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Overview of Lean Six Sigma Management Methodologies

written by: Tara Duggan • edited by: Ronda Bowen • updated: 12/16/2010

Organizations implementing lean six sigma management methodologies seek to eliminate waste while creating value. Instead of taking just cost-cutting measures, managers focus on providing what customers really want.

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    Introduction

    6 Sigma Normal distribution Using lean six sigma management methodologies, business professionals identify value as defined by the end customer. For each of their products or services, they determine all the steps in the production process and eliminate steps that don’t add value to the customers. By streamlining processes, products and services reach customers more quickly. Customers value the products they get and provide feedback which allows processes to improve continuously.

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    Eliminating Waste

    Project managers lead their teams in activities that analyze the business to identify waste, such as over production, waiting periods between phases, transportation delays, inventory excesses, insufficient processing output, excessive steps and defective products. They brainstorm ways in which processes and systems should be modified or adjusted to reduce or eliminate these problems. By simplifying tasks, setting up order, scrubbing out imperfections, stabilizing or standardizing operations and sustaining improvements, the organization typically improves its performance.

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    Getting Started

    Organizations implementing lean six sigma methodologies typically start by identifying a leader for the transformation. This person accumulates the knowledge and learns how to deploy a system of initiatives. Usually by focusing on a basic problem, such as increasing customer dissatisfaction or elevated product failure rates, this leader designates a project leader and forms a team to assess the current state and propose a leaner future state. Starting with small activities, the team works towards eliminating wasteful processes to improve the work flow. Once the team has momentum, expanding the scope to create other projects begins.

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    Planning Improvement Projects

    Using six sigma strategies focuses the team on reducing variations in product or service output. Using statistical tools, managers analyze business operations to pinpoint problems in the work flow. Quantifying or qualifying problems allows a manager to assign resources to address them. Creating projects and producing planning documents focuses the team’s efforts. The project leader typically plans what needs to be done, executes the plan on a trial basis, checks the results and modifies the plan, if required, and then implements the plan more widely. By carefully defining, measuring, analyzing, improving and controlling processes, managers can get the most improvement with the least investment. Using tools and techniques such as process mapping (exposing flaws in work flow) and value stream mapping (examining a process as if everything were unnecessary to highlight where true value lies).

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    Avoiding Mistakes

    Lean six sigma management methodologies allow organizations to become more efficient. However, these strategies aren’t intended as tools for workforce reduction or drastic cost-cutting measures. As the organization eliminates wasteful processes, the resources associated with them become free to generate new work that adds value to the customers. While the immediate results attract managers, care needs to be taken to educate all participants about the purpose of implement lean six sigma methodologies or the long-term benefits cannot be realized. Invariably, new problems occur and more challenges appear. Eliminating waste can be difficult but the efficiencies enjoyed by the organization are well worth the effort and initial investment.

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    Conclusion

    Using lean manufacturing and six sigma quality management methodologies, tips and tools enables an organization to eliminate waste, reduce product or service defects and improve customer satisfaction. By streamlining the business processes and procedures associated with production, the organization frees up valuable resources to focus on other endeavors, such as new product development or service enhancements.

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    References and Image Credit

    • Image Credit: 6 Sigma Normal Distribution (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:6_Sigma_Normal_distribution.jpg)
    • "MIT OpenCourseWare | Engineering Systems Division | ESD.60 Lean/Six Sigma Processes, Summer 2004 | Home." Free Online Course Materials | MIT OpenCourseWare. http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/engineering-systems-division/esd-60-lean-six-sigma-processes-summer-2004/ (accessed December 15, 2010).
    • "Tools & Templates." iSixSigma. http://www.isixsigma.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=205&Itemid=48 (accessed December 15, 2010).

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