Conquer Process Improvement With These 9 Lean Six Sigma Tools

Conquer Process Improvement With These 9 Lean Six Sigma Tools

“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.”Peter Drucker

Lean management, Six Sigma, and lean Six Sigma all walk into a bar. Lean management orders a Scotch. Six Sigma orders bourbon. Then lean Six Sigma orders a hot toddy. The bartender says, “So that’ll be a whisky, a whiskey, and a bit of both.”

Are you seriously writing another post about lean Six Sigma?

Yes. Yes, I am.

While you’d be forgiven for thinking that these methodologies are all essentially the same, it is important to remember that they are, indeed, separate. The principle of lean Six Sigma is simple: it combines the waste reduction and workflow efficiency of lean manufacturing with the defect-elimination process of Six Sigma.

To break it down:

  • Lean: A method to reduce or eliminate any activity that doesn’t add value to a process (read more)
  • Six Sigma: A system to create a defect-free process (read more)
  • Lean Six Sigma: The best of both worlds used to eliminate process waste and variation (read more)

Some may say Six Sigma is outdated, or just another example of “business bullshit,” Process Street keeps lauding the benefits for one simple reason: lean Six Sigma works.

From Motorola to Amazon, Fortune 500s have been incorporating Six Sigma practices since the mid-80s. In the early 2000s, Dell, Inc. did the same and by 2004 had saved the company $1.5 billion in costs. In 2020, Dell Technologies reported total revenue of $92 billion and as well as the increasing popularity of their systems.

In this post, I’ll break down Lean Six Sigma into the five corresponding DMAIC process categories, and provide the most relevant tools for each stage. Feel free to jump ahead:

Otherwise, dear reader, let’s begin!
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How to Solve Your Problems With Lean Six Sigma (Free DMAIC Checklist)

lean six sigma

Elisabeth Swan is the co-author of “The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit” and co-host of “The Just-in-Time Cafe Podcast.” She’s been a process improvement consultant, speaker, and innovator for over 30 years. She’s the Chief Learning Experience Officer for GoLeanSixSigma.com, a former cast member of ImprovBoston, and – if asked – may still be able to ride a unicycle.

Surgeon Atul Gawande made headlines when he told the world that a simple checklist could drastically reduce unnecessary deaths in The Checklist Manifesto.

Yet, checklists conjure images of forklift drivers on loading docks with clipboards counting boxes. How could they transform healthcare?

He has… produced a 90-second checklist which reduced deaths and complications by more than one-third in eight hospitals around the world – at virtually no cost and for almost any operation.” – James Clarke, reviewing The Checklist Manifesto, Ulster Med J. 2011 Jan; 80(1): 54.

Aviation was transformed decades earlier when management and engineers at Boeing Corporation created the pre-flight checklist after the 1935 crash of the prototype Boeing B-17 at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Checklists have become so essential to the airline industry that most crashes can be traced to the misuse or failure to complete a checklist.

A New York Times reviewer noted, “no matter how expert you may be, well-designed checklists can improve outcomes”. Since the purpose of process improvement is improving outcomes, Lean Six Sigma and checklists are natural companions.

To prove that, this Process Street blog post will show the relationship between checklists and lean six sigma, and provide you with a free DMAIC Improvement Project Tollgate Checklist that you can use right now.

Use the links below to jump to that section of the post:

Or, if you just want the checklist, check it out below!

Let’s get started.

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The 7 Core Six Sigma Principles to Build Your Business Around

six sigma principles headerFinding ways to improve processes within your organization can be tough.

There always seems to be so many things to measure and so many variables to consider.

Where do you start? How do you determine what’s good? Who takes responsibility for improvement?

Fortunately, you don’t have to go in blind.

There are loads of approaches you can take to process improvement, but one of the key techniques used by some of the world’s top companies is Six Sigma.

The Six Sigma school of thought is all about finding the right focus and tightening up processes around that goal. The end result should be the reduction of defects from a process. This saves resources, time, effort, and most of all money!

In this Process Street article, we’re going to give you an intro into Six Sigma while linking off to resources for you to explore deeper.

We’ll investigate the key Six Sigma principles which can shape and direct process improvement in your business.

The core Six Sigma principles

The 7 key Six Sigma principles we’ll cover are:

  • Always focus on the customer
  • Understand how work really happens
  • Make your processes flow smoothly
  • Reduce waste and concentrate on value
  • Stop defects through removing variation
  • Get buy-in from the team through collaboration
  • Make your efforts systematic and scientific

You could categorize these as lean Six Sigma if you want to as well.

Given the evolving nature of the different schools of business process improvement, there will always likely be some disagreement over what the specific principles are.

For this reason, I feel it’s important to include the various competing principles even if some other lists might look at only 5 or 6 principles.

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