LinkedIn Discussion Unravels Important Lean and Six Sigma Tools
Lean and Six Sigma methodology both work together toward the common goal of getting your business into its best shape possible. When conducting Lean operations, you’re looking at ways to reduce waste and variability and, ultimately, to make a work floor or overall business more productive and efficient.
That said, the plethora of tools at one’s disposal when they first get started in Lean can be overwhelming, to say the least. Many would-be Lean implementers get themselves into trouble by either taking on too many projects/methodologies at once or by not fully understanding one before they try to use it… or both even worse: both.
So how do you break down your options and choose exactly which tools to use and which to leave in your toolbox for a while? The unfortunate answer to that question is that there’s no one special way to do things. What you implement is largely dependent on the needs of your business, and you’ll have to be able to self-evaluate, at least to some extent, in order to figure this out.
That said, there are some general Lean activities that might be a good starting point, and some friends you didn’t even know you had decided to help you figure these out in a recent discussion on the LinkedIn forums.
User Forrest Breyfogle posted his own blog post on his five favorite and most important to use LSS techniques and asked other users to weigh in. While Breyfogle had some gems in his list, and some agreed with it word for word, other users from the LinkedIn group, “Lean Six Sigma”, weighed in with some other tools and techniques they thought would be of equal importance to the lean newbie, or practitioner in general, as well.
In this blog post, we’re going to take a look through some of the suggested Lean techniques and what exactly they mean and how you can use them to further your own goals.
One of the first things to note is that a few of the posters who spoke up in the discussion were quick to mention more general advice on the goals of lean. While “general advice” might not sound as useful, this kind of foundation is a huge part of best understanding your Lean efforts and making sure you don’t put the horse before the cart.
Poster Simon Eagle reminds us that the goals of Lean and LSS should be kept in mind at all times; it’s important to think of these goals as stepping stones or in a procedural manner.
Here’s an easier way to deconstruct that statement: If you think of Lean as a goal of being perfectly efficient and achieving operational excellence, you are going to have a much harder time getting there than if you actualize Lean as small procedural steps that bring you closer and closer to that goal.
Jumping Off Point
The first item on Breyfogle’s list is “baselining”, which involves getting a current pulse on the operation or process you want to change/improve.
First of all, you need to get into spy mode and gather intelligence; scoop up everything you can on the current state of your operation. This includes not only things that need improvement, but also things that are currently going well; this is so that you don’t accidentally create new problems by messing with things that were already working well.
Next you need to quantify what you’re seeing in terms of output, time, etc. Finally, compare these numbers and observations with the ideal. Through walking yourself through this step, you’ll be able to assess what you want to do based on facts, rather than speculation.
For your planning phases, user Aniruddha Sahasrabudhe suggests creating a LSS “Process Charter”.
“A formal written down document like ” Process Charter ” or Project Charter ” for each CFET , Cross Functional Engineering Team in addition to 5 tools suggested by you will be very helpful. This is because a CFET will have members with varying skills ,competencies & number of years of experiences so a written down document will always serve as a common reference point.”
A process charter is simple a document which outlines the goals/desired outcomes of your project, the requirements and costs for it, who will be completing which tasks, a timeline for the completion of said tasks, and more; the Creating such a charter serves a number of purposes including…
- Creating a document that you can use to help show the value of your project to higher ups and convince them to lend their support (this is important enough that we recently did an entire article on cultivating “executive buy-in”).
- Keeping you and your team on-task throughout a project so that you don’t get distracted or lose focus.
- As Sahasrabudhe suggests, helping people at different levels of understanding get on board and see how various phases of a plan will work together.
The second and third tools that Breyfogle suggests are flow charting and value-stream mapping, respectively. These tools are important and I’m glad they made the list because they are visual. Lean can seem like such a learned, lofty area of expertise – ironic, considering its end goals are often simplistic – that we sometimes forget to factor in the basics of how to best get ideas across.
Flow charts allow you to map out your entire operation, from start to finish, with simple boxes, circles, arrows, and other shapes that show how everything works together. Such a simple diagram can be eye opening when viewed for the first time, especially if you take the time to properly map out every single step involved in a process.
Value Stream Mapping takes the process of charting things out a bit further by assigning values to various stage in production and looking at their current and potential states.
No matter what suite or kit of tools you use, it is important to include some type of visual mapping device that allows everyone to see the overall state of an operation.
Just as important as the individual tools, however, is the framework of mindset you work within. For example, DMAIC was brought up a couple of times in the LinkedIn discussion. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control, and it’s a common way to keep your Lean operations on track.
While you can find plenty of in-depth instructions for using DMAIC to solve your workplace problems and take on projects, the most important thing to take away is that the DMAIC framework illustrates a step-by-step approach that sections off segments of an operation and forces you to pace yourself.
Additional considerations from the Top 5 list include cause and effect analysis and hypothesis testing. These techniques entail learning how to root out the real causes of your issues and then how to make sure the conclusions you draw are accurate and correctly evaluated, respectively.
When putting together your own set of Lean/SS tools, a good formula to follow is to start by choosing a technique to outline your process as it currently is. Next, use one or two direct effect tools that will address the problems you’re encountering. Finally, be able to evaluate your results after the fact with a degree of accuracy.