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How Lean Six Sigma Eliminates Waste

Lean Six Sigma combines two key process improvement methodologies: Six Sigma and Lean. Through a perspective honed to bringing value to customers, Lean Six Sigma strives to identify and eliminate wasteful activities by assessing operations and functions, and classifying those activities into eight wastes.

How Does Lean Six Sigma Eliminate Waste?

In a Six Sigma process, organizations define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC) a process to improve efficiency and eliminate waste. Adopting Lean means embracing a culture of continuous improvement, requiring organizations to continue to review and update processes regularly. Within the framework of Lean Six Sigma, organizations can apply several tools to better understand their practices. While not every tool is right for every scenario, applying the right tool within the methodology helps organizations eliminate waste.

Useful tools in Lean Six Sigma include:

  • Value Stream Mapping: Each step in a process is identified and classified into three categories: Non-Value Added, Value-Added and Enabled Value Added. In conducting this exercise, organizations can clearly uncover processes or steps that do not provide value.
  • System Beat Time: An organization can establish firm timelines for customer products, and expect teams to abide by that timeframe.
  • Root Cause Analysis: Organizations uncover underlying reasons for a specific waste. These issues can be resolved to eliminate or reduce the waste.
  • The Five Whys: A core component of the root cause analysis process, this tool asks a minimum of five questions to better understand the problem.

Eight Wastes

According to Six Sigma Daily, Lean establishes eight categories for waste, which may include wasted efficiency, money or both.

  • Defects: An obvious waste, defects can be products or services that aren’t up to standards or customer expectation. This can be communication downtime, or a hard product that doesn’t fit its specs. These are costly in both time and money, as they often result in redoing the work or, worse, losing a customer.

Address defects with Lean Six Sigma: By applying Six Sigma to ascertain root causes of those defects, organizations can eliminate them.

  • Over-Production: Creating product that exceeds customer demand can incur additional production costs and lower your organization’s profitability. And, this over-production doesn’t have to take the form of a tangible good – it can also be over-communicating or bombarding with excess information.

Address over-production with Lean Six Sigma: Organizations can transform into a pull system, which addresses production as a made-to-order process instead of creating product to stock. This requires accurate forecasting and scheduling, as well as a keen awareness of customer needs.

  • Waiting: Inactive materials or employees are not adding value to your organization. Although delays in production or downtime for employees may seem like a generally benign part of business, it comes with a cost.

Address unproductive waiting with Lean Six Sigma: Streamlining production to relieve bottlenecks and improve employee communication to sustain fewer mandated downtimes. Require timely responses to machinery or equipment when they require repairs. Ensuring employees aren’t bombarded by distractions can help them from periods of elected inactivity. Examining meetings is also an important step in eliminating waiting waste. Does every meeting serve a purpose? Is every meeting conducted in an efficient way? Hours of worthless meeting time are a common waste of waiting time.

  • Under-used Talent: An organization’s best asset is often its employees, and not only for the role they fulfill in their day-to-day jobs. Employees are also key sources for innovative ideas, but organizations often fail to foster this perspective and creativity in their employees.

Address under-used talent with Lean Six Sigma: Offer incentives, competitions or rewards to inspire employees to share their full range of talents. And, ensure leadership encourages feedback and participation from employees when applying Six Sigma principles.

  • Transportation: Getting product in the customer’s hands is a critical part of the process. Often, unnecessary movement is part of the transportation process, if materials are shuffled around a site without adding any value.

Address transportation waste with Lean Six Sigma: As part of the made-to-order system mentioned to mitigate overproduction, that system should also reduce unnecessary transportation steps by striving to contain the production process to a single location as much as possible. A detailed, visual process map ensures employees are clear on the process.

  • Inventory: Not only does a large inventory cost space and money for organizations, but it can also foster overproduction, extra processing, and higher defects rates when the volume produced is significantly higher than necessary.

Address excessive inventory with Lean Six Sigma: Improving the accuracy of your organization’s forecasting can keep production in line with demand, and closing gaps in the process itself ensure a more streamlined, made-to-order approach with a steady flow of product at demand. Also, remove outdated, unused, or broken items, as they simply add to clutter.

  • Motion: While a few extra steps from an employee or extra movement from a machine may seem trivial, when multiplied across the production process, unnecessary motion is costly in time, resources and money. Sometimes, motion can even be deceiving, causes a machine or employee to appear busy when that “business” isn’t yielding anything productive.

Address unnecessary motion with Lean Six Sigma: Intentional workspace and operating equipment can be designed with minimal movement in mind. And, the steps required in the process can be examined in detail to assure that every movement brings value.

  • Extra Processing: Unexamined processes can often contain superfluous steps that don’t add any value. For example, an extra review in the process can be eliminated if the process is done correctly the first time. Every step in the process should be adding value, either directly or indirectly.

Address extra processing with Lean Six Sigma: In some cases, organizations may not have an established process, which often yields imprecise, irregular workflow. Establish a process as a first step. Applying value stream mapping can help organizations understand their process and rate each step’s value in the process. Then, eliminate unnecessary steps.

How does this apply in a real environment? Consider The Urology Group and its ASC, The Urology Center, in Cincinnati, Ohio. For this group, waste took several forms:

  • Employees coming and going in an operating room is a waste of time and energy
  • Hosting patients up to an hour before surgery wastes available space and resources
  • Length of time required for patients to receive treatments
  • Quality issues with a thermometer for recording patient temperatures

Through detailed Six Sigma process mapping, the process waste was resolved. And, a root cause examination of the temperature issue resulted in a new thermometer that didn’t present the option for misreading.

Organizations are in the business of creating profit or achieving an objective, and applying Lean Six Sigma can equip them to meet that goal, expending fewer resources, less time, and with less cost along the way.

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