Lean Six Sigma: The Five Phases
Lean Six Sigma is an organizational principle that aims to constantly enhance the speed and quality of processes to satisfy the customer in a way that maximizes accuracy and flexibility while minimizing operational costs. 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 occurred at a time when the telecoms company dealt with too much rework, repetitive testing, and scrap, leading to customer dissatisfaction.
The Lean Six Sigma methodology mainly aims to point out and remove process variations. When the variation is out of the picture, the outcome of the process can be correctly predicted every single time. When a system is designed to ensure that such a predictable outcome remains within an extent of acceptability from a customer’s point of view, process errors can be obviated.
However, engineers at the telecoms company did not stop there. From their experience, they knew that several process changes did not address the root cause of the issue and were thus ineffective. Also, the changes would not work for the long term, with operators eventually reverting back to the original manner. 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 purpose is to ensure changes will only upgrade customer experience rather than degrade it.
In this phase, the present performance of the process, product or service is measured to find out what is actually occurring, especially from a customer’s viewpoint. This makes sure that the analysis and solution are based on practical facts instead of theoretical or anecdotal information.
In this step, the source or sources of the variation are determined through analysis of the product or service using the derived measurements. This leads to the determination of the problem’s root cause and not merely the symptom.
This phase entails studying possible changes to the process, product or service as well as testing them. The point is to make sure that the desired results are obtained and that variations are controlled or 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.