Lean Six Sigma: 9 Tools You Can't Do Without

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What’s In Your Toolbox?

If your company utilizes Lean Six Sigma methodologies, you’re going to benefit from putting these nine vital tools to work:

DMAIC: The framework for Six Sigma process improvement projects and Lean Six Sigma projects is the 5-stage DMAIC process. Through the systematic implementation of the 5 phases – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control – problems are clarified, the current situation is measured and confirmed, root causes are identified, effective improvements are tested and implemented, and procedures are put in place to maintain the gains.

5S: The 5S process derives its name from a series of 5 Japanese words all beginning with the letter ‘S’. These words translate roughly to Housekeeping, Workplace Organization, Cleanup, Cleanliness, and Discipline. Using the 5S methodology an organization can streamline its work processes by removing physical obstacles, maintaining cleanliness, and promoting a productive physical environment.

Voice Of the Customer (VOC): This incorporate some aspect of gathering information from customers about their expectations for quality, rather than relying on business leaders’ assumptions. Specific techniques for gathering VOC data include surveys, phone interviews, focus groups, and reviewing customer contacts and complaints. VOC data drives value stream mapping à la Lean and calculation of process sigma à la Six Sigma.

Process Mapping & Value Stream Mapping: In order to improve processes, project team members must be clear on how a process is actually performed, including all the variation and complexity. Mapping the process is a key aspect of establishing this knowledge, using one of several types of flowcharts. By determining which process steps add value and which don’t, project teams can gain insight into how to reduce variation, reduce defects, and improve process speed.

Fishbone/Ishikawa Diagram: You can see an example by downloading this fishbone diagram here. In order to make improvements to a process, leaders must be clear on the root causes for existing problems and inefficiencies. An Ishikawa diagram, popularly known as a fishbone diagram because of its resemblance to a fish’s skeleton, or a cause-and-effect diagram due to its purpose, allows project leaders to organize information about a problem and brainstorm potential root causes. These potential causes can then be confirmed and remedied.

Control Chart: Control charts are a special type of data plot that usually shows data over time and allows project managers to distinguish special cause and common cause variation. In other words, they can figure out whether certain performance values happened because of random variation in the process or because of something specific that happened on that occasion. Based on that distinction, proper action can be taken to reduce variation and improve performance.

Pareto Diagram: One version of the Pareto principle states that 80 percent of problems come from 20 percent of causes. So identifying that 20 percent is crucial to having major impact when improving business processes. The Pareto chart provides a visual depiction of the extent of different defects, complaints, or problems, allowing team members to determine whether the Pareto principle holds for that data and which issues should be addressed with highest priority. See an example by downloading a Pareto diagram here.

5 Whys:The 5 Whys technique requires that project team members do not settle for surface level explanations for problems. Rather, any time a question about why something is happening is answered, the question “Why?” is asked again. In this way deeper root causes are uncovered, so that effective long-term solutions can be implemented rather than the proverbial bandaid.

Kaizen: Kaizen is essentially a streamlined sped-up version of DMAIC, allowing business leaders to more quickly address problems than is required with a full-fledged DMAIC project. Two of the key techniques for Kaizen are 5 Whys and Value Stream Mapping.