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Lean Six Sigma: Not Just for Manufacturing

“Once I applied 5s to the supply chain, our Sigma score has improved and my DPUs are down.” (Pause for blank stare). Ever found yourself in a conversation where unidentified flying acronyms were being dropped?  Unfortunately, there isn’t a Rosetta Stone for business terms and methodologies, however, what has helped me to grasp concepts has been the ability to compare it to everyday life. Take a sigh of relief knowing you don’t need an assembly line of widgets to apply Lean Six Sigma principles.

There are two parts—Lean and Six Sigma. Lean is purely to reduce waste and trim fat off of a process. This helps to detect where the process is being duplicated, deviated or manually spoon fed. In my experience, this can be multiple hand offs or approvals for a deliverable. Eliminate the email traffic and manual paper pushing, these are calories a process doesn’t need.

Six Sigma, the mathematical half, seeks to reduce variation using a Sigma score; with 6 being the highest efficiency and 1 being the least, but always room for continuous improvement. To illustrate this, I’ll use a silly but universal example of the clothing closet.

I’m constantly running late because I can’t find that “one” shirt in my closet. This daily tardiness variation (defect per unit) can be reduced, while increasing my Sigma score by applying the 5s’. Sort out the clothes I don’t wear to reduce clutter. Set the clothes by color for easier selection. Shine the space to be ideal—durable hangers or organizers. Standardize to find the one best way for arrangement of my closet; by color, by season, by style. Systemize to sustain the closet space; replace my closet light, or using the common rule, if you haven’t worn it in 6 months it needs to go—better known as the Goodwill drop-off.

Now is the moment you realize you are already applying Six Sigma principles in your life. As illustrated, there are no boundaries to the application of it—big or small, personal life or professional. First, the clothing closet, then the food pantry, and next, the world! A word of warning, if you weren’t ADD about such things before, this may cause repeatable 5s syndrome.

This isn’t a one size fits all tactic, there are many approaches and frames to streamline processes. Lean and Six Sigma are just a few lenses to view from. Understanding shouldn’t be buried in the terminology, they should be broken down and made touchable for any person to grab on to. A guiding mantra as you embark on bettering processes around you; if a step within a process doesn’t change something to improve it, it’s not adding value.

Erin Zimmerman was a Senior Consultant with IBM before joining our team. Her expertise includes Supply Chain, Process Excellence, strategic planning, and project management. Erin says what makes her tick is flaky croissants, morning coffee, tree run skiing, adding stamps to her passport, and running.