Lean’s close cousin is Six Sigma, which was first developed and embraced by Motorola in the mid 1980s, then popularized by GE under Jack Welch. Its focus is on defect elimination in production processes, backed by rigorous statistical, diagnostic, measurement and control methods. It is not only powerful, it helps to explain the exceedingly low defect rates of countless “mission critical” products and services, such as aircraft engines and elective surgery. Click here for an overview of Six Sigma.
In Six Sigma parlance, the context for defects is what is referred to as the “opportunity”. An opportunity, for example, could be an aircraft turbofan engine blade casting or a health claim adjudication transaction. Six Sigma prescribes that (1) “defect” be defined in each case, as well as the (2) the tolerable defect rate. This takes us to the heart (and the genius) of Six Sigma, which is statistical measurement and control. A six sigma process is one that yields 3 defects per million opportunities. That defect rate may be acceptable to health insurance customers; if it were the blade failure rate of a turbofan engine, however, the results could be catastrophic. Six Sigma then is not only a measure that sets quality processes apart from the others, it is a rallying cry in the pursuit of perfection.
Just as waste is the focus of the Lean practitioner, variation is the purview of the Six Sigma professional. If the health claim process is six sigma on Tuesdays, but four sigma every other day, that’s a variation problem, and if the errors exceed customer tolerance limits (not to mention the Finance and Actuarial departments if the defects are overpayments) it can have serious financial consequences.
Six Sigma projects typically follow the DMAIC (Define Measure Analyze Improve Control) method when approaching and managing cross-functional initiatives of moderate to high complexity, often supported by change readiness and management methods.
Faithfully and effectively practiced by qualified practitioners, sixLean has been successfully employed, at least at a rudimentary level, in every imaginable industry sector, from air traffic control, to commercial insurance underwriting, to investment asset management.
If there is one thing that Lean professionals grow (indeed are trained!) to hate, it is waste, or Muda in Japanese. Lean defines eight types of waste. One of them is underutilization or misapplication of skills. Lean therefore is not about reducing waste by eliminating people; on the contrary, it emphasizes the expert deployment of skills, optimized to deliver superior value relative to defined customer expectations. Another waste in the Lean lexicon is re-work. The expression “you can run, but you can’t hide” is an apt descriptor for the Lean analytical, diagnostic and corrective tools that have been devised to root out and eliminate waste. “We have always done it that way” - rationalizations of wasteful practices wither under Lean’s relentless re-channeling of efforts to the better way.
Lean and Six Sigma professionals who have the requisite training and project experience are highly valued by organizations having strong quality and execution missions. EZSigma Group offers a full suite of Lean, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma courses and certification options for both initiates and advanced professionals.
Remember,certification standards matter to employers, so the coursework can be intense; but at the end of it you will know that your EZSigma Group certificate designates you as a Lean or Six Sigma resource that is equipped to deliver immediate value.