Unexpected Application of Lean Six Sigma Tools in Daily Operational Activities

Sometimes operational people from my organisation approach me with “the” 1000-Euro-question: “Six Sigma guy, can you please help me analyze this set of data.” Asking me to help, they usually have an issue they really can’t resolve themselves. Perceiving Lean Six Sigma too far away from daily operations they turn in despair to the Six Sigma guy, hoping he can help and his expensive training program can be justified after all…

My standard answer is (of course, because I want to prove Lean Six Sigma is beneficial for daily operations) “Sure, let’s sit down for 10 minutes and discuss your question”. Sometimes, I find there is no clearly defined purpose for the data analysis, or there is no clear answer to the simple, but fundamental question “What do you want the data to tell you?” In such case, Six Sigma guy can’t help either…

Luckily, many times, the purpose is clear, or the situation described above can be cleared out asking the 5 why questions. Then it sometimes astonishes what results you can get using simple tools as Pareto charts, histograms, run charts, box plots and/or scatter plots.

Last week I even astonished myself when a manager approached me to help him organize price quote data from multiple subcontractors in such a way that decisions could be made. Each subcontractor quoted unit costs formore then100 different specific tasks. You can image how that data matrix looked like in Excel…

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Together with the manager, I applied 2 different tools to organize the data and draw conclusions:

1. Box plots. The box plot outliers showed us clearly which quotes were unrealistically high and low. Using the brush function in Minitab, we could deduct that 80% of the high value outliers were caused by one subcontractor. On the low values, we saw a similar phenomenon.

2. Using the characteristics of the normal distribution. Per task we have 8 data values available. Not all these data sets were normally distributed, but we did the following: calculation of the average x-bar and the standard deviation s. A characteristic of the normal distribution is that 68% of the data is covered by x-bar +/- 1 s. Or, 32% of the data can be found outside these values, meaning 16% at the lower end and 16% at the higher end. Guess what? 99% of the data points in this lower and upper end of the distribution also showed up as outliers in our box plot analysis.

In the past the decision would have been to grant the contract to the cheapest subcontractor without asking further questions. This has lead to quality losses and rework in the past. Today, we’ll invite the cheapest and ask clarification to ensure us of the understanding of our requirements, thus ensuring us of 1st time right quality at the right price.

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And I can assure you, by this unexpected application of simple tools, this manager is now 200% convinced of the value add Lean and Six Sigma tools can bring to the daily business of the organisation!

Comments 2

  1. Meikah

    You are right! It is amazing how Lean and Six Sigma tools can work wonders in almost any process improvement undertaking. I think here lies the value of Six Sigma per se. Good input!

  2. Madi

    Currently I am doing my green belt course and in phase of identifying some good gb project. As I am associated with more like a manufacturing job and dealing with all internal customers like different departments working in one division, finding difficult to identify good GB projects. Most of the ideas that I’ve come up with were JDIs or just demanding engineering solutions.
    However, some of the ideas like paper conservation, chemical consumption … can be good GBs but apparently either they seem quite unrewarding or having a huge scope that can’t be addressed within 6~9 months time frame.
    There are couple of problems I am facing:
    1. Already working in a competitive environment, where you do have already good quality and Continuos improvement systems, its difficult to fit this 6sigma in place.
    2. Dealing with internal customers( diff departments like maintenance, electrical etc), the VOC is not very strong and this is probably due to the fact that every one is so connected to each other.
    3. As businesses like ours which produces UREA don’t find any barrier in selling their product due to market high demands so not much concerned in having external VOC. They just want to make their internal processes more efficient and effective.

    I still can’t figure out that how this 6 sigma can be effective for every organization specially for those who have ISO certifications, dealing with same kind of tools but in different umbrella and most importantly not facing any resistance from customer end.
    Isn’t it has become an industrial fashion now means just 6 sigma for sake of 6 sigma. Like in my opinion if manufacturing companies had R&D institutes where they could invest to have their think tanks they probably would earn much more than what they are investing in launching 6 sigma.

    Anyways, still having a lot of queries and would like to have some respond.

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