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Exploring Lean Process Improvement in Six Sigma

Lean process improvement in six sigma

Today’s competitive business environment makes efficiency an even greater consideration for any business that wants to thrive and stay ahead of the pack. Unfortunately, many businesses find themselves mired in the past, constantly allowing wasteful practices to continue because that’s how they’ve always done business. However, that archaic attitude can drag down a business; more companies today need to adopt Lean process improvement.

This article highlights Lean process improvement. We will define the term, explain its benefits, importance, tools, and techniques, and then show you how to apply it. We also share a Lean Six Sigma bootcamp through which professionals can learn these processes

What is Lean Process Improvement?

Lean process improvement adopts the principles of Lean methodology to establish a continuous, proactive means of identifying chances for improvement, implementing changes based on those opportunities, measuring the changes’ impact, and eliminating waste from a company’s processes and instead focusing on the processes that enhance value to their customers. In other words, It defines which processes are efficient and valuable and which bring no advantage to the business and customers.

Lean process improvement isn’t a one-shot process but a long-term practice that builds and sustains momentum and keeps the organization’s projects on track and running smoothly. It’s a continuous improvement cycle.

Why is the Lean Process Improvement Important?

Lean process improvement is crucial to any company that wants to strategically implement continuous, incremental changes to existing and proposed systems. These changes can happen by increasing workflow efficiency and eliminating process waste. Additionally, this process builds and sustains value-adding activities for the business, its stakeholders, and customers.

Implementing its principles is also essential for mitigating risks of errors or deviations in the organization’s overall operations. Consequently, the benefits of Lean process improvement produce favorable results, such as effective quality services, production processes, and excellent customer satisfaction.

Lean process improvement is applied across various industries, such as construction, healthcare, manufacturing, and service companies. Although the Lean process originated in the automotive industry (Toyota, to be exact!), its core principles are universal. They serve as a holistic guide to ensure that no protocol is left unchecked and that every opportunity is carefully studied and analyzed for potential improvement.

Since we’re talking so much about Lean, let’s quickly review the five Lean principles.

Also Read: Six Sigma Tools: Here’s Top Powerful Tools You Should Know in 2024

The Five Lean Principles

Here are the five Lean principles, presented as leading questions.

  • Define value. What do customers consider valuable?
  • Map a value stream. How can the organization achieve customer value?
  • Establish flow. How can the organization ensure smooth-flowing processes?
  • Create a pull system. How can the company limit inventory as waste?
  • Pursue continuous improvement. What are the steps to building a sustainable Lean thinking culture?

The Benefits of Lean Process Improvement

Let’s look at the major benefits of Lean process improvement.

  • It increases efficiency. Analyzing and improving the company’s process allows it to better and more accurately estimate future sprint deadlines and deliverables.
  • It facilitates better collaboration. Continual improvement creates and nurtures company-wide cross-collaboration. The Lean process encourages teams to communicate issues and opportunities to improve the process.
  • It improves morale. Streamlined and stable processes produce more wins for the team, which improves morale.
  • It decreases waste. The Lean management process keeps teams working only on essential tasks, decreasing wasted time.
  • It fosters a growth mindset. Lean management encourages the organization’s members to seek improvement continually.
  • It creates satisfied customers. When a company consistently delivers value, its customers become evangelists for its services and products.
  • It helps companies stay relevant. Shifting priorities and adapting to change prevents stagnation.

How Do You Apply Lean Process Improvement?

There’s no single accepted step breakdown for applying Lean process improvement, but the following format often appears.

  • Analyze and identify what must be improved. This step involves examining the organization’s current processes to help pinpoint delays, bottlenecks, or inefficiencies so that the company can improve by taking corrective and preventive measures.
  • Implement the changes. Carefully plan how specific changes and improvements will be made, thus building a solid foundation for the implementation. Process owners, among other staff, should take charge of these initiatives and ensure everything is scheduled, monitored, and documented.
  • Execute and monitor. This phase builds on the second step, improving how changes are implemented to better fit the organization’s goals and objectives. The people in charge of this stage must also note any issues or problems uncovered during execution.
  • Ensure value-add. This step further reinforces Value, one of the Lean principles, and involves assessing whether processes contribute to the ultimate goals of meeting and exceeding customer value. This stage is where the acts of reducing waste and continuously improving systems are strongly enforced.
  • Mitigate risks. Since the nature of activity includes a variable degree of risk, streamlining operations as part of Lean process improvement must establish more risk-averse activities.
  • Standardize. Repeating processes must have appropriate documentation, and the guidelines must be stored safely and easily accessible to the authorized parties. This measure ensures that employees and other stakeholders can work effectively and efficiently to replicate processes.
  • Maintain compliance. While it must be a company-wide shift in corporate culture, some industries or governing bodies may have specific procedures, metrics, and standardized measurements to adhere to. Compliance cannot be sacrificed for efficiency; shortcuts ultimately create more problems than they solve.
  • Enhance customer experience. In evaluating the success of a Lean process improvement plan, most marketers consider the final customer experience to be “the moment of truth.” Ultimately, the company’s improvements during production or service must eventually impact the customer positively.

Also Read: Six Sigma Black Belt Salaries in 2024: Everything You Need to Know!

Lean Process Improvement Techniques and Tools

Here’s a sample of popular Lean process improvement techniques and tools.

  • 5S. 5S is considered a systematic approach to workplace organization using visual management practices. It applies the five principles originally pioneered by the Toyota Motor Company: sort (seiri), Set in order (seiton), Shine (seiso), Standardize (seiketsu), and Sustain (shitsuke).
  • Affinity Diagram. Affinity diagrams work well in Lean implementation’s early stages, as they can help sort and organize vast quantities of data. It is used to identify the value the organization brings to the customer and uncover problems with the company’s existing processes.
  • FMEA Analysis (failure mode and effects). Organizations can eliminate waste and save money if they catch issues before they get out of hand. This tool allows businesses to examine their flow and identify problems early.
  • Gemba Walk. This workplace walkthrough method was created to observe employees, learn about their responsibilities and tasks, and note where the “real work” happens. This walkthrough helps organizations see the company’s processes in action firsthand and identify areas for improvement by using Lean principles and productivity enhancement efforts.
  • Hoshin. Hoshin is a Lean process improvement tool mainly used for strategic planning. It empowers organizational communication involving establishing and achieving objectives by getting all parties on board to work together towards a common goal.
  • Ishikawa Diagram. Also called a “cause-and-effect diagram” or “Fishbone diagram,” it allows teams to examine a problem from many different angles, including people, methods, machines, measurements, materials, and the environment.
  • Kanban. Kanban is a visual process workflow tool that uses boards. It allows individuals and teams to develop and maintain a shared understanding of the organization’s processes with the goal of effective work management.
  • Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) and Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC). When looking into holistic approaches, these two tools can be used for problem-solving and removing waste in business processes.
  • Six Sigma. Six Sigma focuses on a standard of near-perfect quality and eliminating variation. Six Sigma helps enhance Lean process improvement and helps solve problems using a data-driven approach to remove errors and defects.
  • The 5 Whys. As the name implies, this standard root cause analysis tool asks “Why?” five times. By asking these five questions, organizations can identify or reach the root cause of the problem, which can help apply lean thinking and practices. This involves asking the “Why” question until the team finally hits upon the leading cause.
  • WIP Limits. With this technique, the project manager limits how much work can exist in any given workflow. Enforcing WIP limits keeps the team from getting overloaded, overworked, and stressed.

How to Gain Lean Six Sigma Skills

We discussed Six Sigma earlier, a popular set of methodologies that improve businesses by reducing errors and defects and increasing quality and efficiency. Six Sigma is a valuable tool for any project manager, so if you want to gain certification, consider this highly informative Six Sigma training course.

This 24-week online bootcamp is aligned with IASSC-Lean Six Sigma and teaches you the valuable core concepts of Six Sigma. Many job opportunities await Six Sigma-certified professionals, such as Quality Managers, Production Line Managers, Continuous Improvement Engineers, Quality Assurance Managers, or Senior Systems Engineers.

For example, Ziprecruiter.com indicates that a Quality Manager can earn an annual average of $91,047. If you’re ready for a career change or want to upskill your current quality management skillset, check out this online bootcamp and polish those valuable skills.

You might also like to read:

A Guide to Six Sigma Projects

Quality Management Process: A Beginner’s Guide

Six Sigma Books Worth Reading

What is Lean Six Sigma Green Belt?

How To Get Six Sigma Green Belt Certification?

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