Lean Six Sigma is a project management methodology that is focused on process improvement in an organization. I know, I know. The first blush of the definition of Lean Six Sigma is that PMBOK would not define it as falling within the confines of project management because it is focused on the existing procedures within a company. But we are going to talk about it anyways because it is being used by project managers to improve their effectiveness in a variety of settings.
Instead of debating the viability of Lean Six Sigma as a project management methodology, I am going to give you a crash course on its approach and benefits. This methodology focuses on improving three factors:
- the effectiveness of business processes by identifying and removing the causes of defects and variation,
- the efficiency of business processes by identifying and removing sources of waste within the process,
- and the effectiveness and efficiency based on outputs that are critical to customers.
You can see where this would be a beneficial approach to a consumer-based organization. LSS identifies seven types of waste that exist in any organization: defects, overproduction, transportation, waiting, inventory, motion, and processing in and of itself. In an IT setting, you could modify the words slightly and still cover all seven areas. Really, in most organizations I think you could look at your operation and see all these types of waste. In my experience with clients, the biggest source of waste is “waiting”. While different in a manufacturing or consumer products company, in my group it comes down to people waiting for work to do.
The foundational methodology for LSS is the acronym DMAIC. It stands for the following:
- Define: You need to describe the problem in quantifiable terms and identify the process to determine how performance will be measured.
- Measure: This is a data drive process, so you use quantifiable metrics to understand the current performance and where you can make improvements.
- Analyze: Through your research, you identify the root cause of the problem.
- Improve: Identify and implement the best strategies that will address the root causes identified in the previous step.
- Control: Identify and implement sustainment strategies that ensure process performance maintains the improved state.
A discussion of each step could fill pages and pages of this blog, but I am going to keep this article short and discuss only one: Define. In future articles I will talk about the remaining four steps in the process. The Define step of the LSS has other names in other project management methodologies, but most commonly it is also called “Onboarding“. As part of LSS, Define includes what you would expect:
- Identify the problem and the underlying process to be improved.
- Understand the customer, their needs, and requirements.
- Quantify the performance gap and its impact.
- Define the performance standard or measures.
- Set project success criteria.
- Ensure sponsorship and resources are in place.
All of these steps are extremely important to the success of your project. Like I have said in other articles related to planning and onboarding, it is imperative that you take the right amount of time that is required to be very thorough and clearly answer all questions as part of this step. Without a clearly defined methodology to collect measurable data, for example, you would go into this process literally blind. As part of this step, you have six deliverables that you will be able to put your hands on before you move on to the nest step. These are:
- An approved project charter
- A project plan with accompanying milestones
- Planned benefit analysis
- Your team should be formed and engaged
- A high level process map
- Customer performance requirements (CTQ‘s) linked to process outputs and the value stream
With this information and these documents in hand, you should be ready to proceed to the next step of the Lean Six Sigma process. I feel as a project manager that even if you do not use this methodology, you should be aware of it and know how to apply it. Several years ago we used it within our company to improve the quality of customer care that we provide clients. The processes it put into place then are still being used today. Take the time to educate yourself and see if it could benefit your company and improve the way you do business.