Personal Development

Lean Six Sigma

#learningIsAGift ?
#rituals of #theBeautifulJourney ?

#2021monthlyArticle series 

This month I’m writing some notes from a course provided by the company I work for, a course I’ve voluntarily done in my own time.

Whenever you want to improve a situation, a process, Lean Six Sigma is a goos source of inspiration.

The Lean Six Sigma course covers Lean, which is a process improvement methodology aimed at eliminating waste, and Six Sigma, a statistical approach to problem solving, both aiming to support continuous improvement and deliver quality to customers. 

I’ll extract a few key points from the course, aiming to not exceed my 2 pages article length limit too much :). I’ll start with Lean, continue with Six Sigma, then close with a few notes on Quality. Let’s dive in!

Lean is focused on removing waste by streamlining a process. To do this it employs visual techniques of mapping a process, so you can see a before and after picture. The hope is to have only value-adding steps in a process. When talking about Lean, to me, key words are value-added, process mapping & remove waste.

e.g. (TIM WOODS acronym)

  • Transport – emailing files back & forth
  • Inventory – too many reports, CC: on emails, build-up of work in progress
  • Motion – looking for information (that is hard to find)
  • Waiting – processes not synchronised, unbalanced workloads
  • Over-production – excessive no. of slides
  • Over-processing – generating reports that are not used
  • Defects – rework
  • Skills (unused) – are the right people in the right job?

The Lean principles are:

  1. Value (customer need, activity the customer would pay for)
  2. Value Stream (distinguish the value & non-value steps in the process map)
  3. Create Flow (cross-departmental communication & alignment)
  4. Establish Pull (build as needed)
  5. Seek Perfection (continuous improvement)

The course narrative also exemplifies how Lean principles can be applied to personal processes/life, as key cogs in a bigger process are people. The course touches on the part of Mindset & Culture while talking about Tools & Techniques e.g. Kanban and the 5Ss. Kanban is particularly relevant as one of the Lean principles is Pull – only do what is needed, when it is needed.

Personal Kanban


… because Anxiety is caused by a lack of control, organization, preparation & action. (David Kekich)

Sort (segregate & discard)

Set in order (arrange & identify)

Shine (tidy up daily)

Standardise (everything in its place)

Sustain (make it a habit) #practiceiseverything

The quote about anxiety is my contribution and I got it from David Allen’s book Getting Things Done.

I thought it fits well with the rest of the message of the course, when it comes to personal processes. On the topic of mindset & culture, I also liked the following message:

Everything can be improved by everybody, at every level, every day and everywhere.

Another tool covered by the course, specifically for the continuous improvement step, is Kaizen. As are the retrospectives, but under the name of After-Action Reviews (AARs). One could become a recognized facilitator for both in the company I work for. This is something that interests me. I enjoy doing trainings, running AARs, discussing what can be improved within a team, department, business.

Six Sigma is a statistical approach to problem solving. The focus is on identifying and eliminating anything that causes variation in a process relative to desired performance.

The Six Sigma approach covers 5 phases:

1.       Define (the real-world problem to be solved)

2.       Measure (what data will you collect?)

3.       Analyse (what is the data saying?)

4.       Improve (based on the data, what can you change?)

5.       Control (how are you monitoring & maintaining the new status quo?)

Although we commonly talk about problems, and want to solve problems (because adults are serial problem solvers), I have really enjoyed the following idea – it is a very nice perspective shift:

Instead of thinking of it as a problem, think of it as a process.

The Six Sigma topic is quite lengthy, covering lots of statistical techniques for the different phases and I won’t present them here. Note that in the Six Sigma phases, Lean practices can be used as well e.g. the Value Steam Mapping in e.g. the Measure phase. From the other tools that were mentioned, communication made me think of the Lean principle of Creating Flow.

Why would these methodologies exist? To help deliver quality in products and services, efficiently.

What becomes apparent while going through the course and learning about the methodologies is that time investment and commitment is required from teams and facilitators of these Lean Six Sigma tools and techniques. Hence, there is a Cost of Quality, and the course covers this topic in the Six Sigma context as well, introducing notions like Six Sigma Quality (out of scope for this article).

Here is an overview of the Cost of Quality, with a few examples:

For example, a Kaizen event could take two days out of 8-10 people’s time. That’s the kind of investment that often feels costly relative to doing “actual” work. But through the lens of Lean Six Sigma, one sees it’s not just about doing work, it’s a lot about how efficiently that work is done, without waste, without friction.

I’ll stop here. I hope this gives you a few research starting points.

Until next time… stay Lean!

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