Lean Six Sigma: Train Your Company to Constantly Improve 

Truly effective leaders are always looking for ways to make their businesses more efficient, more cost-effective, and more consistent in the quality of their products. For newly-placed leaders or those trying to break from the status quo for the first time, it can be overwhelming to imagine doing a complete process overhaul. Starting from scratch is a daunting task. Luckily, it’s not necessary and not the most efficient way to see results.  
Lean Six Sigma is a philosophy and an improvement framework that any company can use to upgrade its processes without scrapping the foundation they’ve built. It’s a blend of the Lean and Six Sigma methods that serves as a holistic approach to business improvement. 
What is A Lean Business? 
The goal of a lean business is to improve efficiency and increase profit by eliminating waste at every level through a method called kaizen. Kaizen is a Japanese word that translates to “continuous improvement” and in lean business refers to subtle, gradual improvements that are made over time. Rather than looking for a million-dollar idea, kaizen followers believe in the power of a million one-dollar ideas. 
The tenets of lean are based on the original seven wastes (or “muda”) developed by Taiichi Ohno, Chief Engineer at Toyota, as part of the Toyota Production System. Lean processing recognizes eight types of waste remembered with the acronym DOWNTIME (Defect, Overproduction, Waiting, Non-utilized talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Extra-processing).  
Defects are waste from a product’s failure to meet customer standards. To combat defects, find the most frequent defect and focus on it until it’s resolved. Design a process to detect this defect and prevent abnormal products from being passed through production, then redesign and standardize the process to prevent future defects. 
Overproduction is waste as a result of producing more products than there is demand for. To prevent overproduction, use a takt time to ensure that the rate of manufacturing between stations is consistently the same.   
Waiting is waste resulting from time spent waiting for the next process step. This includes both people and machines. To prevent waiting, standardize the workload distribution and redesign your work process to ensure a steady flow. 
Non-utilized talent 
Non-utilized talent refers to unused potential in your workers and often occurs when businesses separate the role of management and employees. Daily workers are the most likely to encounter and identify problems and are often the most qualified to develop solutions for them. You can prevent non-utilized talent by bringing employees into the problem-solving process. 
Transportation waste refers to time, resources, and dollars spent unnecessarily moving products and materials. For a lean transportation process, try developing a U-shaped production line or creating flow between processes. 
Inventory waste results from excess products and materials that aren’t processed. It may feel counterintuitive to think of excess inventory as waste, but it can lead to problems including product defects, damaged materials, and increased lead times in production. To prevent inventory waste, purchase raw materials only when needed and only in the amount needed. You can also integrate a queue system to prevent overproduction. 
Motion refers to wasted time and effort related to unnecessary movements by people and equipment. This could be walking, lifting, or reaching. To reduce motion waste, re-organize workspaces, move equipment closer to the production spot, and ensure work materials are placed ergonomically. 
Extra-processing is waste related to working more or working at a higher quality than is required by the customer. Always consider the customer before and during the production process and create products at the quality the customer desires and only to the quantity the customer needs. 

What is Six Sigma? 
Six Sigma’s primary goal is quality improvement and control by reducing variation in product output with the goal of only 3.4 defects per million opportunities. To get there, practitioners follow a five-step path to problem-solving and long-term work process improvements called the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) method. 
Define the problem or opportunity being missed. 
Measure your company’s current performance and limitations. 
Analyze to identify the root cause of the problem. 
Brainstorm solutions and implement them. 
Measure the results of your improvement and tweak for effectiveness. Standardize the solution for control of the process. 
Much like martial arts, Six Sigma utilizes a belt ranking system to establish a project hierarchy. The belts range from a white belt—someone who works on problem-solving teams and supports overall projects—to a master black belt, a trainer and coach for lower belts who make strategic decisions on a program level. 
Lean Six Sigma 
Lean Six Sigma combines the principles of lean and six sigma to create a management philosophy focused on eliminating waste and reducing process variation. Often, companies will begin using the lean approach to make work processes as efficient and waste-free as possible. Any defects left in the process will be handled with Six Sigma methods. 
How to Implement Lean Six Sigma at Your Company 
Douglas Machines has employed Lean Six Sigma techniques for 3 years. In that timeframe, we’ve implemented 2811 waste reduction ideas and established 10 detailed work instructions to remove variability from our processes, with several more currently in work. 
Present the idea to stakeholders 
Present your plan to strategic management and employees with a forum for questions and suggestions for implementation. 
Implement a Lean Six Sigma hierarchy  
You can’t make systemic changes alone. Train the necessary support staff to act as Six Sigma yellow, green, or black belts to aid in managing these changes and encouraging the kaizen approach companywide. 
Douglas Machines has a tiered accountability process. There are short, daily meetings with team leaders so that issues can be quickly identified and actions can be discussed and assigned. 
Encourage total employee engagement 
Total employee engagement is the goal of having every single employee contribute to waste reduction by presenting ideas for how to reduce waste within their team.  
To meet this goal, Douglas Machines has a quarterly “idea Olympics”, where each work team gets increased raffle tickets toward a prize for each month that they meet the total employee engagement goal of the number of ideas that month being at least 100% of the number of members on their team. As of now, four out of fourteen of these teams consistently exceed the total employee engagement goal. 
While Lean Six Sigma is a useful framework for problem-solving and improvement, it’s also a great way to build a positive culture within your company. Lean Six Sigma demands that you value the input and opinions of your employees. In fact, it’s a pillar of the philosophy. When employees can see their voices making a difference, they see themselves as a stakeholder in the company. 
Business improvement can be a daunting task, especially for companies that have always stuck to the status quo. Lean Six Sigma offers an answer to the busy executive or overwhelmed small business owner looking to make meaningful change.