks, one can achieve consistency and increase throughput and OEE. These standard tasks or sequence of tasks should be well measured and documented into Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and simpler tasks or standards developed into one point lessons, which form the basis for training new operators in performing a task and as a performance and quality measurement tool.

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is a method of measuring productivity performance. More specifically, it is a statistical metric to determine how efficiently a machine is running. The four bits of information required to calculate OEE are total staff time and the machine’s efficiency, quality and availability. The result is the value that a machine contributes to the production process. OEE is a globally recognized best practice measure to systematically improve processes for higher efficiencies and better productivity, ultimately leading to lower manufacturing costs and higher profitability. It is frequently used as a key metric in a Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) program.

Are Motion Wastes walking away with your customer’s and your company’s profits?

Watch for upcoming articles on Lean Manufacturing and the remaining Hidden Wastes of DOWNTIME…

September 10, 2012 at 8:49 am 5 comments

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