Conquering Waste and Variability with the Goal of Improving Quality, Delivery, and Decreasing Cost 

Every process typically has some amount of waste and variation – both detracting from the three things a business cares dearly about: Quality, Cost, and Delivery (QCD). Lean and Six Sigma are two popular process improvement methodologies used worldwide in every industry imaginable. In a nutshell, Lean looks to identify and reduce waste in a process. Six Sigma, which relies more heavily on data and statistics, looks to identify and reduce variation and defects.

What is Waste?

Waste takes the form of excessive movement of things (and people), carrying ‘too much’ inventory, waiting, re-work, and over-processing, to name a few. Those activities that add no value in the eyes of the customer are considered waste and should be reduced or eliminated, if possible.

What is Variation? 

Variation in a process means less predictability. Many of us like surprises, but not when the auto repair bill is $1,200 more than we expected, when there are 10 fewer pills in our prescription this month, or not knowing if your steak is going to arrive at your table well done or rare.


Lean & Six Sigma Examples from Healthcare   

Lean Healthcare Example:

Let’s say a doctor’s office is receiving a lot of negative feedback from its patients, stating that an appointment simply takes too long. Using Lean tools, the employees skilled in Lean Six Sigma could look at each step of the process of scheduling and seeing a patient, and identify waste that was contributing non-value-added time to the visit. Maybe the doctor is chatty, adding time to the visit, as well as to other patient’s wait times. Maybe the nurse is filling out more computer screens than is absolutely necessary. Maybe the lab supplies are poorly organized and the lab technician spends 10 minutes per patient, looking for the right items.

Six Sigma Healthcare Example: 

doctor with patient

Each year, one in 25 hospital patients is diagnosed with an infection that they picked up in the hospital, equaling 40,000 infections per million patients. This is a far cry from the six sigma process goal of no more than 3.4 defects (infections) per million opportunities (patients). Using Six Sigma, you’d collect data on infections: Who’s getting infected? When are they getting infected? What infections they are picking up? Where are the infections happening? With the right data in hand, you can conduct statistical and graphical analysis to determine the true cause(s) of infections.

Harnessing the Synergy of Lean & Six Sigma 

Both Lean and Six Sigma are focused on getting to the TRUE root cause(s) of a problem and mitigating them completely; not merely treating symptoms. Lean concepts and tools tend to be a little easier for most employees to understand and put to daily use. And, you can remove a lot of wasteful activities using various Lean tools. Six Sigma tools, however, tend to be more data- and analysis-intensive. Together, these two approaches are a powerful one-two punch in the fight to continuously improve QCD. As we find, the greatest success comes when organizations properly utilize both Lean and Six Sigma synergistically.

Effectively Deploying LSS Requires Well-Trained Employees & Leaders 

Lean Six Sigma (LSS) works best when you have a critical mass of understanding, buy-in, plus capabilities.  

Ideally, all of your employees would be familiar with the terminology, concepts, and the most commonly used LSS tools, enabling a common, continuous improvement language and frame of reference. Often, companies conduct one or more days of ‘White Belt’ or ‘Yellow Belt’ LSS training to level-set their employees. This training works to achieve a level of understanding of the importance of continuous improvement that every employee should have, as well as empowering them to be on the lookout for waste and variation. Each employee has the opportunity and duty to improve their workplace. This is crucial for continuous improvement.

Next, you need a number of your employees trained in more advanced LSS skills. A typical company might choose to train 20-30 percent of their employees to the level of Green Belt. Once these go-getters have received their 40-60 hours of training and completed their certification projects, they are ready to lead small- and medium-sized improvement projects across the organization. They can also give basic continuous improvement training to new hires.  

Finally, you’d be well-served to have three to five percent of your employees trained to the advanced level of Black Belt to help solve your larger problems, as well as support and train future Green Belts.   

Most importantly, you must engage leaders who not only support LSS, but understand it deeply. Personally, I’d have all my c-suite and vice presidents trained as Green Belts so they can experience its power and impact firsthand. I would include LSS requirements into job descriptions as a way to build them into the fabric of the enterprise. And, I would go out of my way to recognize early adopters of LSS and reward continuous improvement successes.   

Experience the Difference in SDLC Partners LSS Training  

Our Lean Six Sigma experts understand and have witnessed what it takes to build a culture of continuous improvement and employee engagement. And, we pride ourselves on providing LSS training that differs measurably from others. For example, we’ve removed the sterile, seldom-used topics that other programs tend to impose on students with hands-on, energizing activities that reveal the most powerful and relevant improvement tools and strategies. Our students leave training excited to use their new skills the moment they return to work.

It certainly shouldn’t stop there. We can help reinforce the learning and accelerate results, by deploying Lean Six Sigma mentors who can walk alongside and guide your new LSS practitioners to navigate their first important project. Contact us to discuss the opportunities to realize tremendous improvements to Quality, Cost, Delivery, and your bottom line.

Tffany Brown
Tiffany Brown
Consultant Process Improvement, Enterprise Agility

Tiffany has been a LSS Black Belt for five years focused primarily within transactional environments. Her career features experiences within insurance, call center operations, and healthcare.

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