Guest article by Mischa Lucyshyn, qualityaustria Network partner, Product Management Six Sigma and Statistics
The Many Uses of Lean Six Sigma
Many claims can and continue to be made about the usefulness and successes of a combined set of tools and approaches for process improvement, commonly known as Lean Six Sigma (LSS for short). And while in some quarters Lean Six Sigma has been elevated to serve even as management system (sort of), an honest closer look grounded in widespread practice quickly reveals this as an aggrandising hyperbole.
So what then are the reasonable uses of LSS – and how does the interplay between LSS and a quality management system as propagated by e. g. the ISO 900x family lead to tangible benefits for an organization?
Let´s start with the latter – and the obvious and easily verifiable fact that a data driven method for process improvement like LSS is far more likely to flourish in an organization that „lives“ and understands itself as an interdependent system, structured by its various levels of processes. This basic understanding and the ensuing behaviour is hugely helpful – just think of seemingly simple things like available data from process measurements. An organization that takes its ISO 9001 certification seriously will have no problem with that. While any organization can „do“ (and benefit from) one LSS project as an isolated event, only organizations that foster continuous improvement as a matter of course will see a sustainable cumulative effect of employing LSS as an approach for „how to do improvement“. The chance for that „matter of course“ is much higher in an organization that – honestly – lives a management system approach such as ISO 9001.
How about the other way round? Not only does LSS serve as a solid, structured and data driven approach for problem solving: Doing exactly that in its very particular way during the DMAIC phases, LSS practitioners contribute to the growing in-depth (process) knowledge base of an organization, support a process-driven mindset – all while generating quite tangible economic benefits as rather welcome by-products. Understood as a tool-laden approach for improvements of all kinds and sizes, LSS helps to engrain process understanding and process orientation, regardless of the way how it is employed: Used for breakthrough improvements it usually swiftly gains acceptance as „the way of working“, which then spreads to day-to-day behavioural changes, as even minute process problems will get viewed through the lenses of LSS opportunities. Furthermore, people experienced in applying the DMAIC recipe on big problems get used to the keen scrutiny of large parts of the organization that this sort of work entails, which will both grow their leaderships skills and what their appetite to integrate this way of working in their daily, small-scale problem solving. (By the way – and though one would not guess that based on grand and lofty advertising: LSS does not have to be a complicated behemoth.)
Last – and not least: People trained in and used to work with LSS are well prepared and eager to explore the possibilities which have opened up with progressing digitalization of „life, the universe and everything“. And they surely know that „it is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes”. So why not try LSS instead?
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