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7 Principles of Lean Six Sigma 

 September 16, 2020

By  Dave Litten

Chances are you have already heard about lean six sigma – many of today’s most successful companies are using it to gain an unbeatable competitive edge.

Companies such as GE, BAA, Lloyds, TSB, Siemens Medical, Dyson, Volvo, and Rolls Royce just to name a few.

Lean six sigma is a remarkable performance and quality improvement method as well as including many powerful tools for making it happen.

While lean focuses on enhancing value for the customer by improving and smoothing the process flow and eliminating waste, six sigma is a systematic and robust approach to improvement, which focuses on the customer and other key stakeholders.

Here are the 7 principles of lean six sigma

Principle 1 – Focus on the customer

The customers critical to quality requirements (CTQ’s) describe elements of your service or offering. These are written in a way that ensures they are measurable and provide the basis for determining the required process measures.

lean six sigma

These in turn help you understand how well you perform against these critical requirements.

Focusing on the customer and the concept of value-add is important because typically only 10 to 15 percent of process steps add value – often representing only one percent of the planning process time.

The above percentages should help you realize the potential waste that is happening in your own organization.

Lean six sigma will improve your performance in meeting the CTQ’s and so win and retain further business and increase your market share.
Identify and understand how the work gets done

Principle 2 – Identify and understand how the work gets done

The value stream describes or with the steps in your process. As an example, from the customer order to the issue of a product all the delivery of a service, through to payment.

By drawing a map of the value stream, you can highlight the non-value-added steps and areas of waste while ensuring the process focuses on meeting the CTQ’s and adding value.

The Japanese word Gemba means ‘the place where the work gets done – where the action is – where management begins.

You will use Gemba to undertake this process properly.

A diagram called process stapling involves you spending time in the workplace to see how the work really gets done, not how you think it gets done or how you would like it to be done.

Process stapling allows you to see the real process being carried out while you collect data on what is happening. It also helps you analyze the problems that you want to tackle and determines a more effective solution for your day to day activities.

Value stream reveals all the actions, both value-creating and non-value creating, that take your product or service concept to launch, and your customer order through the supply chain to delivery.

These value-creating and non-value creating actions include those needed to process information from the customer, and those to transform the product on its way to the customer.

Principle 3 – Manage, improve, and smooth the process flow

This concept provides an example of different thinking. The objective here is to use single piece flow moving away from batches, or at least reducing the batch sizes.

Whichever you do, you will want to identify the non-value-added steps in the process and try to remove them. As a minimum, ensure they do not delay value-adding steps.

The concept of pull, not push links to our understanding of the process and improving flow, and can be an essential element in avoiding bottlenecks.

Overproduction or pushing things through too early is a waste
Remove non-value-adding steps and waste

This is another vital element in improving flow and performance. The game, a Japanese word is used called Muda. This refers to waste and describes two broad types and seven categories of waste. If you can prevent waste in the first place, then so much the better.

helping you avoid jumping to conclusions and solutions. You need the facts, and this requires measuring the right things in the right way.

Principle 4 – Manage by fact and reduce variation

You achieve this by using accurate data and thereby helping you avoid jumping to conclusions and solutions. You need the facts, and this requires measuring the right things in the right way.

Data collection is a process in and of itself, and so also needs to be managed.

The use of Control Charts enables you to interpret the data correctly and understand the process variation. You will then know when to act and when not to.

Principle 5 – Involve and equip the people in the process

Equipping the people allows them to both feel and be able to challenge and improve their processes and the way they work.

Involving people is what must be done if organizations are to be truly effective, but this requires different thinking if it is to happen.

Principle 6 – Undertake the improvement activity in a systematic way

Managing a lean six sigma improvement is normally done as a project.
And to provide a framework for this, we need a logical set of steps.

This is called DMAIC (pronounced dee-mayick).

Principle 7 – The DMAIC Improvement Project Framework

DMAIC stands for: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. This phased framework improves existing processes in a systematic way.

DMAIC projects begin with the identification of a problem, and in the Define phase you describe what you think needs improving.

Without data this might be based on your best guess of things, so in the Measure phase you use facts and data to understand how your processes work and perform, so that you can describe the problem more effectively.

This leads us to the Analysis phase. Here, we analyze the situation by using facts and data to determine the root cause(s) of the problem that is inhibiting your performance.

Once the root cause has been identified, you can now move to the Improve phase.

Here, you identify potential solutions, select the most suitable, and test or pilot it to validate your approach, using data where appropriate.

Next up comes the point when you are ready to implement the solution in the control phase.

The Control phase is especially important as you need to implement your solution, checking that your customers feel the difference in your performance.

You will use data to determine the extent of the improvements and to help you maintain the improvement gains. This will ensure that the problem you have solved does not reoccur.

With these ongoing balanced measures in place, you should be able to prompt new opportunities

Want to find out more about Lean Six Sigma?

Dave Litten


David spent 25 years as a senior project manager for USA multinationals, and has deep experience in project management. He now develops a wide range of Project Management Masterclasses, under the Projex Academy brand name. In addition, David runs project management training seminars across the world, and is a prolific writer on the many topics of project management.

Dave Litten

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