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Lean Six Sigma: the ultimate mix to process improvement

Robots don’t do hacks! They need stability and predictability. Automation relies on clean processes. Read on and find out why Lean Six Sigma can leverage your process improvement for automation.

Lean Six Sigma is a powerful combination of two process improvement methodologies (Lean & Six Sigma, as you may wonder), and the pair can achieve much more than each one individually.

If you’re looking to standardize your operations, improve your processes, or prepare your business for automation, then LSS is your golden ticket to success.

This article will quickly cover what Lean Six Sigma is, its benefits, and what it can do for your company in order to promote continuous improvement to your processes. Let’s get started right away.

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement strategy that combines the defect removal of Six Sigma with the speed and efficiency of Lean processes. While it’s obvious how two process improvement strategies can benefit your company’s processes, you might be wondering how this combination can help in the quest for business process automation, but the two are more closely related than you think.

Forget about reacting, it’s time to anticipate!

LSS values defect prevention over detection. After all, the best way to plug a leak is to make sure it never happens in the first place. It also promotes bottom-line results and drives customer satisfaction by reducing variation, waste, and cycle life. It does this by promoting the use of work standardization and flow.

Ideally, every employee within the organization should be involved to get the most out of its implementation.

To better understand how exactly Lean Six Sigma works, let’s first dive into each of its parts.

Lean methodology

The Lean methodology should be very familiar to you by now. It has become a standard in industries across the world, and for good reason. Lean originated in the 1940s and had been tested against time and change. At its core, it’s designed to streamline both manufacturing and transactional processes by eliminating time waste and optimizing workflows.

If you need something done fast and efficiently, go Lean. Its central concept involves breaking down large challenges into small, bite-sized tasks that are then delegated and delivered within an optimized timeframe. Always make sure that team members are never taking on more than what they can handle at any given time.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is another process improvement methodology that focuses on improving output quality by reducing process defects. In fact, it’s named after a statistical concept where processes only produce 3.4 defects per million opportunities (or 3.4 DPMO). Originating in the 1980s, it’s had plenty of time to prove itself as a staple in the process improvement environment.

It provides a serious reduction in process variation, maintaining outcomes within a certain variation threshold. Think of a bell curve demonstrating possible variations within a system. The goal is to keep outliers to an absolute minimum by systematically refining processes until they run like a well-oiled machine (foreshadowing for process automation).

What are the benefits of Lean Six Sigma?

By this point, you should already be seeing the benefits garnered by Lean Six Sigma’s process improvement. But if you’re still uncertain about investing in this methodology, here is a list of the benefits provided by LSS:

• Improved customer experience and retention;
• More efficient process flows produce higher bottom-line results;
• Switching from defect detection to prevention reduces costs and removes waste;
• Standardized processes lead to organizational “nimbleness” and flexibility;
• Decreased lead times increase capacity and profitability;
• Engaging employees in the process improves morale and accelerates development;
• Decision-making culture promotes autonomy;
• Reduced delivery variation increases reliability;
• Standardization facilitates employee training.

The best part of Lean Six Sigma is that it can be applied to any company regardless of industry, size or sector, once

LSS: Highlited benefits

The streamlined efficiency of Lean Six Sigma also benefits customers by lowering variation and improving delivery quality. The need to streamline all processes is key to customer satisfaction and growth.

LSS also increases profits through increased capacity, decreases costs through waste and rework reduction, as well as increases overall company efficiency.

LSS & business process automation

Many companies believe that simply automating your processes immediately increases productivity and efficiency. While machines will naturally execute your processes faster than human workers, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your processes will improve.

When automating processes, software developers create a set of rules for machines to follow:

If input data is X, execute Y; if not, execute Z“.

This is a very basic description of how it works but essentially, a machine will follow all of the steps that your current employees take to complete a process. If that process is sub-optimal or inefficient, then your automated process will be just as wasteful.

Using LSS to prep your processes for automation is going to clean up waste and reduce rework and bottlenecks, providing your business with the most optimal version of your processes, laying the groundwork for a more efficient and robust automation transition.

How to use Lean Six Sigma to improve your processes?

Okay, but how exactly does it go about that? There are 2 main aspects of LSS that are used in process improvement: Process Mapping & Process Modeling.

Process Mapping: diagnosis and prognosis

Process mapping is a simple and extremely effective way to understand how a particular process works visually. It helps users visualize process details and guides their decision-making, identifying major strengths and weaknesses within an existing process. This can help employees grasp how each individual step contributes to the overall process, granting transparency and making it easier to locate bottlenecks and waste throughout.

A process map can go by many names, but it is essentially a flow chart that uses common language (symbols) to quickly display information about what each step contributes to the overall flow. It includes inputs, outputs, decisions, delays, flow directions, and other smaller processes embedded within the current one being looked at.

An ideal map should contain as much detail as possible concerning the multiple workflow paths, decisions, and rework loops present in your process. Employees should be able to look at a process map and immediately understand the who, what, where, when, and why behind every component within the flow chart. This will require some training and habit reinforcement, but nothing a group of willing professionals can’t learn and master.

Here are 10 benefits that process mapping can provide your team:

• A picture is worth a thousand words. Graphs, charts, tables, and images can all help display data to other employees in a way that facilitates their decision-making. Make sure to use more than just flow charts alongside your process mapping.

• Visualizing your processes allows you to pinpoint specific areas that need changes, like bottlenecks, delays, and capacity constraints.

• Process mapping can pass on information quickly, as it provides a “show me” interaction instead of a “tell me” one,

• Mapping isn’t just useful for getting information across to your coworkers. It also provides a quick and compelling way to “sell” your improvements to your higher-ups.

• Illustration is also beneficial for training new coworkers since the human brain registers visual information faster and more effectively than auditory info.

• Process maps allow you to understand not just how a single process works but all the processes adjacent to it as well, giving you a “big picture” view of the current situation.

Change is becoming more frequent in business nowadays, and process mapping can assist during digital transformation by allowing you to see not only what is being done at any given moment but who is doing it and how.

• Depending on the scope you decide to use, a process map can provide a detailed deep dive into a single process or a “world map” of all the processes involved in any given area. This provides flexibility within your mapping, allowing you to zoom in and out as needed.

• Process mapping can give you a sense of “expectation,” freeing you from unexpected delays and bottlenecks. If you know exactly how the process flows, you won’t be surprised when the conveyor belt suddenly stops.

Process maps help you discover waste. Habit can be a boon or a crutch depending on the process. Sometimes we automatically go through the motions of a process without thinking about efficiency.

Process Modeling: the solution to your root problems

Similar to other methodologies like Design Thinking, Lean Six Sigma calls upon organizations to define, measure, analyze, improve, and control their processes, laying the groundwork for a successful process improvement project.

These steps are part of what we call DMAIC, a process modeling framework. It uses a cyclical procedure that focuses on understanding processes to improve them continuously. If you wondered how to change your as-is process into a should-be process, this is how.

1) Define

The first step, “define”, is possibly the simplest of the five stages of process modeling. The goal here is to determine what the problem within the process is.

While some processes might have more than one problem within their operation, it’s essential to prioritize these issues and focus on the ones causing the most trouble.

This is something that only your coworkers or employees can genuinely define, so make sure to pay close attention during your interviews to determine what is causing the most pain within your process.

2) Measure

The second step, “measure”, requires you to use metrics and data (both qualitative and quantitative) to determine the reach of the problem.

What is being lost because of it (time, resources, work, etc.), in which steps are these problems localized, and who are the people/programs/procedures responsible? No detail is too small to be overlooked, but don’t start generating hypotheses just yet.

3) Analyze

Now that you have all the information in hand, it’s time to “analyze” the problem. This is where you’ll be determining the root causes of the issue.

This stage can sometimes redefine your actual problem because, many times, what people are experiencing as a “problem” can actually be more of a symptom of the underlying root causes.

4) Improve

Once you’ve found your true culprit, it’s time to finally “improve” your process. This can be done in many ways and can even take advantage of other methodologies like Design Thinking in order to accomplish it.

Take the time to ask the people involved for ideas. After all, they are actually completing the process that you’re attempting to improve. Show them your findings and start a brainstorming meeting to determine what the best solution might be.

Once you have your answer, test it out to evaluate if you have, in fact, solved the problem. If not, just keep prototyping until you get there.

5) Control

The fifth and final step is “control”. In other words, continuous improvement. You want to be certain that the gains from your solution are being maintained through every development cycle.

Controling means a continuous monitoring of the outcomes of the process to make sure that everything is running smoothly. Once that’s done, it’s time to reevaluate your process again, and again, and again, striving for perfection with each iteration.

Ask yourself: how can this process be improved? Are there any other problems that have yet to be addressed? Remember, at this point. It’s not just about fixing problems but improving solutions.

Final words of wisdom on LSS

As you’ve seen, Lean Six Sigma provides the structure and rigor to ensure that your processes are documented, standardized, and devoid of waste and bottlenecks. Remember, automation can’t just be slapped onto a process like a piece of legendary loot. All it does is simply run an existing process without the need for human interaction.

Humans are incredibly adaptable. We can take a terrible process and still make it work with a little bit of ingenuity and elbow grease. We’ll just develop workarounds and creative solutions to “get things done.” On the other hand, robots don’t have that same level of flexibility, no matter how much grease you add to them.

Automation requires a stable and predictable process: the less variation, the better. And LSS can provide companies interested in business automation with a process clean-up regiment that is guaranteed to pave the way for robots to take over.

The last piece of advice we can give you is how to start. If you’re uncertain about how to implement a new process strategy, the easiest and most effective way to do so is by hiring a third party to take over.

IT consultancies have extensive experience within a wide range of businesses and industries. If you’re curious about what MJV can do to help you improve your processes and lay the groundwork for automation, why not reach out to one of our consultants?

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Aiming for a deeper dive in process imrpovement, automation, or Lean Six Sigma lookalikes? Click in the image below and get your free copy of our ebook.