Lean Six Sigma

We don’t have control, we have choices. The best we can do is improve our method of making choices and hope for good results.

This is the rub. We generally set ourselves up for disappointment and failure because we make emotional choices and don’t get the results we want. We assume that our environment is predictable and that the universe behaves according to a fixed process that coincides nicely with our expectations. The plain truth is that you don’t know what you don’t know. And sometimes, you are not even aware that you don’t know.
This may seem like a bunch of idle chatter, but the concept impacts businesses everyday. This is why Six Sigma and Lean are so important in our global economy. Reducing variability and making processes more predictable improves the quality of our decision making. Less emotion and more critical analysis.
I did an experiment while participating in a March Madness Basketball Pool this past year. I entered three different brackets. One bracket was based upon selecting my favorite teams, one was based upon my “gut feelings” about who would win, and the last I did using statistical data from experts in the college basketball world.
These are the typical decision making strategies seen everyday in business. The emotional decision, the gut feeling, and the critically analyzed decision. In the case of my brackets, the one based on my emotions (favorite teams) fared the worst. The Bracket based upon my gut feelings did marginally better. The bracket based upon statistical research did really well.
This is the point behind Six Sigma and Lean. Moving toward data based decisions.  It doesn’t  mean that using gut feelings is always bad. There is a time and place for everything. When properly implemented, Six Sigma and Lean will reduce variation in your processes and make them more predictable. This in turn increases the quality of our choices.

Finding Sources of Variation

Typically, the most suspect processes or process steps for introducing variation are manual or judgment oriented in nature.  For example, if an individual applies personal judgment within a process you would expect to see bias or higher variation in the process output. Automated processes will typically have more consistent performance and lower variation.

One of the best ways to find these manual or judgment steps in a process is through the use of a process map. As a process is mapped, decision points are represented as diamonds. This becomes the first place to look for variation.

Variation Analysis


 First, remember that not all variation is bad. Planned variation, like that in an experiment, is a process improvement strategy. Unplanned variation, on the other hand, is nearly always bad.

 Two types of variation concern a process improvement team. These are common cause and special cause variation. All processes will have common cause variation. This variation is a normal part of the process (noise). It demonstrates the process’ true capability. Special cause variation on the other hand is not normal to the process. It is the result of exceptions in the process’ environment or inputs.

Six Sigma Success and Honesty

Not all business problems lend themselves to the Six Sigma process improvement methodologies, especially those that have short time lines. There are many problems that business leadership understand and should just fix. A Six Sigma improvement project typically requires one to six months for a team to complete, depending upon the complexity and scope of the problem. This is longer than acceptable for some problems. In addition, many of the tools used in Six Sigma do not apply well to problems that are not process based. Examples of these would be emergencies and relationship issues. Process improvement tools apply better to up-front planning for these situations, than to the situations themselves.