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History of Continuous Improvement
Lean Six Sigma is a proven business process improvement methodology that builds on the best practices and experiences of earlier approaches. It combines best practices around customer focus, empowered teams, process definition, and data analysis.
When to use
Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology. It can be used to improve any existing business process. The roots of Lean Six Sigma draw from customer focus, teamwork, process definition and data analysis. Therefore, it is particularly powerful when teams are addressing customer’s problems due to the performance of business processes in which data can be collected and analyzed.
This module is not instructional in nature, but rather is contextual. Understanding the context of where Lean Six Sigma came from will help to understand how it is best applied. In addition, if you are planning on sitting for an International Association of Six Sigma Certification (IASSC) exam, you will be tested on the history of Lean Six Sigma – along with the methodology and tools.
Process improvement approaches have been around for many years. However, the business-wide process improvement movement took off in the second half of the 20th century. It was initially led by quality improvement gurus such as Shewhart, Deming, Juran, Ishikawa, Taguchi, Crosby, and Shingo. They all had their followers and their points of emphasis, but soon business-wide methodologies were introduced. These included Total Quality Management (TQM), Kaizen, and PDCA. All provided good foundational elements, but each had some limitations and blind spots. In addition, many organizations were creating process improvement methodologies. Some of the better known were the Kepner Tregoe approach and the Ford Eight Discipline process. These provided good structure but were somewhat weak on analytical tools. Governments also got involved by sponsoring national quality awards like Japan’s Deming Prize and the USA’s Malcolm Baldrige Award. Also by the end of the 20th century, comprehensive international standards for quality management had been created, the most notable with ISO9000. By this time, Lean and Six Sigma were getting a lot of publicity and spawning spin-off methodologies, such as Design for Six Sigma and what we are discussing, Lean Six Sigma.
Since Lean Six Sigma is a combination of both of those programs, let’s look a little deeper into the history of those. The concept of Sigma goes back to the early 1800’s when Gauss formulated the normal distribution, or bell-shaped curve, and kicked off the study of statistics. Professor Shewhart extended that to the concept of statistical process control in manufacturing and both taught the principles and applied them to USA industries during World War II. Statistical process control was well accepted by the 1980’s when Bob Smith of Motorola, expanded it into a problem-solving methodology and codified the system. It was adopted throughout Motorola and the first “Blackbelt” was certified in 1991. The success at Motorola got the attention of Larry Bossidy at Allied Signal and Jack Welch at General Electric and they adopted the program. From there it gained widespread publicity and acceptance. It is now an industry with university programs, standards, consultants, and certification.
The development of Lean has some similarities with Six Sigma. The idea of manufacturing process codification and management was pioneered in the early 1800’s by Eli Whitney who created products with interchangeable parts allowing an assembly line to be created. By the end of the 1800’s Fredrick Winslow Taylor and Frank Gilbreath were promoting process optimization with time and motion studies. These gained widespread acceptance after being adopted by Henry Ford. Following World War II, the Toyota company in Japan worked with these principles and added management tools and analysis over the years, eventually creating the Total Production Control methodology. In the 1990s this methodology was widely publicized by Womack, Jones and Roos and it soon was adopted by manufacturing companies around the world.
Both Lean and Six Sigma were striving to optimize manufacturing processes, so the blending of the approaches soon occurred. The Lean Six Sigma approach embodies the best practices that were developed by the various improvement approaches.
Standard process for problem solving
|Teams do the analysis||Customer input defines the problem||Data is used to solve the problem|
Actions are performed in a set sequence
|Teams are normally cross-functional||Internal and external customers||Data collected and analyzed for accuracy and relevance|
|Trust the process to lead to a result||
Teams plan and implement the solution
|Success is based upon customer impact||Data demonstrates the solution is effective|
Hints & tips
Some improvement approaches have fallen into traps and pitfalls, leaving the teams adrift or frustrated and the business fails to realize the promised benefit. Lean Six Sigma has tried to avoid these, but a company’s implementation of the approach can still create these problems.
- If the approach becomes too rigid, it becomes bureaucratic and slows down.
- If the emphasis is only on principles, teams won’t have the tools to be able to implement the principles.
- If the emphasis becomes too heavy on tools, teams won’t understand the principles and when to use the tools. Soon they try using all the tools all the time – which is unnecessary.
- Data must be collected and analyzed to get through several of the Lean Six Sigma phases. By combining Lean and Six Sigma, there should be multiple sources of data and the teams should use all that apply to their problem.
- Teams need to ensure their solutions align with strategy and the customer focus. Tollgate Reviews will normally ensure this occurs.
- The approach is project based, so project management is needed on large complex projects or they spiral out of control.
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