Lean Six Sigma Part I: What is Lean Six Sigma?

Written By: Bastian Solutions

Lean Six Sigma diagramOver the course of my career, I have had several employees, colleagues and corporate leaders ask me about Lean Six Sigma.  Most simply ask, “What is it?”

Literature on Lean Six Sigma includes thousands of books, while online materials have become even more prevalent.  Explaining what encompasses Lean Six Sigma can be difficult.  However, Geoff Tennant wrote the following in his book, “SPC and TQM in Manufacturing and Services”:

“[Lean] Six Sigma is many things, and it would perhaps be easier to list all the things that [Lean] Six Sigma quality is not.  [Lean] Six Sigma can be seen as: a Vision; a Philosophy; a Symbol; a Metric; a Goal; a Methodology.”

I could not agree more with this statement. Lean Six Sigma serves as both a framework and vehicle for quality, innovation and customer satisfaction.

Lean and Six Sigma methodologies have different roots, but have synergistic effects:

  • Lean: Tools to improve process flow and elimination of waste in the value stream
  • Six Sigma: Tools to reduce/eliminate process and defect variation

As a certified practitioner of both disciplines, I can tell you that Lean Six Sigma always starts and ends with your CUSTOMER.  In our circles, we call this the Voice of the Customer (VOC). The bridge to world-class excellence can be found in a customer-centric universe, with the support structure in an unrelenting process performance focus.  Do you really know your VOCs?

Lean-Six-Sigma - Voice of Customer vs. Voice of Product table
Think about your business for a moment.  It doesn’t matter whether it lies in distribution, manufacturing, transportation, health care, automotive or retail. Think about how we solve problems that arise.  World-renowned statistician, Donald J. Wheeler, argues in the “Quality Digest (Vol. 17, No. 8)” that businesses typically handle VOC/VOP issues in one of three ways:

  1. Take action on non-conformance: After-the-fact, doesn’t meet standards
  2. Take action on the process: When appropriate, look for assignable causes
  3. Attempt to take action to align both VOC/VOP: Difficult when no VOP is understood

Dr. Edward Deming, father of the quality evolution, remarked that actions one and three can be described as “Burn the toast and scrape it.”  My mentor taught me that Lean Six Sigma will help you “Learn why you burnt the toast in the first place!”

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On a personal note if your company could benefit from an improvement in performance and service levels, please contact me or hit the schedule now button on the right so I can help get you moving in the right direction.  I am currently available to work with anyone for a free one day engagement.  Normally during those days, it’s a great time to put our heads together while assessing your current situation, but hey, if you have a small problem that we could solve in a day let’s go for it.

Question: Has your warehouse or distribution center utilized Lean Six Sigma practices?  If so, what were the results?  How did it help the company?

Bastian Solutions is an independent system integrator dedicated to helping our customers increase their productivity through proven automation, information systems, and sound operating procedures.

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