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The Hitchhikers guide to Lean Six Sigma


Mary Lincoln #legendNot everything you learn can immediately be applied to organisations who need process help. Sometimes, if you start to use new fangled methods (albeit from the 80’s) with your teams, they may just think that you have gone slightly mad. Learning Lean Six Sigma will change the way you think. Ok, brainwash you.

I detested queues before I understood what was wrong and why. The techniques have taken over the way I think about operations to the point where it’s applicable to life the universe and everything else too. Six Sigma is a highly disciplined process, that enables the delivery and execution of #nearasdammit perfect product and service, with focus on Quality and The Customer.

There are many definitions for Six Sigma, but I’ll share 3 of mine with the help of the master of the meaning of life Douglas Adams.

1. It’s a philosophic, customer focussed approach to build understanding that when we get things wrong with our customers, it’s expensive, not just in financial terms but also it costs loyalty. “This planet has - or rather had - a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.” (thanks Douglas) If a company continually lets its customers down they will leave the brand. It will then cost the company more money to bring them back. Simple.

2. Six Sigma is about statistics, and letting the data highlight areas for improvement, to be excellent and deliver 3.4 defects per million opportunities (products or service) and not just gut feel…. Most world class operations strive to achieve a great Sigma score, Airlines tend to operate at 14 Sigma for example. But more companies operate at around 3 Sigma showing there are lots of opportunities for improvement. Some companies however go too far in the search of perfection, and getting those last few percentages can cost more to perfect than to accept. Using a simple equation such as Quality x Acceptance = Effectiveness can help “I'd far rather be happy than right any day.” (there he is again) use it to help measure how far a process is away from ultimate perfection and eliminate the defects.

3. Six Sigma is a process and to achieve the illusive 3.4 defects in a million opportunities you need to implement and use that process, most commonly known as DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) for existing process or operations, or where new process is required DMADV (Design, Measure, Analyse, Design, Verify). Simply put, define the problem and your goal, measure how big the problem is, analyse why it’s happening, improve the process to prevent error and control it to ensure it stays within acceptable levels. Douglas had a machine to help him work it out, but it was wrong, the meaning of life isn't 42. It’s 6.