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Lean, Process Improvement, Six Sigma, Viewpoint!

Labels and methodologies can lead you down the wrong path

Danger - 5S-Kaizen----DfSSThere’s an image doing the rounds on LinkedIn that asks “Where to start?” and offers a sequence:

  1. 5S (Structure)
  2. Kaizen (Overview & Insight)
  3. Lean (Stability)
  4. 6 Sigma (Capability)
  5. DfSS (Robustness)

The implication is that there is a logical sequence in which these approaches to improvement should be adopted. Alongside the arrow of progression there’s a tree suggesting 5S and Kaizen help organisations “pick the low-hanging fruit”.

My immediate reaction was this is rubbish! My biggest issue with it is that it shows an obsession with “methods” and “tools” and seems to ignore “why” an organisation might want, or need, to improve.

 

One of the interesting comments made about the image is that it would probably appeal to some senior managers as it gives them an apparent route map.

Essentially, this sort of thinking ignores an organisation’s starting point and its desired outcomes. For example, one business I know was rapidly going down the pan because of poor product quality and high volumes of customer complaints. With that starting point and “survival” being the desired outcome, there is no way doing 5S would have been an appropriate initial approach. What they did, was to adopt root cause problem solving approaches to “put the fires out”. That bought them some time with their customers, after which they moved on to adopt approaches that were more focused on building stable processes and designing-in quality.

Another organisation I worked with had two customer-critical processes where there were high levels of errors (for their industry). Again, 5S, or Kaizen, or Lean would not have been appropriate starting points and they used relevant process analysis and statistical process control techniques to address their problem. Today, it would probably be labelled as 6 Sigma, but at the time it was part of a TQM initiative.

Nobody has to “do” Six Sigma or Lean, or whatever the latest initiative is called.  We do all have to align our organisations’ efforts to achieve outcomes that meet, or exceed, the needs and expectations of our Customers and External Stakeholders.

For example, if you need to speed up your responsiveness to customers, you will have to work on your processes, many of which will be cross-functional, and consequently you will have to reduce hierarchical structures and bureaucracy and increase team-working.  Much of this is likely to happen through well-facilitated process improvement projects that focus on the improvement to be achieved and the way the team works together, to do this.

As another example, if you need to reduce costs and increase value for money, once again you will need to re-design processes, increase staff knowledge and capabilities to work flexibly and reduce the burden of excess management approval and sign-off layers.  Leadership by example, such as trusting people to do the right thing and encouraging a focus on what adds value, will be essential.

So, before you decide that you need a 6 Sigma or Lean “Programme”, ask yourself what performance improvement your organisation actually needs.  Then, design an approach to achieve that.  Undoubtedly, if you get it right, you’ll realise that methods and tools are just part of the required enablers of continuous improvement.

Read more of my articles on Continuous Improvement

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