What is Lean Six Sigma?
According to the American Society of Quality (ASQ), “Lean Six Sigma is a fact-based, data-driven philosophy of improvement that values defect prevention over defect detection. It drives customer satisfaction and bottom-line results by reducing variation, waste, and cycle time, while promoting the use of work standardization and flow.”
There is an urgent need to include this philosophy when starting a digital initiative, not only to maximize the final value of the product or service, but also to create stable and predictable processes throughout the entire value chain.
Change versus transformation
Using digital technologies to create new or modify existing processes has become one of the most compelling technology-driven business strategies across industries. If an organization is dealing with a current process change, the scope of the initiative is narrower than a process transformation, depending on the type of disruption that is behind the organization’s challenge.
How an organization and its culture handle the challenges is what defines its future success. In both cases, the importance to include a Lean Six Sigma approach at the very beginning of the digital journey, regardless of the industry, is a factor that should not be overlooked.
Automating a current process problem?
As a Lean Six Sigma black belt, I have recently witnessed the enormous need for two companies, one in mining and the other in manufacturing, to invest in and implement various types of technology to improve bottom-line performance of an existing process. BBA proposed a step back to the business leaders to provide a data-driven approach that would deliver value and then, and only then, begin looking at ways to use technology. Using a structured approach may cause us to automate problems that were not properly identified and eliminated before investing in the new digital solution.
How can an LSS practitioner guide technology implementation?
All work is a process, all processes have variability, and all processes create data that explain variability¹. An LSS approach is an excellent methodology to capture not only this variation but the sources of waste in any process. The role of an LSS facilitator is to support any digital initiative from the beginning and consider three fundamental components: process, people and technology. We need to identify the problem, where we are and offer change management for human stakeholders throughout this process. The main task is to put the process at the centre of the transformation or change, evaluating how value will be created by either mapping, identifying indicators, creating behaviour change strategies, ensuring that non-value-adding activities are addressed, establishing daily management practices and continuously improving.
A pre-implementation execution and change management for the human aspect of the equation is as important as only investing in a technological solution, since it will allow us to identify the problems we want to attack, have a clear understanding of the process where the problem is and find the sources of waste and variation that will limit the implementation of the technological solution later on. Digital transformation implies overall business operating change, not just change or improvement of a single process.
- Kennedy Smith, “Six Sigma for the Service Sector,” Quality Digest Magazine, 2003