Lean and Six Sigma were developed for manufacturing, but are gaining momentum within service industries.
“Both Lean and Six Sigma have been used almost exclusively in manufacturing. Now you’ll see black belts in all fields, from IT to financial services to health care,” says Chris Liebtag, a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt with Rea & Associates.
Smart Business spoke with Liebtag about Lean Six Sigma, a program that melds the two disciplines for maximum benefit.
What are the origins of Lean and Six Sigma?
Six Sigma originated at Motorola, but its roots can be traced through the Quality Circle Movement of the ’70s to the Total Quality Management teaching of the ’50s. It is a project-based methodology seeking quality and consistency. Lean, on the other hand, has a very complete toolkit and is mostly concerned with identifying and eliminating waste or non-value-added steps.
Lean Six Sigma combines the basic tenants of both to look at ways to remove non-value-added steps in a process and improve quality.
What types of businesses can be improved by implementing Lean Six Sigma?
It’s been very strong in health care and financial services. An emergency room might want to look at the process of admitting patients, or a medical billing organization that sends bills to multiple entities might want to determine how long it takes and ways to accelerate the process.
There must always be a business rationale; clients define the value and you’re looking to satisfy their needs and remove wasteful steps.
Should everyone in the company be trained?
It’s important to at least be exposed to the concepts. It does involve a cultural change within an organization, so implementation will require everyone to adopt the mindset of always looking for ways to continuously improve. Select employees should be trained as facilitators, but everyone should be thinking about how to better serve clients.
The results likely will be increased customer satisfaction, an enhanced business reputation and a competitive advantage. If you can deliver your product or service faster than competitors at a higher quality or even a lower price because of operational efficiency, it provides an enormous advantage.
Does that require Lean Six Sigma?
Efficiency and customer satisfaction initiatives can be tackled without Lean and Six Sigma. However, these techniques have been proven to be very effective when it comes to controlling costs and improving satisfaction among clients and employees. Employees are empowered to better their work environment, which eliminates turnover and produces a happier workforce. In turn, that leads to improved customer satisfaction. Lean Six Sigma provides a framework to generate these gains.
Does Lean Six Sigma need to be adjusted to fit the company?
The most successful projects are tailored specifically to address industry- or business-specific circumstances. The 30,000-foot view concepts and methodologies can be applied almost universally — define a problem, measure the variety of steps within that problem or process, and then analyze and improve it. However, the best results are produced by combining the tools and methods of Lean and Six Sigma with industry expertise. That industry expertise component also helps generate buy-in among employees.
How important is it to set goals for improvement?
You should always start with the end in mind, even if that goal might not be immediately achievable. If you want to reduce costs by 10 percent, process changes are designed to produce that result. You might only get to 8 percent — that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a worthwhile enterprise, it just presents an opportunity to continually improve toward that goal.
The idea behind Lean Six Sigma is continuous improvement. It isn’t designed to be a ‘one-and-done’ initiative. It’s a change in culture whereby employees embrace the mindset that the business needs to get a little better each year and sustain the gains. Lean Six Sigma is more than a technique or a process, it’s a discipline and approach to running your business. ●
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