Do you want to start making process improvements in your organization? Take a look at Lean Six Sigma! This effective methodology has been shown to produce significant results in organizations across industries and has been pioneered by organizations such as General Electric, Motorola, and Toyota. But where do you start with your first Lean Six Sigma project? Navigating the various tools and techniques, let alone getting buy-in from stakeholders and assembling the right team, can be overwhelming.
This is where this guide comes in handy. We’ll give you a thorough overview of the Lean Six Sigma methodology and the steps you need to take to succeed. By the end of this post, you’ll have a good idea of how to start your own Lean Six Sigma project and start producing meaningful results for your company.
For an in-depth and comprehensive understanding of Lean Six Sigma, we recommend most people start with our Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt course where we cover all the basics of Lean Six Sigma in great detail and prepare you to make significant improvements in the workplace. We have also made available all the tools and templates you would need to support your improvement projects.
Table of Contents
Understanding the Basics of Lean Six Sigma
Before you get started with your first Lean Six Sigma project, it is helpful to understand some of the key principles and methodologies of Lean Six Sigma so you understand how to effectively select and use the correct tools for your project needs, as it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Furthermore, selecting the correct approach is key to ensuring the success of your project.
Overview of the Types of Improvement Methodologies
Firstly, in Lean Six Sigma, there is a range of methodologies a project manager could choose from for their project, depending on whether it’s a small quick project done in days or a long-term project which requires investment in resources and money and could take months to complete.
Some of the key improvement project methodologies used in Lean Six Sigma are as follows:
Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)Cycle: This methodology, also known as the Deming cycle, is a continuous improvement loop that involves planning, implementing, checking, and adjusting processes to achieve desired results.
A3 Problem Solving: This Lean methodology approaches problem-solving and continuous improvement in a structured, step-by-step manner. The term A3 refers to the standard size of paper used to record the problem-solving process.
Design for Six Sigma (DFSS): This methodology uses Six Sigma principles to create new processes, products, and services rather than improving existing ones. DFSS assists organisations in developing high-quality products and processes from the beginning.
Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC): This is the core Six Sigma methodology for improving existing processes. DMAIC’s five phases are as follows: define the problem, measure performance, analyse root causes, improve processes, and control the improved processes to ensure long-term improvement.
Each of these methodologies takes a unique approach to process improvement, and organizations can employ one or a combination of them to achieve their objectives. Organizations can continuously improve their processes to achieve greater efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction by understanding and applying these methodologies.
Key Principles of Lean Six Sigma
The following are the key Lean Six Sigma principles:
Customer Focus: Lean Six Sigma places the customer at the centre of everything it does in order to better understand their needs and expectations.
Process Orientation: In order to eliminate waste and improve efficiency, Lean Six Sigma focuses on improving processes rather than individual tasks.
Data-Driven Decision Making: Lean Six Sigma makes process improvement decisions based on data and statistical analysis, eliminating guesswork and promoting evidence-based decision-making.
Continuous Improvement: Lean Six Sigma is based on the principle of continuous improvement, which means that organizations should strive for continuous improvement rather than just one-time fixes.
Empowerment: Lean Six Sigma empowers people at all levels of an organization to participate in process improvement efforts, which leads to increased engagement and buy-in.
Collaboration: Cross-functional collaboration and teamwork are emphasized in Lean Six Sigma in order to achieve common goals and achieve better results.
Waste Elimination: Lean Six Sigma aims to eliminate all forms of waste, including overproduction, waiting, defects, overprocessing, excess inventory, unused talent, and unused space.
Organizations can drive meaningful and sustainable improvement in their processes and achieve their goals for efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction by adhering to these principles.
Benefits of using Lean Six Sigma
Over the last 100+ years, Lean and Six Sigma tools have increased in popularity particularly in the last 30 years as organizations realize the benefits that applying the methodologies can bring to improving their business. The following are some of the advantages of Lean Six Sigma:
- Enhanced efficiency: Lean Six Sigma assists organisations in streamlining processes and eliminating waste, resulting in increased efficiency and cost savings.
- Quality improvement: Lean Six Sigma employs statistical methods to identify and eliminate defects, resulting in higher quality and customer satisfaction.
- Increased customer satisfaction: Lean Six Sigma helps organisations improve customer satisfaction and loyalty by focusing on the customer and providing more value.
- Increased competitiveness: Companies that implement Lean Six Sigma are better positioned to compete in their markets by providing higher-quality products and services at lower costs.
- Improved employee engagement: Lean Six Sigma increases employee engagement and motivation by empowering and involving them in process improvement efforts.
- Better decision-making: Lean Six Sigma promotes evidence-based decision-making and eliminates guesswork by utilising data and statistical analysis.
- Improved bottom line: Lean Six Sigma assists organizations in achieving their goals and improving their bottom line by improving efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction.
Overall, Lean Six Sigma offers a comprehensive approach to process improvement that can assist organizations in meeting their efficiency, quality, and customer satisfaction goals, ultimately driving growth and success.
Preparing for your First Lean Six Sigma Project
Step 1: Identifying the Right Project
When you are looking to make improvements in your business, it can be difficult to know where to start. There are often many potential projects with competing priorities, but it is unlikely you will be able to resource all of the projects at the same time as they compete for resources and likely overlap in activities.
The process of identifying the best Lean Six Sigma project is critical to the project’s success. The steps below can be used to help you find the right project:
Identifying potential areas for improvement: The first step in determining the best Lean Six Sigma project is to evaluate the organization’s processes and identify areas for improvement. This could entail reviewing customer complaints, analysing high costs, assessing long lead times, and investigating high defect rates. All of these variables can have an effect on quality, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. I useful place to start is often going to Gemba (“The seen of the crime” or where the work is done in this case) and reviewing processes to identify different types of waste.
Prioritizing projects: After identifying potential areas for improvement, the next step is to assess the potential impact of each opportunity and prioritise projects based on their ability to deliver the greatest benefits. Considerations may include the magnitude of the problem, the potential for improvement, and the resources required. A project with the potential to improve customer satisfaction by 50%, for example, may be given higher priority than a project with the potential to improve customer satisfaction by 10%. A good method to effectively prioritize projects is with the Prioritization matrix for a structured logical process that focuses on the organisation’s strategy.
Step 2: Building the Right Team
Selecting the right members of your project team is critical to ensuring you have the right input, experience and knowledge.
Consider the following factors when assembling a Lean Six Sigma project team:
- Skills and experience: Look for team members who have the necessary skills and experience to complete the project successfully. This could include knowledge of the relevant process, Lean Six Sigma methodology, and statistical analysis skills.
- Availability: As Lean Six Sigma projects can be time-consuming, ensure that team members have the time and availability to commit to the project.
- Interest and motivation: Select team members who are enthusiastic about the project and are invested in its success.
- Cross-functional representation: Consider involving team members from different areas of the organisation, including operations, engineering, quality, and customer service. This will ensure that all relevant stakeholders are involved and that a broad perspective is taken into account.
- Effective communication: Select team members who have strong communication skills, as effective communication is critical to the success of a Lean Six Sigma project.
- Positive attitude: Look for team members who are upbeat, open to new experiences, and eager to collaborate.
Organizations can increase the chances of success for their Lean Six Sigma project and ensure that their process improvement goals are met by assembling the right team.
Step 3: Gathering Resources and Tools
Lean Six Sigma tends to follow a methodology that requires the use of tools and techniques such as process maps, fishbone diagrams, etc. These templates, fortunately, can be downloaded for free from our Template section. Consider the following steps to gather the necessary resources and tools for a Lean Six Sigma project:
- Determine your requirements: Determine what resources and tools you will require to complete the project successfully. Process maps, data collection and analysis tools, project management software, and training materials may be included.
- Identify internal resources: Search within your organisation for internal resources that can be used to help with the project. Personnel, existing software and technology, and training programmes may be included.
- Investigate external resources: investigate external resources that can assist the project. Consulting services, software, and training programs may be included.
- Evaluate options: Evaluate the various options for resources and tools and choose those that are the best fit for your organisation and project needs.
- Secure resources: Obtain the necessary resources and tools, either internally or from outside sources.
- Allocate resources: Ensure that the project has all of the necessary resources and tools and that the team has access to everything they need to succeed.
Organizations can increase their chances of success for their Lean Six Sigma project and ensure that they are well-equipped to deliver results by gathering the right resources and tools.
Step 4: Defining Project Goals and Objectives
The final step in preparing your Lean Six Sigma Project is setting out the goals and objectives of the project.
Defining project goals and objectives for a Lean Six Sigma project is critical to its success. When defining project goals and objectives, keep the following steps in mind:
- Align with business goals: Align the project goals and objectives with the organization’s overall goals and objectives. This helps to ensure that the project contributes to the organization’s overall success.
- Determine the issue: Define the problem that the project is attempting to solve. This helps to ensure that the project is focused and well-defined and that everyone involved understands what needs to be done.
- Define the project scope: Clearly define the project scope, including which processes and areas will be included, what data will be collected and analysed, and what deliverables will be produced.
- Set specific and measurable goals for the project: Set specific and measurable goals for the project. For example, reducing a process’s lead time by 50% or a product’s defect rate by 20%.
- Establish success criteria: Create criteria for determining project success, such as metrics for measuring progress and determining when project goals and objectives have been met.
- Communicate goals and objectives: Make sure that all stakeholders, including project team members, management, and customers, are aware of the project’s goals and objectives.
Organizations can ensure that their Lean Six Sigma project is focused, well-defined, and aligned with their overall business goals by defining project goals and objectives. This increases the likelihood of project success and provides tangible benefits to the organisation.
Launching Your Lean Six Sigma Project
Step 1: Communicating the Project to Stakeholders
Effective communication is critical to the success of a Lean Six Sigma project. The first step in communicating with stakeholders is to identify who they are and how the project may affect them. Customers, employees, suppliers, and regulatory agencies are all examples of stakeholders. Stakeholders can be identified and prioritized using a Stakeholder map to understand their power and influence over the project.
After identifying the stakeholders, it is critical to define their communication requirements. This includes determining the type of information they require and how frequently they require it. Some stakeholders, for example, may require regular progress updates, whereas others may require project training and education.
The key messages, methods, and timing of communication for each stakeholder group should then be outlined in a communication plan. Regular progress reports, town hall meetings, and project newsletters can all be part of this. All stakeholders, including project team members, management, and customers, must clearly communicate the project goals and objectives.
Stakeholder involvement in the project is also critical. Organizations can ensure that their concerns are addressed and that they feel a sense of ownership in the project by soliciting their feedback and input on key decisions. Regular communication with stakeholders, including status updates and project results, can help keep them informed and engaged, as well as build project support.
Step 2: Implementing the DMAIC Process
As we mentioned earlier in this post there is a range of methodologies to follow, however, for this example, we are going to explain the DMAIC process as it’s one of the most commonly used improvement methodologies.
The DMAIC process is the foundational methodology used in Lean Six Sigma to drive improvement and problem-solving. The DMAIC process has five phases: define, measure, analyse, improve, and control.
- Define: The problem and project goals are defined during this phase. It is critical to comprehend the issue and envision success. The project’s scope should be defined, as well as any assumptions or constraints.
- Measure: In this phase, data is collected and analysed to help understand the current state of the process and the problem being addressed. To track the problem and measure progress, metrics and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are defined.
- Analyze: This phase entails using the data gathered during the measurement phase to determine the root cause of the problem. Fishbone diagrams, Pareto charts, and regression analysis are examples of data analysis techniques.
- Improve: The goal of this phase is to create and implement solutions to the problem’s root cause. This could entail changing processes, implementing new tools or technologies, or training employees.
- Control: The final stage entails monitoring and controlling the process to ensure that the improvements made are long-term. This includes developing a control strategy, documenting process changes, and training employees on the new procedure. Regular monitoring should be carried out to ensure that the process remains under control and to identify any areas that require further attention.
Step 3: Managing the Project Timeline and Budget
Managing the timeline and budget of a Lean Six Sigma project requires careful planning and execution. Here are some pointers to help you effectively manage your project:
Establish the project timeline: Establish a clear project timeline, including milestones and deadlines. Consider the availability of resources, the complexity of the project, and the level of effort required to complete each phase, this can often be done with a Gantt Chart
Allocate resources: Determine the project’s resources, such as personnel, equipment, and materials. Determine a budget for each resource and distribute it accordingly.
Keep track of progress: Review progress against the project timeline and budget on a regular basis. Monitor progress and make any necessary adjustments using project management tools such as Gantt charts and status reports.
Maintain flexibility: Be ready to adjust the timeline and budget as necessary. Unexpected challenges may arise, causing the project to take longer or require more resources than anticipated. Address these issues as soon as possible and make changes as needed to keep the project on track.
Track expenses: Use financial tracking tools to monitor project expenses and ensure that they remain within budget. Consider implementing a project financial management system, such as a budget tracking spreadsheet or accounting software.
Step 4: Ensuring Effective Communication and Collaboration within the Team
A Lean Six Sigma project’s success is dependent on effective communication and collaboration. Here are some pointers for ensuring effective team communication and collaboration:
Define roles and responsibilities: Clearly define each team member’s roles and responsibilities. This can help to ensure that everyone understands what is expected of them and that they can collaborate effectively.
Establish clear communication lines: Establish clear communication lines within the team. Regular team meetings, one-on-one check-ins, and virtual communication platforms such as email, instant messaging, and video conferencing can all be part of this.
Encourage open communication: Foster an environment in which team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas, thoughts, and concerns. Actively listen and respond to feedback constructively.
Collaborate on decision making: Encourage team members to work together to find the best solution by collaborating on decision making. Encourage everyone to contribute their unique perspectives and make decisions based on data and facts.
Provide assistance and resources: Give team members the assistance and resources they need to complete their tasks. Training, access to tools and technology, and clear guidelines and processes are all examples of this.
Recognize and reward good performance: Recognize and reward good performance while also encouraging team members to keep up the good work. This can include things like verbal praise, bonuses, and opportunities for professional development.
Ultimately, successful Lean Six Sigma projects require effective communication and collaboration. You can help to build a strong, high-performing team that can deliver results by establishing clear lines of communication, encouraging open communication, collaborating on decision making, providing support and resources, and recognising and rewarding good performance.
To conclude, Lean Six Sigma is an effective methodology for improving business processes and achieving significant results. It entails a data-driven approach to problem solving and continuous improvement that is based on a blend of Lean principles and Six Sigma methodology. Identifying the best Lean Six Sigma project entails a number of steps, including assessing potential areas for improvement, prioritizing projects, and defining project goals and objectives.
Effective communication and collaboration are critical to the success of a Lean Six Sigma project. This can be accomplished through clear lines of communication, open communication, decision-making collaboration, providing support and resources, and recognising and rewarding good performance. Implementing the DMAIC process and managing the project timeline and budget effectively are also critical considerations in a Lean Six Sigma project. Organizations can use the power of Lean Six Sigma to drive process improvements and achieve outstanding results if they have the right tools, resources, and approach.
- Shokri, A., Antony, J., Garza-Reyes, J.A. and Upton, M., 2021. Scoping review of the readiness for sustainable implementation of Lean Six Sigma projects in the manufacturing sector. International Journal of Quality & Reliability Management, 38(8), pp.1747-1770.
- Shokri, A. and Li, G., 2020. Green implementation of Lean Six Sigma projects in the manufacturing sector. International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, 11(4), pp.711-729.