When it comes to quality control and continuous improvement, businesses today have a vast selection of techniques, philosophies, and methodologies to choose from. The diverse offerings can be daunting, but the situation can be mitigated by providing clear information on the choices.
This brings us to this article. Today, we are exploring Lean methodology, including Lean principles, Lean techniques, and other elements of Lean thinking. Then, we will see how Lean management can eliminate waste, improve processes, and ultimately provide more excellent customer value.
Additionally, we will expand on the Lean concept by talking about the Lean Six Sigma methodology. So, let’s start our journey with a basic definition.
What is Lean Methodology?
Originating in Japan at the Toyota production system, Lean Six Sigma methodology is a set of principles and practices to optimize business processes and achieve operational excellence. In postwar Japan, Toyota began applying Lean manufacturing principles, reducing processes that didn’t contribute to the final product’s value.
Lean organizations strive to create as much value for the customer as possible while encouraging and developing an efficient work environment emphasizing respect and teamwork and reducing waste.
Today’s Lean concept originates in Lean manufacturing, which provides the foundational framework for applying all subsequent Lean practices. Nowadays, these Lean practices can be found in all fields, including software development and sales. In fact, software development was the first Lean application outside of manufacturing. Over time, Lean software development evolved into the Agile methodology and is currently used by many organizations to optimize the software development cycle.
Let’s closely examine the foundation of Lean methodology, otherwise known as the Pillars of Lean.
The Pillars of Lean Methodology
The two fundamental pillars of Lean thinking are continuous improvement and respect for people.
- Continuous Improvement. Lean practitioners believe that there is always room for improvement in an organization. This improvement is the responsibility of everyone in the organization and must be practiced every day. Lean leaders typically rely on established improvement cycles like DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) or PDSA (Plan, Do, Study, Act).
- Respect for Workers. The Lean system recognizes that the best ideas often stem from the people doing the work, producing products, or providing services. In fact, one critical Lean practice involves managers visiting the place where the work is actually done (the “gemba”) to experience workspace conditions and process activities firsthand. This practice allows frontline workers to share observations and insights and answer questions. In addition, this practice often creates opportunities to improve because who knows better than the people doing the job?
Additionally, Lean methodology gives people the training and tools required to be successful. Lean leaders ensure that every employee understands the organization’s techniques to implement, manage, and report on Lean initiatives and improvement. In addition, they invest in training, software, and other necessary resources to achieve operational excellence.
Finally, Lean Six Sigma methodology dictates that leaders shouldn’t micromanage their workers but rather empower and trust them to make the right decisions.
Now let’s explain the five core principles of Lean.
Five Core Principles of Lean
Although Lean rests on the two pillars mentioned above, the heart of the Lean system is the five core principles of Lean. You will find these principles carried out in every Lean production system.
You can’t eliminate wasteful processes that don’t contribute to the product’s value until you identify that value in the first place. Instead, lean begins by understanding what the customer values in the context of the organization’s products or services. Thus, the customer, not the organization, defines the value.
Value Stream Mapping
The Lean team must map the organization’s workflow. The value stream represents the product’s entire life cycle, starting with research and development and through the product’s delivery and customer’s use. This stream mapping must include all personnel and actions required to deliver the product and meet customer demand. By doing so, you can identify what parts of the process bring no value. Kanban is one of the most popular Lean tools to map and visualize the product’s life cycle.
Develop a Continuous Workflow
Since Lean focuses heavily on continuous improvement, this principle of Lean is especially vital to the development process. So, once the value stream is locked down, you must ensure that each team’s workflow runs smoothly and stays that way. This stage has many challenges: developing products and services typically requires cross-functional teamwork. In addition, interruptions and bottlenecks can spring up unexpectedly. But if the team breaks down the work into smaller batches and visualizes the workflow, detecting and removing these obstacles becomes easier.
Build a Pull System
What’s a pull system? It means that work is only created when there is a demand. Instead of creating work based on production schedules or predictions, Lean focuses on doing something once the customer orders the services or goods. This process creates shorter delivery cycle times, increased flexibility, and, ultimately, improved quality.
Lean methodology isn’t something that’s put into practice just once; it’s an ongoing process. Lean practitioners must continually strive for perfection, and employees on every level must be involved in continuously improving the process. In addition, these processes must be evaluated to reduce over-processing or other inefficiencies. Lean leaders typically use regular stand-up meetings to discuss the process, Lean Six Sigma, PDCA (plan, do, check, act) cycles, and root cause analyses.
So, What’s Lean Six Sigma?
Lean Six Sigma combines the Lean methodology with Six Sigma, a disciplined, data-driven process improvement methodology designed to remove waste and process defects. As a result, six Sigma provides performance increase and process variation decrease, reducing defects and improving the quality of services and products, staff morale, and ultimately, business profits.
So, when you combine Lean and Six Sigma, you get a data-driven, fact-based continuous improvement methodology that emphasizes defect prevention over defect detection while greatly valuing the workforce. This integrated process is designed to remove the eight most common types of waste: Defects, Extra-Processing, Inventory, Motion, Non-Utilized Talent, Over-Production, Transportation, and Waiting, which we’ll explain in more detail in the next section.
The Eight Areas of Waste
Here are the eight primary kinds of waste that Lean Six Sigma is designed to overcome:
- Defects. Product quality errors are a colossal waste of time, materials, and human effort.
- Extra-processing. This form of waste means putting more features, work, or cost into a product than the customer wants or needs. Lean leaders produce what is necessary and nothing more. Why waste time creating things that no one asks for?
- Inventory. Inventory waste covers unnecessary products or materials—more stock results in a waste of storage and management and, subsequently, a loss in value.
- Motion. Motion waste involves needlessly frequent or complicated movements of people, materials, or machines that are more complex or occur more frequently than necessary.
- Non-Utilized Talent. This waste happens when a person’s skills, capabilities, and ideas aren’t used properly.
- Over-production. Over-production is particularly bad because it leads to many other listed wastes, including motion, inventory, and transportation. This situation is why producing only what’s needed and when needed is preferable.
- Transportation. If materials are moved from one place to another in a manner that doesn’t add value for the customer, it’s wasteful.
- Waiting. Waiting waste happens when the flow is interrupted and processes go out of sync. As a result, personnel and equipment stand idle while everyone waits for the work-in-progress to catch up.
The Advantages of the Lean Management System
Here’s what a Lean management system brings to the table:
- Greater employee engagement and focus. Lean encourages employees to spot and resolve issues. This process leads to increased engagement and focuses on activities that provide value.
- Improved productivity and efficiency. Since Lean eliminates waste and streamlines processes, Lean management helps businesses become more efficient and productive, so they produce more and better products without increasing the need for resources.
- Faster time to market. The pull system helps companies deliver work only when there is actual demand, saving time and reducing lead times.
- Improved quality. Lean management emphasizes identifying and removing defects, which enhances product or service quality.
- Continuous improvement. Since Lean management is built on a culture of continuous improvement, it helps organizations adapt to constantly changing market conditions and remain competitive in the long run.
How to Learn More About Lean Six Sigma
If you’re interested in Lean methodology training, particularly when combined with Six Sigma, you must take this Lean Six Sigma course offered by the UMass Amherst Isenberg School of Management. This course provides you with the tools and training that can help you in your quest to become a Lean Six Sigma expert.
This IASSC-accredited Lean Six Sigma course will train you in concepts such as agile management, digital transformation, Lean management, quality management, and much more.
According to Salary.com, the typical certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt professional in the United States earns an average annual salary of $113,000. So, sign up for Lean Six Sigma training, and gain the valuable certification and tools needed to make your Lean career path easier.