Often, when we hear the terms ‘Lean’ or ‘Six Sigma’ they get duly dismissed – “that’s for manufacturing isn’t it?” we hear people say.
Yes, Lean manufacturing started with Henry Ford’s ‘flow’ production back in 1913 and was expanded in the 1930’s and 1950’s by Toyota, but today ‘Lean Thinking’ can be applied to any industry.
“Lean principles and tools are being used in production, logistics and distribution, services, trade, health, construction, maintenance and even in government…”
Climbing the Mountain, Lean Six Sigma Academy
Lean thinking is a widely-applied philosophy focusing on enhancing value for the customer, streamlining flows, and eliminating waste.
- Define value (from the customer perspective)
- Map value stream (eliminating non-value adding activities)
- Create process flow
- Establish pull systems (addressing customer needs and advocating ‘push’ to ‘pull’ process)
- Pursue perfection (continuous improvement)
But what about Six Sigma?
Six Sigma (originating with Motorola and later embraced by General Electric) focuses on capability and reducing variation – the idea being fewer defects, resulting in lower costs.
Six Sigma is in effect a business improvement method concentrating on streamlining operations, improving quality, and eliminating defects. A defect doesn’t necessarily mean something is broken, but rather, it could mean that something is outside customer specification limits. Six Sigma can be applied to any type of business process – not just manufacturing.
Lean Six Sigma
Both Six Sigma and Lean have a focus on improving customer value. In an increasingly competitive global economy, customer value is a vital focus for service organisations in both the private and public sectors. Lean Six Sigma is about operational excellence and concentrates on improving both the efficiency and effectiveness of processes.
Lean Six Sigma Continuous Improvement Maturity Model
One approach to harnessing the power of Lean and Six Sigma is to first understand the maturity level of an organisation in relation to process improvement. Once the starting point is understood, then the organisation can build on this accordingly with the appropriate mix of methods and tools. The idea is to at all times maintain and sustain the levels below.
These levels include:
- Creating a Solid Foundation
- Creating a Continuous Improvement Culture
- Creating Stable and Efficient Processes
- Creating Capable Processes
- Creating Reliable Products
Lean Six Sigma, when implemented properly, removes waste and bottlenecks, enhances flow, reduces variations and ultimately drives better business outcomes.
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