Lean Six Sigma: Remember the Principles

Sept. 6, 2011
Advice for the Lean Six Sigma journey

Are you contemplating a Lean Six Sigma deployment in your organization to drive operational excellence? Remember the principles.

Have you already introduced a Lean Six Sigma effort, but it is struggling? Don't let the bump bring you to a halt. Instead, go back to the principles.

"When everyone gets lost, go back to the principles. When you don't know where you are, go back to the principles," says Robert Blaha, president of consulting firm Human Capital Associates.

What are the Principles?

The first basic truth is that value is in the eyes of the customer, Blaha emphasized during a recent presentation. "What is the customer actually paying us for?" he says.

The next principle is a value-stream focus, specifically eliminating waste and variation in those value streams.

The remaining principles are making products flow, creating customer pull and pursuing perfection through continuous cycles of learning.

Some of these principles aren't new and have been around since at least the early 1990s, notes Blaha. What differentiates Lean Six Sigma from improvement programs of the past, however, is this:

  • The focus on the customer is ever more important, and it is a data-driven process. A benefit of a data-driven process is that it removes some of the politics from the equation, notes the Human Capital Associates president. "You make arguments with data versus the loudest voice in the room," he says.
  • It emphasizes the engagement of everyone in the organization, from the production workers to the leadership, in the pursuit of perfection. Lean Six Sigma is about the culture of an organization, not simply about tools, he said.
  • It leverages both the continuous improvement power of lean and Six Sigma.

The Importance of Leadership

Executive buy-in is essential to success, Blaha says. He doesn't equivocate on this point. In fact, he says don't deploy lean Six Sigma without leadership involvement.

That's not to say leadership buy-in is a given. It may take some persuasion. That said, Blaha points out that at some point everyone/anyone has to be convinced to participate.

He says relentless education may help convince leaders to support a Lean Six Sigma effort, and there are plenty of white papers and other published materials available.

Other options include finding a mentor or a sponsor who already has deployed the process to share the experience with the leadership. If you are trying to convince a vice president, find a vice president, he suggests.

As a third suggestion, Blaha says to find the "biggest doubting Thomas" and ask him or her what it would take to get buy-in. Then build an action plan around the response, Blaha says. He notes that if you turn that doubter, you'll likely turn others.

The executive role in Lean Six Sigma is essential to the effort's success, yet it is frequently the biggest disconnect. The executive must truly understand the process. The executive "must own the vision and drive it," Blaha says.

To view the entire presentation, go online at IndustryWeek to: How Midsize Businesses Are Getting Fat by Going Lean: Prized Advice on Taking the Lean Journey.

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