24 Aug Lean Six Sigma is not dead, it has evolved
In a context that prioritizes agility over quality, and results over method, there seems to be no longer a place for Lean Six Sigma. But we cannot discard a methodology that has proven to be extremely successful. We need to embrace its strengths and review new opportunities in a world in which agility, Data Mining, and Change Management are gaining importance. This is what the evolution of Lean Six Sigma is all about.
The success of Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma has been applied for more than 20 years in a variety of companies and industries with extraordinary results. Those who have used it agree that it is the most solid, rigorous, and profound improvement methodology to help analyze a process, look for the causes of a problem, and propose solutions.
The methodology combines concepts from Six Sigma, which focuses on reducing variability, and Lean Manufacturing, which proposes prioritizing flow, and providing flexibility and speed to processes. Let’s review its main concepts.
DMAIC, 5 steps to make the right questions
The analysis, structured in five stages, allows us to move from the problem to the probable causes and propose solutions based on key questions. These stages are:
- DEFINE what is important to the customer and what is considered a “defect”,
- MEASURE the level of defects and the reliability of the data,
- ANALYZE what the causes are,
- IMPROVE defects and propose solutions,
- CONTROL the sustainability of the improvements over time.
Lean Manufacturing Pillars
Lean Manufacturing reinforced some of DMAIC concepts, and provided additional tools to facilitate the flow of the process and build the organizational culture necessary for it. The pillars of this philosophy are:
- Focus on customer value: It proposes mapping the value flow according to the characteristics required by the customer in order to identify which tasks add value, and which do not.
- Waste: By analyzing the process, it is sought to discriminate the tasks that add value from those that do not.
- Jidoka: It is centered in preventing problems and defects from appearing.
- Just in Time: It is about making the process more flexible.
- Stability and standardization: It seeks to ensure processes that are predictable.
- Involvement and participation: The culture of the organization is a central aspect.
The integration of Lean with Six Sigma reinforced the concept of leadership within the improvements, teamwork and ways of working that favor dynamism in the processes. This was a first step in the direction of agility.
Three great strengths of Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma tools are based on three core ideas that we must not forget. First of all, I would like to highlight the permanent focus strategy. There are clear prioritization criteria and tools that help to always know what the next step is, in a constant effort to keep the focus on:
- what the customer needs,
- the data,
- the analysis of the processes,
- the work on the variability of the results, and make an effort to reduce it,
- reducing the number of defects with the client (the flaws in the methodology).
Second, in the era of Big Data, the validation culture proposed by Lean Six Sigma becomes even more relevant. Each of the decisions made in a project needs to go through evaluations based on objective metrics that validate:
- customer requirements,
- the causes,
- the solutions,
- the controls that we are going to do,
- how we are going to approach sustainability.
Third, the methodology has understood the importance of managing people throughout the project. A Belt knows that building a support infrastructure, considering both technical and cultural aspects, is essential if we want to achieve the results. For example, Lean Six Sigma projects always have a sponsor or a Champion, people from the management who are permanently helping the team eliminate the problems that may arise and providing support for the projects to move forward.
On the other hand, a culture of analysis and validation can have negative effects on the project´s length and flexibility. So, how can we provide agility to Lean Six Sigma projects?
The agile approach
“Agile is about working smarter, rather than harder. It’s not about doing more work in less time: it’s about generating more value with less work”. - Steve Denning
The main criticisms of the Lean Six Sigma methodology state that:
- it is not so easy to complete the projects,
- the consensus is difficult to achieve,
- the projects are long,
- lack of flexibility.
Lean Six Sigma projects need agility and that is why its integration with the agile methodology becomes almost natural. Agile has in common with this methodology the focus on the customer, even above the plan. Its central points are:
- An obsession with delivering value to the client: With the conviction that we constantly learn in the relationship with the client, the client becomes present and gives constant feedback along the way.
- Organizing in small and autonomous work teams: Working with independent teams that have the freedom to experiment, err, and learn quickly, plus working in short cycles or sprints.
Moving towards agility, the challenge is to make the environment flexible without losing the rigor, focus and analysis capacity of the DMAIC.
How to achieve agility in Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma needs to incorporate agility in these 4 areas:
- project cycles
- visual management tools
- data and process analysis tools
- the training
Agility in project cycles
Agile Lean Six Sigma aims to promote agility by pairing agile improvement cycles with an Agile Transformation Plan. The Change Management actions, also developed in sprints, will facilitate the sustainability of practices, the agility in the adoption of change, and innovation. Change Management is a fundamental tool in order to ensure the success of the improvements we are developing.
Agility in visual management tools
Visual Management tools help monitor the project progress in an agile way, anticipate problems in the development, and reorganize the plan quickly if needed. Among these tools we can mention:
- Project Canvas: Helps to see at a glance the key aspects that the project should consider. These include scope, assumptions and constraints, outputs or deliverables, desired outcomes, benefits, critical success criteria, budget, stakeholders, risks, and key milestones.
- Macro Schedule of the Project Stages: A Gantt chart allows to visualize the sequence of tasks, the times assigned to each of them and the assignment of responsibilities.
- Kanban Boards: Helps to quickly see the status of each task (planned, running, or completed).
- Daily or Weekly Standups: These are short, daily or weekly meetings, in which the Kanban board is reviewed and the task planning is adjusted according to the progress in the last period.
Minimal Learning Products (MLP): From a quick evaluation of what happened in each cycle, this model achieves constant feedback with the clients, ensuring that everything we do has meaning for them. It contains five questions: What did we want to do in this cycle? Did we do it? What did we learn? How are we improving the customer experience thanks to this implementation?
Agility in the Analysis and Process Tools
In order to reach the correct conclusions, Lean Six Sigma requires data that has a certain level of quality, is reliable and validated. This is where sophisticated data analysis tools become crucial.
Fortunately, the development of data analysis software has grown lately and there are numerous options that can simplify the life of a Belt. I would like to highlight EngineRoom, a specific platform for Lean Six Sigma project management, which allows statistical and process analysis, and even simulate a projected improvement to understand its potential effects.
Agility in Lean Six Sigma training
No one doubts the level of training that Lean Six Sigma analysts (Green Belts, Black Belts, Yellow Belts) achieve. However, these trainings are time consuming and cost companies quite a lot of money.
IMCG’s agile training proposes to incorporate concepts as needed, with three levels of training.
Lean Six Sigma is not dead. The rigorousness, validations and statistical analysis tools that have made it so prestigious not only remain relevant, but also take a central role in the era of Big Data.
But, as Lean Six Sigma specialists, we must understand it is time to evolve. We must learn from Agile the need for permanent customer feedback, the use of working in short cycles and experimenting, the focus on collaboration and the necessity of a permanent interaction within teams and with stakeholders.
We must understand that managing people is a determining factor in the success of the project and that accompanying the project with a Change Management Plan can fasten the process and guarantee the sustainability of the results.
We need to learn how to use Data Mining tools and statistical software to be able to process information quickly and make decisions based on reliable and secure data.
We need to foresee problems before they occur and align the entire team towards the goal with Visual Management tools. And we need to train our analysts faster.
Lean Six Sigma, as we knew it until now, does not exist anymore. It is time for Agile Lean Six Sigma.
Author: Maia Galíndez