How Lean Six Sigma can increase your business's productivity

Ed Siurek, Director of Quality, Corporate College

Has your company found it more difficult to compete in today’s marketplace? With the increased economic pressures and a more informed customer base, many organizations find it increasingly difficult to meet or maintain business objectives.
Six Sigma is a business management strategy initially developed by Motorola in 1986. Lean manufacturing is the result of years of practical operational efficiency tools developed by Toyota, often referred to as the Toyota Production System (TPS). Business practitioners have melded Six Sigma ideas with lean manufacturing to yield a methodology termed Lean Six Sigma. Put simply, it seeks to eliminate process variation and defects while optimizing the process by eliminating or reducing waste and increasing efficiency.
“Lean Six Sigma is a systematic approach using analytical tools to identify and remove problems within a process,” says Ed Siurek, director of Quality for Corporate College. “It creates efficiencies, drives productivity and reduces costs — all things companies are looking to achieve in a struggling economy.”
Smart Business spoke with Siurek about Lean Six Sigma, who should be involved within an organization and how the model should be evaluated.
Why is it important for companies to be aware of Lean Six Sigma?
In today’s global economy, consumers have become better informed and increased demands for higher quality, more consistent products at a lower price. Companies have been forced to perform at higher levels with the same or limited staff. Reduction of waste in the form of defects, operational inefficiencies and nonvalue-added activities is one place companies have turned. An additional benefit to reducing variation and defects is higher customer satisfaction. Having happy customers typically results in repeat business.
Why is Lean Six Sigma effective when compared to other management programs?
Plain and simple, it uses data. Lean Six Sigma uses a defined methodology when looking at process optimization. Part of this methodology involves collecting process data and using tools to pinpoint problems using statistical analysis. The approach takes into account variables that occur and may not necessarily be obvious. These process influencers are often not even considered when using other continuous improvement methods because they are not seen as directly involved in a process. Often management thinks they know what’s wrong with a process. But until they analyze the problem, it’s hard to identify the true root cause.
Is there an optimal time for an organization to implement a Lean Six Sigma program?
Any organization can see the benefits of Lean Six Sigma tools, but until an organization makes the conscious decision to deploy the program, the benefits will only be minimal and may not be sustainable. Organizations seeing the biggest benefits from Lean Six Sigma are those that implement the program before they ‘need’ to do it. Being proactive can allow companies to develop efficiencies and, more important, the culture necessary for continuous improvement. Implementing when it becomes a necessity is still very effective. Organizations must be diligent in the commitment and planning of their implementation to obtain the maximum benefits.
Who should be involved within the organization?
Lean Six Sigma is intended to be an enterprisewide program. Management must champion the different projects so they can help with major decisions and clear roadblocks. But the reality is that the people who are really analyzing and fixing the process are those who are doing the work — they are the closest to it. You also want to have individuals involved who are adept at identifying collateral damage. If the process you’re working on negatively impacts another process, you can create a bigger problem for yourself. This doesn’t mean every employee needs to be a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, but every employee should be introduced to the basic concepts and principles. Individuals will then need to be selected to be trained to various levels within Lean Six Sigma, depending on their role in continuous improvement projects.
How should an organization get started with Lean Six Sigma?
First, make a commitment. Management needs to make sure they understand the program and commit to continuous improvement. Initially, many employees are afraid Lean Six Sigma will become the ‘program of the month.’ When implemented that way, it will fail. As management gets involved and employees see the personal benefits to their daily work, the program begins to take hold. Employees start to look for ways to optimize their work and others want to learn how they can benefit. At that point, the program has started to truly take hold and the benefits will quickly increase.
How should the effectiveness of Lean Six Sigma be evaluated?
Every project should have clearly defined measurables. Spending the time in the first phase of a project allows an organization to understand the process, the project scope and potential influencing factors. When evaluating a process, it is common for a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt to ask the process owner, ‘What’s your biggest pain?’ or ‘If you could fix one issue with the process, what would it be?’ Taking initial measurement of the process ‘as is’ is critical to understanding the impact of any continuous improvement project.
Effectiveness should be measured in defect reduction, time savings, monetary measures or anything else that can show direct benefit to the increased efficiency of the process.
Using Lean Six Sigma as an organizational tool for continuous improvement allows companies to constantly seek to minimize problems, increase efficiencies and maintain the highest levels of productivity, even during tough economic times.
Ed Siurek is director of Quality for Corporate College. Reach him at (216) 987-2828 or [email protected].