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Some businesses aspire for transformation, others make it happen. Many of those who succeed at driving change — including most Fortune 100 companies — do so by applying the principles and processes of Lean Six Sigma.
Developed to sustain customer satisfaction and deliver high-quality output, Lean Six Sigma is a process improvement method that harnesses teamwork to systematically boost operational efficiencies and reduce waste. Lean Six Sigma evolved from the fusion of two related disciplines — lean manufacturing and Six Sigma — that have successfully achieved dramatic improvements in the profitability of organizations across different industries.
So let's go over Lean Six Sigma tools and techniques you need to know.
As a data-driven method, Lean Six Sigma uses precise tools and techniques to identify challenges, solve problems, and attain business goals. For the most part, these tools and techniques relate to specific stages in the improvement cycle denoted as DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control).
20+ powerful tools and techniques in Lean Six Sigma
Many of the techniques and tools used by Lean Six Sigma practitioners have been around well before the process improvement method was formalized. Many were used in business analysis, relationship visualizations, project management, and other fields. The effectivity of specific tools and techniques depends heavily on their fitness when it comes to an organization’s unique situation, business model, and corporate culture.
Failure Mode & Effects Analysis (FMEA) - A model that helps professionals analyze and prioritize weaknesses and potential defects of a design or process based on factors such as severity and frequency of occurrence.
Process Flow Charts - A commonly used visual aid that shows the steps or stages of a process. This top-level diagram lends clarity to an improvement project and brings everyone on the same page.
Project Charter - A document primarily used in project management that sets the parameters of a process improvement project. While a project charter plays a major role in the Define phase of DMAIC, it also serves as a tool in the Control stage.
RACI Matrix - Acronym for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed. This matrix outlines all the roles and responsibilities related to every activity/task in a process or project.
TAKT Time - The rate (expressed in time units) at which a business needs to complete a product to meet customer demand.
- Value Stream Map - A very detailed type of process flow chart that visualizes all the steps in a process that are required to deliver value from start to finish. It is originally a lean management tool for mapping all the activities needed to create a product and get it into the hands of the end-customer.
Histogram - A bar chart that shows frequency distribution or variation in a data set. It is often used to a) identify which factors contribute most to the occurrence of a problem, and b) determine the capability of a process to consistently generate an acceptable output.
- Pareto Chart - A histogram that shows the relative significance/impact of defects or variances in a system. It helps determine where the bulk of defects occur, effectively clarifying the cause and effect of problems and identifying the specific area that needs improvement the most.
5 Whys Analysis - A straightforward method for determining the root cause of a problem. The method prescribes asking “why” a problem occurs five times in succession to sift through mere symptoms and eventually zero in on the real factor that causes the problem.
Design of Experiments - A systematic technique for testing the relationships between different factors with the purpose of creating the best-case design (i.e., optimal performance of features and functions) for a process or system.
Fishbone Diagram - A visualization technique for mapping all possible causes of a problem based on logical categories, with the aim of identifying root causes. Also called cause-and-effect or Ishikawa diagram, fishbone diagrams are often used during brainstorming sessions.
Regression Analysis - A statistical tool for understanding the relationship between output and input variables, and making predictions based on the relationship.
5S - A five-step method for keeping workplaces orderly and for motivating workers to maintain discipline and optimal process/workflow conditions. The term originally referred to five Japanese words whose English equivalents are Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain.
A3 Process/Report - A systematic approach to solving problems and driving continuous improvement that is typically documented/simplified/visualized on a sheet of A3-size paper, hence the name.
Kanban - A graphical scheduling system named after the Japanese terms for “visual” (kan) and “card” or “board” (ban). The system is designed to optimize the production process by reducing idle time and inventory.
Kaizen - A mindset of continuous improvement. It holds that everything can undergo incremental improvements over time. Kaizen advocates for proactive teamwork and the elimination of waste.
- Poka Yoke (Error-Proofing) - A mistake prevention approach that aims to eliminate product defects by preventing, correcting, and signaling the occurrence of human errors as they happen. Named after the Japanese terms for “error” and “machine operator,” poka-yoke refers to any mechanism in a process that reduces the frequency of mistakes, with the ultimate goal of enabling people and processes to get things right the first time.
Single-Minute Exchange of Die (SMED) - A method associated with lean manufacturing that reduces the time it takes to run the current product to run the next. It is used to accelerate cycle time, reduce costs, and enhance the adaptability of processes. Also called Quick Changeover.
Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) - a methodology for maintaining and improving the quality of systems, processes, and machines. TPM specifically aims to reduce loses that are incurred when unplanned downtime occurs.
Control Charts - A time-based visualization that is used to monitor and improve quality. Control charts are major tools used in statistical process control. Also called the process behavior chart.
Standardized Work - A baseline concept in kaizen or continuous improvement that is used as a tool for keeping productivity and quality at optimum levels. Standardized work documents the current best practice. When a new and improved system is adopted, it becomes the new standardized work.
Statistical Process Control (SPC) - A methodology that uses statistical tools to monitor, control, and improve the quality of processes.
Lean Six Sigma is an evolving field whose tools and techniques continue to reap tremendous benefits for business organizations (process improvements and uplift in profitability) as well as certified practitioners (professional credentials, career advancement, and salary raises).
Our Lean Six Sigma Overview and Glossary will help accelerate your understanding of the different concepts and processes in the field. If you want to learn more about the tools mentioned in this article and how best to use them, you can check out our library of Lean Six Sigma courses and certification programs.
Remember, Lean Six Sigma is not just a highly organized and effective collection of tools and methodologies. It is also a habit that sets excellence and continuous improvement as your default mode.
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