Originating with Motorola in the 1980s, Six Sigma initially focused on eliminating defects in manufacturing processes.
It worked. Motorola reported record profits. Other companies soon followed. Nothing breeds success quite like success.
But as Six Sigma became familiar to more organizations, it eventually was adopted by some for work outside of manufacturing. Software engineering and technology firms began using some of its practices. More mature industries, such as healthcare and energy, also have implemented Six Sigma.
The creation of Lean, a complementary methodology with Six Sigma, attracted even more companies. Lean focuses on creating value for customers and eliminating wasted steps in a process. It also emphasizes working quickly. Nonprofit and government organizations have adopted Lean methods to squeeze productivity out of every bit of money they receive.
The following looks at some of the industries that use Six Sigma, Lean or a combination of the two.
Healthcare faces unique challenges. Large hospitals are incredibly complex. The daily challenges involve many different processes. Just creating a proper schedule for healthcare workers that maximizes productivity and doesn’t overwork nurses and other staff members is daunting.
But they also work under complex government and industry regulations, deal with technology issues involving patient records, buy and maintain sophisticated medical machinery and must ensure safety for all employees, patients and visitors.
Healthcare also is a mature industry where things have been done a certain way for decades. Change can prove difficult. A 2017 HealthLeaders Media Patient Experience survey found that the main stumbling block to implementing healthcare is changing the culture.
Yet the study also found 87% of healthcare organizations saw improvements in patient scores after implementing process improvement methodologies.
Pharmaceutical companies also have turned to practices such as quality by design to ensure the best results in manufacturing drugs, including meeting safety standards and product effectiveness.
Technology companies striving to remain competitive in a constantly evolving market must focus on efficient processes and speed-to-market. Worldwide, many have implemented process improvement, including Lean and Six Sigma.
One early adaptor was Wipro. In 1997, the company began implementing Six Sigma into every phase of the business, including software and hardware development, according to the Community for Human Resource Management. Initial results included a 91% on-time project completion rate as compared to the industry average of only 55% at the time. In the years since, many companies have incorporated Lean, which allows for continuous improvements while keeping the experience of end users in mind.
Oil and Gas
Another mature industry turning to Six Sigma is the oil and gas industry. With the overall industry facing a downturn in recent years, Six Sigma methodologies have helped keep some businesses profitable in tighter economic times.
One example is Colorado-based UECompression, which uses Lean Six Sigma to reduce process cycle time and improve the quality of its air and gas compression products, according to Boss Magazine. With a global market for its products, the company uses Lean Six Sigma to identify and eliminate defects in production and supply chain.
Six Sigma has also caught the attention of government leaders, especially those trying to maintain quality services in areas where tax revenue is down.
One example is Kern County in California. Faced with declining tax revenue from the oil and gas industry in and around the county seat of Bakersfield, the county has started an ambitious project to introduce Lean into many county departments. The county has even created a website about its initiative to keep taxpayers informed. There, people can view individual projects, including one such project completed by the Treasure-Tax Collector’s office. After realizing a growing issue with incorrect and duplicate payments, the department redesigned payment forms with the consumer in mind. The result, a projected savings of nearly $120,000 in labor costs.
In Nebraska, the state Department of Health and Human Services has implemented Lean Six Sigma in 25 different areas. One was used to eliminate waste and time delays in the consideration and approval of nursing licenses. They have cut the time from 96 to 63 days.
Those offer some examples of how Lean and Six Sigma are being used in different industries in different ways. Once thought of only in connection with manufacturing, Lean Six Sigma has proven to have the flexibility to streamline operations and improve products and services in many areas.