Developed in manufacturing environments in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, Lean and Six Sigma are improvement processes focused on quality and waste elimination. Combined into a synergistic system of procedural control called Lean Six Sigma, the methods in these programs are applicable to industrial, manufacturing, transactional and customer service processes. As a flexible methodology for eliminating inefficiencies and harnessing superior practices, Lean Six Sigma has proven to create value in a variety of industries.
The kinds of waste targeted by the Lean Six Sigma methodologies are classified as Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Non-Utilized Talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Extra Processing. Contracted into the easy-to-remember acronym, DOWNTIME, these inefficiencies are corrected by the implementation of Lean Six Sigma.
The term six sigma is a statistical measure referring to the provision of goods and services with a defect rate of 3.4 per million opportunities. In a manufacturing example, this would translate to between 3 and 4 broken products for every million produced.
The DMAIC Framework
The general structure of the Lean Six Sigma process is defined by the abbreviation, DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. Each of these stages is characterized by a set of tools and tactics allowing the user to work effectively through the challenge from beginning to end. Structured as a data-driven cycle, the DMAIC framework focuses on improving, optimizing and stabilizing business processes.
An organization must have people who rank among the list of qualified Lean Six Sigma practitioners in order to implement the LSS processes. With its origins in Japanese manufacturing giants, Motorola and Toyota, the qualification system resembles that of karate, with various colored “belts” indicating the relative degree of knowledge and expertise. Each denotes a different measure of experience and comes with a different level of authority with respect to process and program management.
White Belt: White Belts are beginners in the Lean Six Sigma program. They have several hours of exposure and have a general understanding of the benefits and methodologies.
Yellow Belt: As advanced beginners, Yellow Belts usually have around 30 hours of Lean Six Sigma training and are generally familiar with the methodology and tools. These are team members that assist more qualified practitioners but are not likely to lead the process.
Green Belt: This intermediate team member is highly important to the implementation of Lean Six Sigma processes. With over 100 hours of training, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification signifies a degree of mastery in the LSS processes. Green Belts can lead their own projects, or serve as key support members for projects led by Black Belts.
Black Belt: Black Belts are advanced-level team leaders with expertise in statistical analysis and project management. Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification training requires about 180 hours of training, and qualifies the user to oversee the process and lead LSS projects to completion.
Master Black Belt: Tasked with the most complex projects, Master Black Belts are experienced leaders who have a thorough knowledge of strategy, advanced techniques, management and statistical analysis. This requires around 200 hours of training and qualifies a person to perform the most high-level projects.
The Benefits of LSS
With the many improvements to process and quality that “belted” individuals are capable of enacting in an organization, Lean Six Sigma is a major opportunity for value creation. Reducing such a broad range of inefficiencies translates to savings and increased revenue through cost reduction and augmented customer satisfaction. The effects extend beyond immediate waste reduction; for instance, the improvement of brand equity and cross-organizational relations.
Individuals who have attained a Lean Six Sigma certification put themselves in a uniquely advantageous position for career advancement. They achieve higher earnings and are automatically more capable to handle a greater range of responsibilities. Black Belts, for example, are full-time change agents in their organizations and are so central to the execution of LSS projects that Black Belt training is often the first step for companies implementing the highly valuable process.