Quality, lean and six Sigma: Often misunderstood

By Jim Gitney via group50.com   Article

“Quality: done right, attacks and reduces scrap and ‘waste’ in all of its forms. The worst form of scrap or waste is a sub-par product or service that gets to a customer. Not only are the materials and labor that went into the product/service wasted, but the customer is unhappy, the brand is damaged, and the faulty product or service has to be replaced or credited. In a manufacturing operation, effective Quality systems reduce material setup and run scrap; a related emphasis is beneficial in every business, but particularly in material intensive businesses.

Lean: focuses on productivity, going after unnecessary labor, motion and movement, corresponding work-in-process and other inventory, and anything in a production system or supply chain that is not valued by end customers. As Lean principles are effectively applied, processes in an operation will tend toward flowing in a synchronous fashion, ideally at a pace that matches customer demand. Lean efforts add the most value in labor and inventory intensive activities and operations.

Six Sigma: reduces variability in manufacturing or business processes. Six Sigma entails a set of tools and processes that are used by Quality and Lean practitioners to find and resolve the sources of process variability. Businesses with big or complicated processes (e.g., high-volume production lines such as paper mills or packaged goods) have found Six Sigma techniques to be particularly exploitable. They use common tools of which the most robust is Value Stream Mapping (VSM). …

Each of these areas comes with its own limitations and watch-outs. For example, left unchecked, many Quality leaders may push for improvement or design efforts that strive for ‘perfection.’ These practitioners often need to be reminded that ‘perfection is too expensive’ (and the corollary: over-design is a form of waste). The challenge with Lean efforts often pertains to work force resistance, as Lean efforts done right yield labor reductions.

Traditional Japanese companies applying Lean principles, and companies like them, often assure employees that Lean efforts will never cost jobs, banking on redeploying workers in support of the business growth resulting from Lean activities. Another prominent challenge with Lean efforts is sustaining initial gains, particularly with companies that are earlier in their Lean journeys; Lean is as much a philosophy and cultural emphasis as a set of practices.

Six Sigma methods emphasize ‘doing things right,’ but on their own may not identify ‘doing the right things’—to address this, progressive Six Sigma practitioners heavily weigh the ‘voice of the customer”’to ensure focus on the most opportune areas.”


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