Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement program, a management engineer would say, that is built upon basic industrial engineering techniques.

The program combines two ideas – Lean and Six Sigma. Lean is a collection of techniques for decreasing the time to provide products or services by eliminating process and time waste. Six Sigma is a collection of techniques for improving the quality of products and services while minimizing rework, and substantially increasing customer satisfaction.

Are Lean Six Sigma processes working efficiently? There are no immediate answers. Lean Six Sigma program involvement is undoubtedly expensive for the organization that applies it; but it does justify specific efforts on a project-by-project basis. There has been little effort to identify and measure the overall performance of Lean Six Sigma as a program.

Using Expertise of Industrial Engineering

And now to industrial engineering, a source for expertise in operating efficiency. The primary industrial engineering (IE) efficiency technique starts with a process that works; and then finds and implements improvements that minimize resources consumed while maximizing accomplishment. Application of these basic IE approach to the processes of Lean Six Sigma is one obvious direction for development. A basic IE technique for addressing the Lean Six Sigma process would involve applying Lean Six Sigma methods

To apply Lean Six Sigma to itself, one needs to start with a process challenge. In this case, the working assumption is that Lean Six Sigma is unnecessarily expensive in its own internal operation. The requirement for training personnel is extensive, and its insistence upon data-driven changes to document improvements creates a substantial work requirement, a management cost, that is difficult to associate with any specific productive result.

As a direction for solution, the Lean Six Sigma process is applied to minimize its own internal costs and assure the best quality from the standpoint of its customers.

Figure 1: Typical Lean Six Sigma Management Before Improvement
Figure 1: Typical Lean Six Sigma Management Before Improvement

To get this application started, one needs to add perspectives derived from another specialty, management engineering. This study, is basic industrial engineering applied to the work of gaining performance through organizations. It approaches management as work that is to be performed, opening the door to assuring that the work of management is performed efficiently and effectively.

The Purpose of Any Management System

The purpose for having a management system is to gain results through an organization. Process improvement, the Lean Six Sigma purpose, is then recognized to be a management purpose. The Lean Six Sigma process is, accordingly, to be handled as a management process.

In a unique management perspective, the purpose for management is bringing resources together to gain a result. The Lean Six Sigma process must be part of this larger effort, one that brings a wide spectrum of organizational resources, including managers, performers and internal support workers, to focus on gaining the desired result of process improvements.

The first rule of management engineering is: “Management is an essential; You cannot improve management by replacing it with something else.” With this perspective, the first general improvement in the Lean Six Sigma process can be immediately identified. The most effective way to use Lean Six Sigma will not be through an applied improvement program, but through incorporating it into management so that it becomes part of how senior management gains performance through its subordinate organization.

With this engineered perspective, if process improvement is work for managers to perform, then Lean Six Sigma is to be incorporated into the performance duties of managers. Application is by senior managers assigning process improvement responsibility to subordinate managers, with the promise to hold them personally accountable for gaining the desired results.

The Green Belts and the Black Belts

Also, with the performance of the Lean Six Sigma process as management, the primary subject for Green Belt training will be the working managers, those who will be responsible for the performance. This becomes management improvement training supporting how responsible managers will succeed in their assigned responsibility for gaining process improvements.

The goal of incorporating Lean Six Sigma into management is not an end to be accomplished. This analysis provides a different, and obviously more effective, organizational position for the Lean Six Sigma process experts. Those with Black Belt training become the means for process managers to meet their assigned process improvement responsibilities. The Black Belts are the technical experts upon whom the Green Belt managers will rely.

True to the purpose for management, this brings the efforts of senior managers, subordinate managers and Lean Six Sigma experts to focus on gaining a valuable result. This addresses performance of the function of senior management, bringing the resources of the subordinate organization to a singular coordinated focus on assuring a value recognized at the top of the organization.

In Lean Six Sigma terms, directly assigning improvement responsibilities to subordinate managers is the low-hanging fruit that may be harvested almost immediately.

Then the Lean Six Sigma process improvement logic can actually be applied to itself. The Lean Six Sigma process works through individual process improvement projects. The Lean-based effort here will be directed toward minimizing Lean Six Sigma projects that are in queue, and minimizing the time that they spend waiting between steps for the next process action.

Adding Management Engineering Perspective

Management engineering is able to add a potent technical perspective to the purpose proclaimed by Lean Six Sigma. It is to accomplish improvements. Organization-level improvement would be based on only two metrics, the value that the organization delivers to its customers, and the cost of running the organization as it produces that value. The difference between these two metrics measures the profitability of the organization. The ratio of value-out to cost-of-operation is a measure of organization-level operating efficiency.

Both management engineering and Lean Six Sigma recognize that improvement follows where each element in a process contributes to the desired result. For application to Lean Six Sigma, each project must either reduce the operating cost of the organization, or increase the value of its products being delivered to its customers. Projects that have no reasonable possibility of doing either can be eliminated from further consideration. They would represent a cost without an organization-level benefit.

This is an effective pre-filter on projects, and would eliminate much of the Lean Six Sigma process work now being performed. This would remove most of the projects now in queue – a Lean benefit. Also, it would assure that the results of projects will actually contribute to organization-level improvements – a Six Sigma quality benefit.

SIPOC for Improved Lean Six Sigma Process

One of the primary Lean Six Sigma tools is the SIPOC, an acronym addressing the major elements of the process that is under study in an individual process. The SIPOC for the Lean Six Sigma process being examined here is:

Sources – Assigned improvement responsibility, Lean Six Sigma expert resources
Inputs – Process challenges, performance tracking, Lean Six Sigma expertise and/or training
Process – Study of processes with focus on improvements
Outputs – Improved process – organization-level impacts
Customer – Performance managers who are responsible for improvements

The first process concern is sources. Now included as a driver for Lean Six Sigma performance is senior management. Subordinate managers would no longer have to be sold on the application of Lean Six Sigma. They only have to be given opportunity to see that there is an improvement potential. This is how they can meet process improvement requirements that senior management has placed upon them.

The second element of a SIPOC is inputs. By minimizing of the number of projects necessary to assure improvement, and with the new input of process management insistence arising from the subordinate manager’s assigned duties, the organization would have both greater resources and less work.

The third element is process. Only those projects that contribute to the organization-level improvement would be processed. The workload to gain organization-level improvement is reduced through handling only projects with organizational impact.

The outputs element has major differences. The Lean Six Sigma concept of data-driven change would be dropped as the working manager is part of the effort. Nobody but senior managers need to be convinced of the necessity of the effort. They would be measuring organization-level impact, rather than trying to evaluate local process effects. The need for justification through local process metrics is removed.

The customer of this process is the subordinate manager, the one who is directing the effort. If any project is considered a success by this manager, it would be presented as a success to senior management.

New Look at DMAIC Improvement Process

Lean Six Sigma often uses DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) as a step-by-step improvement process for projects. After each step is a tollgate review, an effective point for management to determine if the project is ready to progress to the next step in the DMAIC process.

Through assigning responsibility to sponsoring managers, there would be another immediate improvement. The potential divergence between the Lean Six Sigma expert and management interests has been removed. A manager’s need to find improvements is already made an intimate part of the improved Lean Six Sigma process. This working manager also is the customer. The process manager’s permission would no longer to be gained at the tollgate. If the Lean Six Sigma effort is working to effect, then the manager could be expected to continue it as a matter of self-interest.

The changed nature of the relationship between management and Lean Six Sigma would have another general effect. The working manager becomes the Sponsor, and also a key team member. It is this manager who would promote improvement projects to senior management as a way to fulfill his or her assigned improvement responsibility.

Also, the number of potential projects have been reduced through a pre-filter based on organization-level improvement criteria. This reduces the number of projects to be developed and worked at every step in the DMAIC process.

Phase by Phase Through DMAIC Process

For the Define phase, the Lean Six Sigma experts would function as unassigned technical support for the process managers, and would help these managers identify potential projects, and support project definition as how the manager presents the potential to senior management. The managers would support the Lean Six Sigma experts by helping to identify improvement opportunities.

The purpose for the first tollgate would be a sponsoring manager’s request for Lean Six Sigma resources supporting his or her improvement project. Other Black Belts and Green Belts would be approached as senior management assets. They would take part as technical experts supporting the manager’s effort. The desired outcome from passing this gate is assignment of Lean Six Sigma experts to take part in the subordinate manager’s project.

The Measure phase can be greatly reduced and would be combined with the Analyze phase. The purpose would be to establish sufficient knowledge to support a process improvement. The program’s current data-driven requirement would therefore be a recommendation rather than a mandate. Data only has to be gathered to “understand” the process and its capacities, not to justify or measure local process improvement. The only improvement that will count is that seen by senior management at its level; which may or may not be measured locally.

The tollgate that follows the Analysis phase is there only to inform senior management that there is sufficient reason to study the process for improvement. The manager would present available cost and benefit analysis as incentive to continue the assignment of Lean Six Sigma experts to the effort.

Accomplishing Organization-level Objectives

Improve phase efforts are essentially the same as in the current Lean Six Sigma application, except that the goal of the improvement would no longer be local to the process. The project was approved by senior management, and was resourced with Lean Six Sigma experts to accomplish impact upon the larger organization.

The tollgate following the Improve phase would be there to have the manager present a new process as a proposed change. The desired result is a direction to implement the new process, authorizing any necessary or convenient resource changes; and releasing Lean Six Sigma experts from the project. A new Lean Six Sigma assignment would be for monitoring the performance of the new process and measuring its impacts on organization-level metrics.

The Control phase is handled by the manager, who would assume immediate and complete operational authority for implementing the improved process. Lean Six Sigma experts are once again available for technical advice, but otherwise step out of the project.

The final tollgate in the process would be a presentation by the Lean Six Sigma expert who is tracking performance. The purpose is giving credit to the manager for success in meeting his or her improvement responsibility, and freeing up this Lean Six Sigma expert for work on other projects selected by senior management.

Figure 2: Lean Six Sigma Management After Improvement
Figure 2: Lean Six Sigma Management After Improvement

The results from this improved Lean Six Sigma performance process would be as it is from any other improved performance process – increased throughput accomplished at a reduced cost. It will be a simplified process that is better focused on what must be accomplished to gain the desired result of organizational improvement.

Benefits of Improved Lean Six Sigma Process

Also as is typical for Lean Six Sigma projects, there are benefits that are not planned at the beginning of the improvement effort. In this case, it is “management improvement.” Where most current Lean Six Sigma processes remove some key performance-improvement responsibilities from working managers, the improved process cited here would involve managers from the beginning. It would assure that they are more in charge of their performance areas than before the process was improved.

The new Lean Six Sigma process also provides a general tool for marketing this improved process to senior management. As organization-level improvement would be addressed directly, projects are approached in terms of how the senior managers improve their own areas of responsibility.

This improved Lean Six Sigma process is designed to provide organization-level effect from improvements to local processes, and to provide this at reduced expenditure in organizational resources. It would require less senior management time and effort to assure the organization-level results. And it would expend less organizational resource to realize the benefits gained.

If that is not enough of a selling point, this improved Lean Six Sigma process will – in accord with the principles of management engineering – put the senior manager more effectively in charge of the improvement process taking place in his or her organization.

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