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Lean Six Sigma: Speed and a Data-Driven, Problem-Solving Approach Unite

Lean thinking was developed in the early 19th century by people like Eli Whitney who invented the use of interchangeable parts as a requirement to deliver 10,000 muskets to the newly formed US government. Development continued throughout the industrial age and into the early 20th century as newly formed small businesses, such as Ford Motor Company, used standardization techniques to create and grow large-scale production processes. The Allied victory in WW II was due in large part to the efficient flow of Allied supplies and materials which particularly caught the attention of Japanese industrialists. It was then adopted and honed to positively affect the automotive industry by Toyota in the later part of the 20th century. Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo of Toyota began to utilize lean techniques to transform production processes and the use of these techniques is given significant credit in Toyota’s domination of the automotive industry during this time period. Within Toyota and its supply base, the lean thinking approach and toolset is known as “The Toyota Production System” or TPS.   Further, it extends beyond the factory floor to service and transactional operations where it is known as "The Toyota Way".

The lean approach, tools and techniques leverage the knowledge and empower the team who is closest to the work to improve the process. They focus the team on maximizing process velocity, which can be defined as how much output a process can generate in a given period of time. Process velocity is increased by eliminating waste in order to deliver the same products or services at a lower cost, and in a shorter period of time. Waste is identified and categorized into eight different types of waste known by the DOWNTIME acronym:

  • D – Defects
  • O– Overproduction
  • W – Waiting
  • N – Non-utilized talent
  • T – Transportation
  • I – Inventory
  • M – Motion
  • E – Extra processing
  • Examples of goals for Lean Six Sigma efforts include: reduced cycle time and cost, improved use of resources and increased customer satisfaction. Lean Tools such as Kaizen events and Value Stream Mapping allow teams to quickly assess the current state and identify the most critical areas to address in order to achieve significant improvement.
  • Six Sigma is a data-intensive, problem-solving methodology that focuses on improving the quality of a product or service in the eyes of its customers. Lean Six Sigma combines lean principles of speed and immediate action with Six Sigma focus on improving and sustaining customer-affirmed quality. Combining these two approaches allows businesses to quickly implement sustained process improvements which:

Increase Customer Loyalty

Drive Customer Satisfaction Up

Drive Cost Down

Provide visibility into the process making it much easier to understand, communicate, simplify and change as business/customer demands change

The Principles of Lean Six Sigma: 

  1. The activities that cause the customer’s critical-to-quality issues and create the longest time delays in any process offer the greatest opportunity for improvement in cost, quality, capital and lead time.
  2. Always solve or contain first the external quality problems that affect the customer. The internal quality, cost, inventory and lead time problems will manifest themselves in the time delay they cause.
  3. The people closest to the work are the best equipped to improve it.  A team approach is required to achieve Lean Six Sigma success.

#1 and 2 Taken from Michael George’s book Lean Six Sigma: combining Six Sigma Quality with Lean Speed, p. 4.