What is Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma is the scientific study of a process, through the capture and analysis of data, with the desire to accurately control the process to achieve a more consistent output.

Both Lean and Six Sigma approaches have their own strengths and both have a fair amount of overlapping principles. Sometimes the terms Lean and Six Sigma are used separately, sometimes interchangeably, and sometimes they are combined as Lean Six Sigma.

The most common overlapping principle is the holistic continuous improvement mindset. Both methodologies teach the necessity in having a vision and goals to improve business systems, and then a trust in the methodology to deliver the savings. Most importantly, management must invest time, resources and trust in its people to allow them to learn the methodology, do the analysis, and implement the improvements, as only after this cycle is complete will the pay-offs begin to flow.

The Lean and Six Sigma streams also require the fundamental skill of identifying the customer and to recognise that any process that does not add value to the customer is considered waste.

Traditionally, Lean training is less structured, as a person working in a Lean organisation such as Toyota would be surrounded by systems, people and a culture of Lean. Just like being in a foreign country and having to adopt a new language, Lean becomes a language that each person learns and continues to develop as they implement it on a daily basis. In contrast, and due to the complexity caused by the focus on data and statistics, Six Sigma practitioners are given formal training, are assessed, and progress through structured levels (Green, Black, Master Black).

One advantage to Lean is its ease and speed in implementation. This means paybacks are often seen sooner than Six Sigma projects. This also means that in the same period that one Six Sigma project can be completed, many Lean projects can be completed to make many smaller improvements.

One advantage to Six Sigma is its extremely robust conclusions due to its use of statistical methods to analyse real data.

Vative’s material and certification standards were developed with the help of Motorola Australia, and Vative were previously a Motorola University certifying body. Vative continue to work closely with Motorola on defining Lean and Six-Sigma standards for both their organisation and the LSSSP (an international certifying body).

Lean

Lean is the concept of efficient manufacturing/operations that grew out of the Toyota Production System in the middle of the 20th century. It is based on the philosophy of defining value from the customer’s viewpoint, and continually improving the way in which value is delivered, by eliminating every use of resources that is wasteful, or that does not contribute to the value goal. Lean is centered on preserving value with less work; with the ultimate goal of providing perfect value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste. This is done by empowering every individual worker to achieve his or her full potential, and so to make the greatest possible contribution.

The goal of empowerment is based on the idea of showing respect for people. Respect for people extends beyond just the end customer and can include the workers, suppliers, and society. For the end customer, Lean strives to maximize value delivery while minimizing waste in the process. Lean aims to maximize human potential by empowering workers to continuously improve their work. Lean leaders facilitate this goal through problem-solving training. They help workers grow professionally and personally, allowing them to take pride in their work.

At the heart of the Lean philosophy is the concept of “kaizen” or continuous improvement. The goal of continuous improvement is to eliminate all waste in the value delivery process. To do this, Lean leaders must go where value is created – commonly known as the gemba. At gemba, they often spend their time coaching and developing their people. They encourage workers to actively identify problems and look for opportunities for improvement.

Six Sigma

Developed by Motorola in the 1980s, Six Sigma has proven itself to be a practical, robust and scientific approach to process quality improvement and control. Through their internal Green Belt and Black Belt training, Motorola reported savings of $2.2 billion dollars in a four-year time frame after implementation. Motorola subsequently released the methodology openly, resulting in many corporations such as Texas Instruments and General Electric becoming champions of the process. Six Sigma has continued to grow becoming one of the most widely adopted quality methodologies in all types of businesses worldwide.

Six Sigma follows the DMAIC process, which provides a step-by-step problem solving framework. The problem is first Defined, then a Measurement is taken, the data is then Analysed, and Improvements are devised and implemented.

The new process is then Controlled to ensure the improvements are secured. The most effective implementation of Six Sigma is to processes that are:

  • Very repetitive;
  • Standardised;
  • Relatively stable or have the need to become stable, and;
  • Have measurable inputs and outputs.

As well as a highly effective problem solving methodology, the Six Sigma process places a large emphasis on the Control of processes. Statistical Process Control (SPC) is a tool within the Six Sigma toolkit which allows processes that have been brought into control to be monitored. This helps to ensure that when an abnormal change is detected, an appropriate reaction is taken early enough to prevent the creation of a defective product.

The Six Sigma process is very powerful, but it takes a significant amount of training and experience to ensure that the tools are used correctly. Every project and every process has a different set of requirements for the application of the Six Sigma toolkit, so the Six Sigma professional continues to improve their skills in every project they are involved in.
A belt framework exists (Yellow, Green, Black, Master Black) to define levels of Six Sigma understanding and there can be a significant amount of variation in capability between individuals within each belt.

The most successful examples of Six Sigma implementation are from organisations that have a controlled structure of professionals within each belt and have a culture of support for the Six Sigma methodology at all levels of management. Six Sigma projects are continually assessed, monitored and reported and individuals are supported to build their skills, while delivering cost savings for the business.

Yellow Belt

Yellow Belt training is a 1 day introduction to Six Sigma with participants intended to participate in projects (Yellow Belts are not expected to lead projects).

Green Belt

Green Belt level is where the Six Sigma journey really begins. Green Belt training is facilitated over 4 days, with the highest quality students having had an experienced (Master) Black Belt deliver the training face-to-face, and participating in a simulation to allow them to practice the skills immediately for better understanding and retention. Green Belts lead smaller improvement projects, with support from Black Belts.

Black Belt

Black Belt level is where the true power of the Six Sigma methodology is able to be unleashed. Black Belt training is facilitated over 12 days which must be provided face-to-face by an experienced Master Black Belt. The coaching provided by a Master Black Belt through a simulation exercise during the training is invaluable as it allows the translation of theory into real action and provides the student with a stepping stone to build their confidence to tackle issues outside the classroom.

Black Belts are usually dedicated full time to the training and mentoring of Green Belts and their projects in addition to leading 4-6 Black Belt projects per year.

Master Black Belts are usually dedicated full-time to the training and mentoring of Green and Black Belts and the management of Six Sigma projects within an organisation.