A strong possibility exists that some organizations using Six Sigma are failing to cash in on the true potential of the methodology. This can happen when proper care is not taken to understand what needs to be integrated with the Six Sigma methodology to make it effective, comprehensive and a focused approach to solve real-life problems.

Obviously, there are certain clear-cut advantages of the statistical or data-driven nature of Six-Sigma, such as:

  1. Common scale for comparison
  2. Accurate analysis of causes of a problem
  3. Convincing logic backed with data
  4. Easy to track improvement by comparing metrics
  5. Quantifiable benefits and cost savings

Need for Lean and Creative Six Sigma

However, an effective and comprehensive approach to realize process improvement is through integration of quantitative rigor of Six Sigma with Lean thinking, lateral problem solving and creativity.

Thus, Six Sigma can be made more effective by understanding and debating what it lacks and how can that “what” be added.

Six Sigma methodology, in its present incarnation, needs two major perspectives:

  1. A systematic approach to identify comprehensive set of factors for improvement
  2. Creativity to formulate feasible solutions

These two points need further exploration:

Firstly, there is need of a systematic approach to decide factors on which measurement and analysis needs to be carried out to plan the improvement actions. Efficacy of Six Sigma in measurement and analysis has been proved beyond doubt by the huge success of the organizations across the globe in last decade or so. But Six Sigma relies heavily on the measuring defects. and what if some defects go unnoticed?

The defects, to a considerable extent, can be directly inferred from the voice of the customer or voice of the stakeholders (VOC or VOS). But there is every possibility that some of the defects, which may be vital from the business perspective, did not get covered in the VOC. Because of this, some of the areas of attention or the parameters may get missed and thus are not considered at all. For instance, if stakeholders are suffering delays then all voices would identify lead-time as a defect (or critical-to-quality item in need of improvement), but the quality, no matter how bad, may not be given attention. Thus, the effect of some of the areas of attention or the parameters may not be taken into account, when the improvement actions are formulated. To take into account all the possible defects, in addition to the VOC or VOS, defects may be further defined based on Lean’s seven types of waste.

Secondly, the reduction of defects can happen only when the problem is properly solved. It needs to be underscored that although the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology is useful in analysis of factors involved in the problems, a Six Sigma project, per se, does not provide the solution to real life problems. There is no specific approach to conceive practical solutions in the Six Sigma toolkit.

Using Lean Tools in Six Sigma Projects

To take into account all the possible defects, in addition to VOC or VOS, defects can be defined based on Lean concept of “Seven Waste”

The accurate defining of the defect is key to capturing the real problems. The Lean definition of seven major types of waste in service environment can be used as a checklist to capture and ensure all defects are taken into consideration before starting measurement of data. Defects based on the Lean’s wastes can be:

  • Rejects: Errors in documents
  • Transportation: Movement of documents
  • Over production: Doing work not required
  • Waiting: Waiting for next step
  • Over processing: Multiple reviews and approvals
  • Movement: Unnecessary motion of people
  • Inventory: Backlog of work

In addition to the seven wastes, the following concepts should be effectively utilized in a Six Sigma project. These have been mapped to a Six Sigma DMAIC phases.

  • 5S is the methodology for organizing, cleaning, developing, and sustaining a productive work environment.
  • Error proofing is an approach to ensure error free environment by designing an error free flow or way of working
  • Value stream mapping is a graphical tool that helps one to see and understand the flow of the material and information as a product makes its way through the value stream. It ties together Lean concepts and techniques

Thus, Lean thinking and concepts can be utilized in the following areas of the typical Six Sigma Project:

  1. Defining defects
  2. Finalizing metrics
  3. Reducing wastes
  4. Formulating improvement actions

Using Creativity in Six Sigma Projects

Creativity and lateral thinking can be applied at the Analyze and Improve phases of Six Sigma projects to conceive solutions.

Dr. Edward De Bono’s concept of lateral thinking, which deals with exploring various dimensions of looking at things, suggests changing/moving from one concept to another to arrive at the most suitable one. Lateral thinking and creativity thus is not a set of tools, it is more of a perspective at looking and exploring things, which becomes absolutely vital in analyzing problems and arriving at solutions to problems.

The following concepts would be useful in Six Sigma DMAIC phases:

  • Brainstorming: A useful and popular tool that can be used to develop highly creative solutions to a problem.
  • Reframing Matrix: A technique that helps to look at problems from a number of different viewpoints. It subsequently helps to expand the range of creative solutions.
  • Random Input: A lateral thinking tool that is useful when one needs fresh ideas or new perspectives during problem solving.
  • Concept Fan: A way of finding different approaches to a problem when all obvious solutions have been rejected. It develops the principle of “taking one step back” to get a broader perspective.
Mapping of Lean and Creative Techniques to DMAIC Phases
Six Sigma Project Phase Use of Lean and Creative Techniques
Define Brainstorming, seven wastes
Measure Value-added to non-value-added ratio, CT/VT, CT/TAKT time
Analyze Value stream mapping, random input, reframing matrix
Improve 5S, visual factory, concept fan, provocative operations (a lateral thinking concept)
Control Error proofing

Utilizing Six Sigma driven by Lean and creativity facilitates in pinpointing precise nature and extent of the cause and conceiving the real-life solution. It is imperative that a proper balance is provided between data-driven and quantitative nature of Six Sigma, on one hand, and Lean way of working and creative problem solving, on the other hand.

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