Lean Six Sigma: The Five Phases
Lean Six Sigma is an organizational approach that aims to continually heighten the speed and quality of processes to meet the customer’s demands as accurately, cost-effectively and with maximum flexibility. It was first used by an American multinational telecommunications company in the late 1980s. Lean Six Sigma was pioneered by a quality engineer named Bill Smith, whose main goal was to improve quality and measurement systems to avoid errors. This was a stage in the telecoms company’s history when error rates were through the roof, creating too much rework, scrap and redundant testing that did not sit well with customers.
Identifying and eliminating process variations is the main function of the Lean Six Sigma framework. Once the variation is removed, results can be accurately predicted every time. With a system that puts these predictable results within a range of acceptable performance based on a customer’s perspective, the process can be free of errors.
But for engineers in that telecoms company, the battle is not yet won. Their experience told them that a lot of process changes were ineffective because they did not reach the root of the problem. Additionally, the changes would not be reliable because operators would go right back to how they did it originally after a while. From such issues, the five phases of Lean Six Sigma were born.
In this phase, the parameters for the process are set, together with expectations for the process from a customer perspective. The objective is to guarantee improvement instead of degradation of customer experience with every change.
Here, the ongoing performance of the process, product or service is measured in order see what exactly is happening, especially in the eyes of a customer. This makes sure that the analysis and solution are based on practical facts instead of theoretical or anecdotal information.
This phase involves identifying problem-causing variations by analyzing the product or service using the data measured. This leads to the determination of the problem’s root cause and not merely the symptom.
In this phase, potential solutions to the problem are designed and then tested. This helps guarantee that the target outcome is achieved and that variations are minimized, if not totally eradicated.
In this final phase, the changes are applied, all supporting systems are updated, and the process, product, or service is placed under control – usually statistical process control – to make sure that the solution is completely and sustainably implemented, and to help detect when performance begins to dip.