kick-start process improvement using lean six sigma tools & techniques

by | Aug 19, 2022 | process excellence

Our most recent #whiteboardwednesday was all about Lean Six Sigma and how its methodologies can be adopted by any business to improve process performance. We’ve highlighted some of the key tools and techniques that can help you kick-start your process improvement journey.

what is lean six sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a fusion of two related disciplines, Lean and Six Sigma, and its ultimate goal is to remove waste and reduce process variation.

Lean focuses on adding value to the customer by removing waste without sacrificing quality, and the relentless pursuit of perfection through Kaizen, or continuous improvement. Kaizen is a philosophy of small and simple improvements that involve all employees across an organisation.

Six Sigma is a data-driven approach and methodology for reducing process variation and defects, and usually focuses on larger process improvements. Because of this, many of Six Sigma’s tools are statistical in nature and action is taken based on fact rather than opinion.

 

map your processes

How we think the process runs is often different from how it actually runs, and people often disagree as to what the process is – we need to make the process visible and get consensus. A Level 3 or Improvement View map is the best way to highlight opportunities for improvement within your process.

Start by documenting the process in its current state and add detail and data to the process steps i.e. inputs, outputs, times, resources, pain points etc. to make any process inefficiencies visible.

identify process waste

Waste is anything other than the minimum amount of time, material, people, energy etc. needed to add value to the product or service you are providing.

There are 7 types of waste and often made visible simply by observing the process, or by mapping the process in detail.

Waste 1 Icon

Transport

The movement of parts or material

Waste 2 Icon

Inventory

Excess parts, material, data etc

Waste 3 Icon

Motion

The movement of people or equipment

Waste 4 Icon

Waiting

Non-productive time due to lack of material, people, or equipment

Waste 5 Icon

Overproduction

Producing more than the next step needs or more than the customer buys

Waste 6 Icon

Over-processing

Activities and information that doesn’t add value

Waste 7 Icon

Defects

Making, handling and correcting mistakes

Waste 4 Icon

Waiting

Non-productive time due to lack of material, people, or equipment

Waste 5 Icon

Overproduction

Producing more than the next step needs or more than the customer buys

Waste 6 Icon

Over-processing

Activities and information that doesn’t add value

Waste 7 Icon

Defects

Making, handling and correcting mistakes

listen to your customer

It is important to understand the Voice of the Customer to establish the Critical-to-Customer requirements (CTCs) of your processes and to ensure that you processes always meet customer expectations. Techniques to gather voice of the customer data include:

Customer 1 Icon

Customer interviews

Customer 2 Icon

Online or in person customer survey

Customer 3 Icon

Monitoring website behaviour

Customer 4 Icon

Recorded call data

Customer 5 Icon

Live chat data

Customer 1 Icon

Customer interviews

Customer 2 Icon

Online or in person customer survey

Customer 3 Icon

Monitoring website behaviour

Customer 4 Icon

Recorded call data

Customer 5 Icon

Live chat data

A Kano Diagram helps us understand how our process meets customer requirements and allows us to differentiate between and prioritise customer requirements.

get to the root of the problem

Root Cause Analysis is a process for identifying potential causes of issues within a process so that we can respond appropriately and systematically to solve the problem. It is based on the idea that there should be an effective way to prevent problems before they occur and have an impact on process performance.

The 5 Whys method involves asking yourself why a problem has occurred until an appropriate level of root cause has been identified. Each time you ask why, the answer becomes the fundamental of the next why until you find the source of the problem.

A cause-and-effect (fishbone or Ishikawa) diagram organises possible root causes into categories that originate from the initial problem, and is probable the most widely used Lean Six Sigma root cause analysis tool. A cause-and-effect diagram may also have additional sub-causes derived from each category. In a manufacturing environment, we can use 6 categories beginning with M:

In a transactional environment, the 6 categories are People, Policy, Procedure, Place, Measurement and Environment.

Lean Six Sigma tools can used by any business to identify problems within a process and implement solutions. Once an improvement has been implemented, it is important to continue using techniques like the above to sustain the change and ensure that your processes continue to perform at their best. 

Nina Halliday

As a Business Analyst, I work with clients to understand, simplify and optimise their processes, using a Lean continuous improvement methodology.
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