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Lean Six Sigma: What You Need to Know

By Lisa Derby Oden, Project Development Coordinator

Would you like to improve productivity, reduce costs, boost client confidence in your business, increase credibility and stakeholder trust, and reduce employee turnover and training costs? Then Lean Six Sigma is for you. Are you wondering what Lean Six Sigma is and whether you need to have a background in both? The truth is that both methodologies work towards the same ultimate goal: eliminating waste and creating efficient processes. They simply take different approaches on how to accomplish this. Lean focuses on analyzing workflow to reduce cycle time and eliminate waste, as well as strives to maximize value to the customer while using as few resources as possible. Six Sigma strives for near perfect results that will reduce costs and achieve higher levels of customer satisfaction.

MassMEP's Project Manager and Master Black Belt, Kathleen Strozyk, summarizes the main difference between Lean and Six Sigma. "Lean looks at ways to increase flow while Six Sigma focuses on achieving consistent results. One similarity between Lean and Six Sigma is that both have demonstrated that it is possible to dramatically improve the quality of your products and customer experience by improving processes. When most companies set out to improve inefficient processes they feel like must choose only one method going forward. Ultimately, the issue may not be whether you should choose Lean or Six Sigma but how you can take the elements you like from each and apply them to solve problems in your own business. Lean Six Sigma is not just for mid to large companies - companies of all sizes can benefit from its methodologies and techniques."

The goals of Lean Six Sigma can be concisely stated as:

  • Delighting customers by delivering higher quality levels in less time;
  • Improving processes by eliminating defects and focusing on how the work flows through the process;
  • Sharing ideas through teamwork so problems can be solved;
  • Working together for maximum gain developing skills for collaboration; and
  • Using fact-based decision making.

Developing employees through the "belt" levels enables a company to adopt Lean Six Sigma. Ideally all employees in a company should have an understanding of the problem solving process of Lean Six Sigma to participate and support problem solving teams. Belts start with White and progress through Yellow, Green, and Black Belt.

  • White Belt is an introductory level of the concepts that allows an employee to support and participate in problem-solving tasks.
  • Yellow Belts know Lean Six Sigma specifics as well as how and where to apply them.
  • Green Belts understand advanced analysis and can resolve problems that affect quality. They lead projects and assist Black Belts with data collection and analysis, and are also usually assigned part-time on a project. They are usually process leaders or work within processes.
  • Black Belts implement improvement projects that are much more complex and strategically-important to the business, often times cross-functional or requiring significant data or leadership skills to accomplish.  Black belts are often the company experts and agents of change. They can also provide training and mentor Green Belt and Yellow Belts in addition to leading projects.  Black Belt roles are not uncommonly full time positions.

MassMEP's Project Manager and Black Belt, Henry Hall shares an example of a Lean Six Sigma project.

Any successful 6-sigma project will lead to a better understanding of the Key Process Input Variables (KPIV's) and their effect on the Key Output Variables (KPOV's). This is then followed by the reduction of the variability of the KPIV's which will then translate to reduced variation in the KPOV's. KPOV's are typically the customer's critical requirements. In my years at Sylvania, one of the most successful teams I led was the variation reduction in light bulb wattage to satisfy European energy requirements. Through cause & effect analysis and experimentation, we found the mandrel dissolving process impacted tungsten wire thickness at different rates depending upon batch size.  The benefits realized were increased yields at both our plant and the customer's plant.

To learn more about how to get involved in a Lean Six Sigma training consortium, contact Lisa Derby Oden, lisao@massmep.org, 774-823-6070.

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