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How to Become a Lean Six Sigma Organization

In a difficult economy, an increasing number of senior business leaders are seeking to boost the performance of their operations by adopting Lean Six Sigma. Before these organizations can begin to reap the benefits of continuous process improvement, they must first understand the fundamental elements of the process known as DMAIC (for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control).

One of the best ways to roll out a Lean Six Sigma program is to treat the process as a Six Sigma process in and of itself. The following are some basic guidelines, arranged in the classic five-stage DMAIC process, for organizations that are interested in adopting Lean Six Sigma.

Define

As soon as corporate leadership indicates that the organization will adopt Six Sigma, it is imperative that all senior leaders become familiar with Six Sigma concepts and what being a Six Sigma organization actually means. Strong and visible support from the top is critical to the success of the program and continued organizational change.

Senior management must go through a leadership training course that outlines the basics of the DMAIC process, Lean Six Sigma management and other types of training available, such as Design for Six Sigma (DFSS). This training should include specific examples of success, typical timetables for deployment and a set of measurable goals. Lean Six Sigma Champions need to be identified, trained and given clear expectations about how they will contribute to the deployment. Financial representatives also need to undergo this training as they will be required to validate actual and projected financial benefits from the very early stages of the roll-out.

Measure

In order to gauge the impacts of processes on an organization’s productivity, progress must be measured as the program is rolled out. The key performance indicators (KPIs) for the program should, at minimum, include the following elements:

  1. The number of Black Belts (BB) and Green Belts (GB) who need to be trained, as well as experts in Lean and DFSS
  2. Dollar-target benefits

These elements also need to be tied in with individual (performance) goals to ensure success.

Training to the next level – All leaders (middle management and above) need to take awareness training for Lean Six Sigma, which takes approximately fours hours and includes basic Six Sigma and Lean principles. This training is essential to ensure that team members understand the key concepts and view Lean Six Sigma as a resource that can help them achieve their objectives, rather than being an outside interference.

As the organization’s leaders go through their leadership or awareness training, a targeted number of Belt trainees should be determined for the first year. A typical approach would be to have a “first wave” of Green Belt training in the organization. As the trained Green Belts return to work in their own roles, it is often beneficial for them to take on a Green Belt project that is closely aligned with their job objectives.

In the beginning, at least, the best-performing employees should be selected for the Green Belt program to ensure a higher probability of success. Line managers also need to be involved in the selection process to ensure their continued support. Success in these early stages can go a long way toward demonstrating the benefits of Lean Six Sigma to the entire organization and encouraging buy-in. Champions and senior management must give the program high visibility to ensure that the employees understand Six Sigma as the normal “way of business.”

Project Selection – When DMAIC is first rolled out in an organization, there are normally discussions about what is and what isn’t a Lean Six Sigma project. During this time, leaders should remember the whole point of the process: To improve organizational performance through use of the Lean Six Sigma tools, not the other way around.

A key point in the identification of worthy projects is the use of data to demonstrate that there is an opportunity and that the perceived benefits are not based on hearsay or “gut feelings.” It cannot be emphasised enough that a substantial investment in the early stages of project definition must be made to ensure success. Most project failures are due to poorly defined projects that could have been avoided if adequate preparatory work had been conducted.

In the beginning of project selection, the Champion must also be proactive in team-member identification, as well as the removal of any barriers that may prevent team formation. Typically the core team should consist of three to six members, who should include, at minimum, a process owner, a subject matter expert and a process operator. Someone working close to the process must also be included in the team, as that person will likely have a deeper understanding of the day to day operation and ensure operator buy-in.

Extended team members should include a financial representative, who does not need to attend all the meetings but who should have a full understanding of all project developments. The Champion should be present for the first team meeting, when the project scope is reviewed and agreed upon by all team members. In all matters, the VOC, whether it is internal or external, must be the driving force for any project definition.

Analyze

Typically, a Six Sigma DMAIC project may take between three and five months to complete, but this can vary enormously depending upon the urgency and the project scope. A Kaizen event, for example, may take only three to five days, while a more complex project could take up to a year. A basic rule, often overlooked, is that clear agendas must be sent out by Belts or project leaders well in advance of the meetings in order to aid preparation. Minutes with clear action owners and timescales also must be distributed as soon as possible after each meeting.

Once the initial wave of Green Belts has started their projects, a Champion review process should be put in place. Typically this should happen once per month, where all the GBs come together with the Champion to review the scope, financial benefits, barriers and progress with specific actions. This will ensure that progress can be measured and demonstrated according to the key deliverables in the DMAIC process. Occasionally, business conditions can change, and the Champion should not be shy to pull the plug on a particular project if it is clear that no financial benefits will be gained, or if a greater opportunity for improvement is found elsewhere.

Depending on how the organization wants to develop its Lean Six Sigma program, business leaders may want to consider which, if any, of the GB candidates could become Black Belt candidates. BBs will gain more in-depth Lean Six Sigma training and will work 100 percent on the program’s roll-out by leading more complex projects than the GBs; typically, BB projects are worth more than $100,000 in savings for the organization. BBs can also mentor other Belts and help Champions and business leaders identify future projects.

As the Belts start to become more familiar with Lean Six Sigma during their projects, it will become easier for them to understand how the tools can be better employed and to identify ways in which business performance can be improved.

At this point, a fixed, robust project identification process should be in place. This should entail a meeting that normally takes place on a monthly basis and is chaired by a BB. The attendees should consist of process owners, business leaders (where possible) and operators from all areas of the business. Depending on the complexity of the organization, this may be broken down by division or business area. The meeting attendees also should change from time to time to freshen up the flow of new ideas.

The Champions, process owners and business leaders should each have specific targets for the number of ideas to be generated, according to business function or division. This type of meeting would normally take the form a brainstorming exercise, where the team (using a fishbone diagram) would identify potential improvement areas.

The group would then prioritize these ideas and assign specific actions during the meeting. These actions would normally entail data collection, where an individual would have the task of locating the correct data in order to validate or reject a perceived opportunity. As the meetings progress and become part of the culture, there should be a pipeline of ideas being worked on at any given time. The end result should be a “bucket of opportunities” that the business leaders can select from, according to the business needs. These would then be resourced accordingly.

Improve

All Belts must go through a certification process after satisfying certain clearly defined criteria (i.e., achieving a certain amount of savings, demonstrating usage of certain tools or presenting project benefits to the business leaders). At this stage, the business will start to see the benefits of the initial Six Sigma projects.

The certification process and the project successes need to be highly visible in the organization so that all associates can see that Lean Six Sigma is the way the company will be approaching business in the future. Part of this visibility can be achieved by an appropriate celebration and recognition of project successes by senior management.

Once this level is reached, the Lean Six Sigma training program needs to be spread throughout the organization. Management should consider enlisting all associates for awareness training. The high-profile successes will also generate a greater interest from other associates in attending training sessions.

Control

As the company continues to move toward becoming a full-fledged Six Sigma operation, the following events must be fixed in the organization’s monthly calendar:

  • Monthly project review meetings – Attendees: Belts, Champions and business leaders.
  • Project identification meetings – Attendees: Process owners, Champions, process operators and Belts.
  • Validation of savings – Belts need to have savings validated by the finance rep.

The KPIs for this process need to be clear to all associates in the organization. These should include the following and should be part of the senior management review process:

  • Lean Six Sigma training plan versus target, continuously updated according to business needs
  • Certification plan versus target
  • Number of Belts with assigned projects (resource utilization)
  • Savings versus target, including a required monthly financial report.
  • Number of prioritized ready-to-assign projects versus target

Final Steps

When all of the above processes are in place, the organization will be well on the road to becoming a Lean Six Sigma company, where Six Sigma tools are utilized for everyday activities at every level.

The above requires a huge effort from senior management, at least in the early stages. There is a need to have a high level of discipline within the organization to ensure that the above meetings take place with the expectation that those assigned actions will deliver in a timely manner.

Initially, some resistors could perceive Lean Six Sigma as additional and unnecessary work. But as projects progress, with the required level of support, employees will see that the process simply helps them perform their roles in a far more effective manner, giving them greater potential for personal development and ensuring that their organization remains competitive.

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Comments 3

  1. sladkyj

    It’s not about ‘rolling’ out a ‘program’. It’s about how well a company does business planning.

    Lean / Six Sigma methods are integral supporting elements to accomplishing the plan. This is how it get’s Rolled Out … not on a separate agenda like the one inferred in this article.

    The problem is that few Black Belts and Managers have a real clue of what an effective Planning System is. If they did, we have no need for consultants giving us Step by Step programs.

  2. Khushbu

    Thank you for giving me this detail.

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