The Benefits Of Six Sigma Lean (And What It Can Do For You)

The benefits of Six Sigma Lean_1

To really understand what Six Sigma Lean is, Imagine a world where your business runs like a well-oiled machine, where every process is near-perfect and customer satisfaction is through the roof. That’s the promise of Six Sigma, a methodology that uses data and statistical analysis to identify and eliminate defects in a company’s operations. It’s a system that was pioneered by Motorola in the 1980s and has since spread like wildfire, becoming a go-to tool for organizations across a wide range of industries. The goal of Six Sigma is to achieve a level of perfection in business processes that’s hard to beat, with a target of 3.4 defects per million opportunities.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at what Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma are, what they can do for you, and how you can use them to benefit your business.

1. Instead of beginning

This article’s going to be great, I can assure you that! It’s about one of the great business inventions of the 20th century. So, instead of being too descriptive, let’s jump into this journey with a short story.

It was a day in the year 1986 when Bill Smith, the engineer manager of a large manufacturing company, Motorola, gathered in a conference room with his team. The company had been struggling with high levels of defects in their manufacturing process and customer complaints, and they were at their wit’s end trying to figure out a solution. Suddenly, Bill Smith spoke up.

“Gentlemen,” he began, “we’ve been trying to fix this problem for months now, but nothing seems to be working. It’s time to think outside the box and try something new.”

Just then, another engineer, Mikel Harry, who went by the name of speaking in, said, “I’ve been doing some research and I’ve come across this thing called Six Sigma. It’s a methodology that drastically reduces defects and improves quality.” Bill Smith was intrigued. “Tell us more,” he said.

“Well,” continued Mikel Harry, “Six Sigma is a data-driven approach that uses statistical analysis to identify and eliminate the root causes of defects. It’s a systematic and scientific approach that focuses on continuous improvement and customer satisfaction.

The management team was excited by the idea and decided to give it a try. And it worked! The company saw a drastic reduction in defects and customer complaints and an improvement in efficiency and productivity.

It was a turning point for the company, and they continued to use Six Sigma to improve their processes, going straight to the top of the mountain. The beginning of this endeavor was an emotional rollercoaster, but at the end of the day, it worked. Six Sigma became a way of life for the company, and it was all thanks to the forward-thinking of Bill Smith and Mikel Harry. Later on, in the 1990s., Six Sigma was popularized by GE (General Motors).

2. Six Sigma scope

Six Sigma Lean
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Simply put, Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology developed to help businesses increase the quality of their products, services, and operations. It is based on a set of Lean and Six Sigma principles and tools that focus on eliminating defects and improving business processes.

The main goal of Six Sigma is to achieve continuous improvement by reducing waste and variation in all areas of the business.

The Six Sigma methodology is based on five phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. Shortly, DMAIC. These phases involve creating Six Sigma projects that focus on reducing defects and improving performance while also establishing and implementing standards for quality control.

To help with these projects, organizations use Six Sigma specialists and experts such as Green Belts and Black Belts. Green Belts are employees trained in the basics of the Six Sigma methodology, while Black Belts are certified in advanced Six Sigma training.

3. Why is it called 6 Sigma?

Six Sigma
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Well, let’s put it in simple words: Imagine you have a big jar of marbles, and you want to make sure that most of them are the same size and color. That’s what Six Sigma does for businesses. It’s a way for companies to make sure that their products and services are made the same way every time so that customers are happy and everything runs smoothly. Six Sigma is like a big set of tools that helps people look at how things are made and figure out how to make them better.

So, it’s like making sure that you have more blue marbles of the same size in your jar instead of having different sizes and colored marbles. Now, let’s explain it in other words.

Is it called 6 sigma because it refers to the statistical measurement of a process’s performance, with a goal of achieving six standard deviations between the process mean and the nearest specification limit. This means that there is a very low likelihood of generating a defective product or service. And that’s the stake!

The term “sigma” is a statistical term that measures the standard deviation of a process. In Six Sigma, the goal is to have a process that is so consistent and predictable that it produces no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities, as we mentioned below. A process that is capable of this level of performance is said to be operating at six standard deviations from the mean, or at the 6 sigma level.

4. What are the 7 roles of Six Sigma?

What are the 7 roles of Six Sigma
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To successfully implement Lean Six Sigma in any organization, seven roles must be established and filled.

Champion: a senior leader or executive who acts as the main driving force behind the implementation of Six Sigma within the organization. This person is responsible for securing resources, setting goals and objectives, and providing overall direction and support for the Six Sigma program.

Process Owner: responsible for the performance and improvement of a specific process within the organization.

Team member: employees who are involved in Six Sigma projects and contribute to the success of the project team.

Yellow Belt: employees who are not full-time Six Sigma professionals but have received basic Six Sigma training and can assist with Six Sigma projects.

Green Belt: a part-time Six Sigma professional who is responsible for leading Six Sigma projects and supporting Black Belts.

Black Belt: a full-time Six Sigma professional who is responsible for leading Six Sigma projects and coaching and mentoring Green Belts.

Master Black Belt: a highly experienced Six Sigma expert who acts as a coach and mentor to Black Belts and Green Belts. They are responsible for overseeing the overall Six Sigma program and ensuring that it is aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives.

These roles are not necessarily fixed, and they can overlap depending on the organization and the Six Sigma program.

5. What are the six steps of Six Sigma?

Six Sigma Steps
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Let’s dive in.

Define: Clearly define the problem or opportunity and establish specific goals and objectives for the project.

Measure: Collect and analyze data to understand the current performance of the process and identify areas for improvement.

Analyze: Use statistical and other tools to identify the root causes of problems and opportunities.

Improve: Develop and implement solutions to improve the process and achieve the goals and objectives set in the Define phase.

Control: Establish methods to monitor and control the process to ensure that improvements are sustained over time.

Additionally, we have another one that fits into the spirit of progress:

Continual Improvement: Continuously look for ways to improve the process and make it more efficient and effective, with the ultimate goal of achieving and maintaining Six Sigma levels of performance.

These steps—or principles, as we might want to name them—are the core of the Six Sigma methodology and provide a structured approach to problem-solving and process improvement.

Let’s go through each phase to get a better understanding of what’s going on.

Step 1

Define: In the define phase, the problem or opportunity is clearly defined, and specific goals and objectives are established for the project. This includes identifying the customer, process, and metrics that will be used to measure success. For example, a company may want to reduce the number of customer complaints about long wait times on hold when calling customer service. The goal would be to reduce the average wait time to less than 2 minutes, and the objective would be to identify the root cause of the problem.

Step 2

Measure: In the Measure phase, data is collected and analyzed to understand the current performance of the process and identify areas for improvement. This includes defining the data that will be collected, determining how it will be collected, and analyzing the data to identify patterns and trends. In our example, the company would collect data on the average wait time for customer service calls, the number of calls, and the number of complaints. This data would be analyzed with specific tools to identify patterns and trends in customer complaints and wait times.

Step 3

Analyze: This stage is a discovering one, by using statistical and other tools to identify the root causes of problems and opportunities as well. This includes identifying the relationships between various factors that may be causing the problem. As a short example related to our scenario, we can think about the relationship between wait times and the number of customer service representatives available during peak hours.

Step 4

Improve: This is the step when solutions are developed and implemented to improve the process and achieve the goals and objectives set in the define phase. This includes identifying potential solutions, evaluating their feasibility, and selecting the best solution. We can identify solutions such as implementing a call-back system and providing customers with an estimated wait time.

Step 5

Control: This is the moment when methods are established to monitor and control the process to ensure that improvements are sustained over time. This includes setting up processes for monitoring and measuring the performance of the process and identifying and addressing any issues or problems that arise.

Step 6

Continual Improvement: Fix it. Improve it (don’t forget to extend it). But for now, let’s keep our laser focus on the improvement phase. In this specific phase, we continuously looked for ways to improve our process and make it more efficient and effective, with the ultimate goal of achieving and maintaining Six Sigma levels of performance. This includes monitoring the process, identifying potential improvements, and implementing those improvements. Having all things set now, we can establish a process for regularly reviewing customer service wait times and complaints and implementing improvements as necessary to maintain Six Sigma performance levels.

6. The Benefits of Six Sigma Lean

The Benefits of Lean Six Sigma
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It’s no surprise that companies across all industries are turning to Lean Six Sigma to drive continuous improvement. But why? What are the benefits of using this powerful process improvement methodology?

When it comes to delivering quality and value, Lean Six Sigma is a proven winner. Together, these methodologies form a dynamic duo that can boost efficiency and streamline processes to new heights. Clear and simple.

Take, for example, a company that wants to reduce the cost of a certain product or service. Using Lean Six Sigma principles, they can identify what’s driving up costs and create a plan to reduce them. Through data-driven decisions and targeted actions, they can then cut corners, drive a hard bargain, and keep their eye on the prize of higher profits.

Another great benefit of Lean Six Sigma is the certification opportunities it provides.

By taking courses in Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, Black Belt, and Master Black Belt, professionals can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the methodology. In addition, successful completion of these courses leads to the prestigious Lean Six Sigma certification, which can open the door to career advancement.

Think of Lean Six Sigma as a treasure map leading to the ultimate prize: business success, which everybody is looking for.

This comprehensive set of methods allows companies to navigate the ever-changing landscape and stay ahead, even if the competition is very strong and rising.

7. How did Six Sigma Lean work?

How did Six Sigma work
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In order to implement Six Sigma, think of your business as a rocket ship, soaring toward success. If you want your business to reach new heights and achieve maximum efficiency, it’s important to understand the principles and methodology of Six Sigma. This includes pinpointing areas for improvement, setting ambitious goals, assembling a top-notch team to lead the charge, and closely monitoring the progress of each project. Each team member takes on a specific role, like a Black Belt expert, Green Belt trained personnel, or Champion executive, ensuring that every aspect of the project is under control and nothing falls through the cracks. Both tools, Six Sigma and Lean must be part of the process.

8. How to Implement Six Sigma

How to Implement Six Sigma
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The automotive industry is a prime candidate for the implementation of Six Sigma methodologies. The focus on quality and efficiency can help not only improve processes but also increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs.

Let’s take a look at a specific example of applying Six Sigma to the production of hoses for turbo systems. For the sake of the example, let’s say that the current process has a PPM (parts per million) defect rate of 200, and our goal is to reduce it to 125.

Step 1: Define the Problem

Kicking off a Six Sigma project starts with pinpointing the specific challenge at hand. In this scenario, the challenge is the elevated PPM defect rate of 200, resulting in a monthly loss of around 5K$ for the company, not to mention the impact on customer satisfaction and additional costs (customer firewall, premium freight to avoid stopping the customer’s production line, etc).

Tools used:

IPO diagram, Kano’s Model.

Also, we rely on the VOC (Voice of the Customer) tool to gain insight into customer requirements and expectations. This tool is used to gather feedback from customers on their desired product or service features.

Step 2: Measure the Process

The next step is to measure the current process. This involves gathering data on the process and analyzing it to determine the root cause of the problem.

Tools used:

In this case, we might use tools like process mapping, flowcharts, and checklists. These tools help to identify the current process and the key steps involved. We also use tools such as statistical process control (SPC) and process capability analysis (PCA) to measure the performance of the process and identify areas for improvement.

No, we are going to be a little bit techy, just to understand what statistical analysis methods you can use: hypothesis testing, correlation analysis, and regression analysis to analyze the data and identify patterns or trends. In another article, I’ll also explain these methods, so don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to stay informed.

Step 3: Analyze the Data

Once we have gathered the data, it’s time to analyze it to identify the root cause of the problem. This might involve identifying patterns in the data or looking for trends that can help us understand where the defects are occurring and why.

Tools used:

Root Cause Analysis: We can use tools such as the 5 Whys and Fishbone diagrams to identify the root cause of the problem. It helps to identify the underlying issues that are causing the problem, rather than just treating the symptoms.

Process Flow Analysis: Look at how the process flows and find places where it doesn’t work as well as it could.

Step 4: Improve the Process

With a clear understanding of the problem and its root cause, we can now begin to improve the process. This might involve making changes to the equipment or tools used or implementing new procedures or protocols. Don’t forget to use the Kaizen principle and find simple and creative solutions before breaking the budget on costly ones.

Tools used:

Design of Experiments (DOE): test different solutions and identify the best course of action. This could mean putting different changes to processes or equipment to the test to see which one works best.

In short, we have the following steps:

  1. Define the problem: Clearly define the problem statement, including the current defect rate and the desired defect rate.
  2. Identify critical process variables: Identify the critical process variables that affect the hose production process. These could include things like temperature, pressure, and material composition.
  3. Plan the experiment: Determine the levels of each critical process variable that will be tested and the number of replicates to be run. For example, you might test three different temperatures and three different pressure levels, with four replicates at each level.
  4. Execute the experiment: Run the experiment according to the plan. Collect data on the PPM defect rate at each level of the critical process variables.
  5. Analyze the data: Use statistical techniques such as ANOVA to determine the influence of the critical process variables and the PPM defect rate.
  6. Identify the optimal levels: Identify the optimal levels of the critical process variables that produce the lowest PPM defect rate.
  7. Implement the changes: Implement the changes to the process based on the optimal levels identified in step 6.
  8. Monitor and validate: Continuously monitor the process to ensure the desired PPM defect rate of 125 or less is achieved and validate if any changes are needed.

In summary, applying DOE to enhance hose production for turbo systems is similar to baking a cake. The right ingredients must be identified, the recipe must be followed, and the process must be closely monitored to achieve the desired outcome. It’s worth noting that the steps outlined above are a simplified version of the process to keep this explanation brief.

Additional comments: in one of the next articles, I’m going to explain how this great tool can be used to improve marketing campaign results as well as reduce energy consumption. DOE is such a versatile tool! But for now, let’s move on to the next phase.

Step 5: Control the Process

The final step is to control the process to ensure that the improvements we made are sustainable. This might involve implementing a monitoring and control system or conducting regular audits to check that the process is running smoothly.

Tools used:

Statistical Process Control (SPC): We are going to use SPC to monitor the process and ensure that improvements are sustained. The best for this stage is control charts and process capability analysis, which track the performance of the process over time and make any necessary adjustments.

Auditing: by doing the audit, we ensure that the process is under control and that the improvements are being sustained. Auditing may involve checking that the process is being followed correctly and that the controls are in place.

Let’s face it, this journey is not quite easy. A very important point must be underscored: during each phase of the project, it’s important to keep an eye out for any obstacles or roadblocks that may arise. These may include resistance to change, a lack of buy-in from stakeholders, or difficulties in gathering accurate data. It’s also important to ensure that the project remains on track and that progress is being made toward the desired outcome.

9. What is a Six Sigma certificate?

What is a Six Sigma certificate
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A Six Sigma certificate is a formal recognition of an individual’s knowledge and understanding of the Six Sigma methodology and their ability to apply it in a business or organizational setting.

There are several different levels of Six Sigma certification, each with its own set of requirements and prerequisites.

White Belt

This is the introductory level of Six Sigma certification, and it is intended for individuals who have a basic understanding of the methodology and its principles.

Yellow Belt

If you are working on Six Sigma projects as a team member or support staff, then this is for you. At this level, the main focus is to understand the basics of Six Sigma and its DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) methodology.

Green Belt

This certification will give you a solid understanding of the methodology and its tools and the ability to apply them to solve problems and improve processes. Is a step further.

Black Belt

Here we are starting to play in the big league, so to speak. This certification is for individuals who will be leading Six Sigma teams and managing multiple projects. They have a deep understanding of the methodology and its tools and can apply them in complex and challenging situations.

Master Black Belt

This is the highest level of Six Sigma certification. In fact, this is not the end of the journey; rather, it is the start of a new one. If you want to lead and mentor Six Sigma teams and drive organizational change, this is your target. You will have a comprehensive understanding of the methodology and its tools, and you can apply them to achieve breakthrough results. In other words, you will be in charge of the organizational changes. Something like an “operational tactician,” playing with strategy and tactics at the same time.

To obtain any Six Sigma certification, you need to complete a training program, pass an exam and have a certain amount of relevant work experience. The last one makes the difference. The certification is usually valid for a certain period of time and requires continuing education to maintain it. As I said, this is a new journey.

10. Is a Six Sigma certification worth it?

Is a Six Sigma certification worth it
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When it comes to whether or not a Six Sigma certification is worth it, it really depends on your career expectations. But let me put it this way: if you’re looking to give your career a boost and set yourself apart in the business world, a Six Sigma certification is like the cherry on top of your sundae.

First and foremost, Six Sigma is a highly-regarded methodology that is used by top companies around the world to improve their processes and increase efficiency. By obtaining a Six Sigma certification, you’re showing potential employers that you have the knowledge and skills to help their organization achieve similar results. Think of it as a gold seal of approval for your resume.

Additionally, Six Sigma certification can open up a whole new world of career opportunities. It can qualify you for higher-paying and higher-level roles, such as project manager, process improvement specialist, or even director of quality. It’s like having a “golden ticket” to the front of the line for job opportunities.

But it’s not just about the career benefits; Six Sigma can also help you in your personal life. The problem-solving skills you learn can be applied to any area of your life, from your home to your hobbies. It’s like having a “Swiss Army knife” for life.

Of course, obtaining a Six Sigma certification does require time and effort. But when you consider the potential benefits, it’s like the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It’s an investment in your future that is well worth it.

In short, if you’re looking to take your career to the next level and set yourself apart in the business world, a Six Sigma certification is definitely worth considering.

11. What is Process Modeling in Six Sigma?

What is Process Modeling in Six Sigma
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Process modeling is a Lean Six Sigma methodology that focuses on understanding, evaluating, and improving business processes. It focuses on understanding how a process works and identifying areas for improvement. It involves collecting data from the process and analyzing it using various Six Sigma tools, such as process mapping, value stream mapping, and failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA).

Process modeling is an essential part of Lean Six Sigma projects and a prerequisite for earning Lean Six Sigma certifications such as Green Belt and Black Belt.

12. What Measurement System Analysis is?

What Measurement System Analysis is
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It’s a fact now that Lean Six Sigma focuses on continuous improvement, no doubt. However, during this process, we need to rely on facts, and MSA is like a lens of light that sustains this endeavor by being part of this approach.

Measurement System Analysis (MSA) is the process of analyzing and verifying the accuracy, precision, and repeatability of a measurement system. MSA helps ensure that the results produced from a process are accurate, reliable, and meaningful. It is important to understand the underlying principles of measurement system analysis in order to implement Lean Six Sigma projects effectively.

13. Performance metrics

Performance metrics
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I always loved examples, so let’s imagine another one, broken down into small pieces.

A tier-one manufacturing facility launched a Lean Six Sigma project to reduce defects and process lead time. Prior to the project, the plant was experiencing a defect rate of 380 parts per million (PPM) and a process lead time of 12 days.

The plant management team decided to focus their efforts on a specific process, as it was identified as a major contributor to the overall defects and lead time in the plant.

Before Implementation of the Six Sigma Project:

Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ): $500,000

Breakdown of COPQ:

  • Scrap/Rework: $150,000
  • Warranty Claims: $100,000
  • Lost Sales: $200,000
  • Process Inefficiency: $50,000

After Implementation of the Six Sigma Project:

Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ): $150,000

Breakdown of COPQ:

  • Scrap/Rework: $50,000
  • Warranty Claims: $25,000
  • Lost Sales: $75,000
  • Process Inefficiency: $00,000

The key takeaway is that Six Sigma can lead to significant cost savings and improvements in quality. And that means business sustainability.

14. Other question you might have

Other questions about Six Sigma Lean
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What is the difference between DMAIC and DMADV?

The DMAIC and DMADV are two key components of the Lean Six Sigma methodology, which is a process improvement methodology used to analyze and improve business processes.

The primary difference between the two processes lies in the stages of the methodology. In DMAIC, the focus is on improving existing processes and involves defining the problem, measuring the process, analyzing data to identify root causes, improving processes, and controlling results.

On the other hand, DMADV has a more structured approach that starts with defining customer requirements and ends with verifying that these requirements have been met. This includes the steps of measuring customer requirements, analyzing possible design options, designing an optimal solution, and verifying the design meets customer requirements.

DMAIC projects are typically led by Green Belts who have completed basic Lean Six Sigma training and have experience in process improvement strategy.

However, DMADV projects require higher levels of expertise and are typically led by Six Sigma Black Belts who have extensive knowledge of Lean Six Sigma principles and six sigma statistical tools.

Both DMAIC and DMADV are important components of the Lean Six Sigma methodology and are used to improve the performance of business processes through continuous improvement. The right approach should be chosen depending on the requirements of the project.

15. Conclusion

Conclusion about what is Six Sigma Lean
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Lean or Six Sigma? Lean is the engine that gives us business speed, while six sigma is like a precision lens that helps us reach the target every time.

In conclusion, one cannot help but ponder the immense significance of Lean Six Sigma initiative in today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving business landscape. The integration of Lean and Six Sigma techniques in a Lean Six Sigma project has proven to be a game-changer, allowing companies to streamline their processes, reduce defects, and improve efficiency. The marriage of these two powerful methodologies has created a powerful force for positive change and continuous improvement. As we look toward the future, it is clear that the principles of Lean Six Sigma will continue to play a vital role in the success of any organization.

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About the Author

Liviu Prodan

Liviu is an experienced trainer and LifeHacker. He’s been living the ‘Corpo life’ for more than 15 years now and has been a business developer for more than 12 years. His experience brings a lot of relevancy to his space, which he shares on this blog. Now he pursue a career in the Continuous Improvement & Business Development field, as a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, a path that is coherent with his beliefs and gives him a lot of satisfaction.

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