Lean Six Sigma for traditionalists

Creativity can wring quicker and better results from your tools BY RYAN BURGE AND JAMES BAGG


Industrial Engineer

As the world becomes increasingly complex, many have questioned the validity of lean Six Sigma and its so-called tools. For those traditionalists out there who follow your black belt pocket guides and texts religiously, yes, a substantial component of lean Six Sigma is just the appropriate, effective application of statistical analysis to improve a particular way of doing business based on good data and analysis. But is what we’ve learned as lean Six Sigma practitioners – whether in academic coursework, through internal or external training courses, or in our pocket guides – enough? Think about it. In many black belt courses, you’re presented with PowerPoint slides that outline an array of tools for each phase of the DMAIC/ DMADV process – from “You can use multivariate analysis techniques in the analysis phase” to detailing the instructions needed to build paper airplanes more quickly (not necessarily with quality in mind) with your teammates, many of whom are utterly confused with the exercise anyway. There’s no point in reviewing the basic lean Six Sigma methods, as we don’t live in a basic business environment. Rather, we should move forward to see how we can change these methods to fit the challenges we face. A good motto for any practitioner is, “Don’t let the tools drive your analysis, but rather let your analysis drive the use of the right tools to help solve the problem.” Yep, you’ve guessed it. It comes down to your level of creativity and in stepping beyond the simple frameworks and statistical tools to come up with a more effective, and generally new, innovative way of achieving your desired end-state – all while doing it faster with the same or higher level of quality. Welcome to lean Six Sigma training for the traditionalist – the pocket

guide-carrying black belt who has the capability to do more. Let’s learn something that can’t be found in your training or on the Internet.

Getting creative Do you remember your lean Six Sigma training class, where you were told to take a particular data set, develop a hypothesis, and figure out and use the most applicable statistical test to determine whether your null hypothesis is accepted or rejected? It wasn’t fun, and it certainly didn’t tell students what the problem was and how to fix it. Perhaps it’s just me, but I found more excitement in tearing everything apart and figuring out a way to do things better – more or less the credo of industrial engineering. “Oh, root cause analysis (RCA). That sounds interesting. Obviously, it’s useful for identifying originating issues by continuously asking questions, thus allowing for the use of yet another tool to help solve the problem. But why should I continue to react to issues that could continue to come around? Is this ‘tool’ only useful for when things break? Of course it’s valuable in identifying a particular problem, but can it be used in any other way? I just want to get ahead

of the game and stop reacting to problems.” Several years ago, I wrote those words in an Industrial Engineer magazine article, turning RCA on its head. This method is a valuable tool, but it does nothing more than allow you to react to a particular problem in a process or system. Sure, it can set the stage for your creativity in designing and implementing a more effective process or system, but what if there was no longer a need for RCA? What would that look like? Would it be DMADV but twisted to drive the design of a process or system vs. designing a widget? Or, is it turning RCA on its head and predicting potential outcomes of your process or system and using that fishbone to determine the impact of realizing risk? I prefer the latter, but it also requires some level of creativity to move beyond just copying a fishbone diagram and asking the same repetitive question. Here’s your homework: Take at least one of the most common frameworks and break it. Think about the purpose of that “tool,” describe how to make it better, and explain how and why it can be used to solve a particular problem more effectively/efficiently than ever before. Ideally, you should feel good

six sigma surging For the first time in nine years of study, The Avery Point Group found that demand for pure Six Sigma talent saw a noticeable year over year improvement relative to lean. According to the executive search firm, 27 percent of the reviewed job postings were looking exclusively for Six Sigma talent, with no mention of lean. This is an increase over last year's record low of 20 percent. And Six Sigma skills were heavily sought in lean job searches, with 43 percent of employers who sought lean training also asking for Six Sigma expertise, up from 34 percent in 2012. The combined demand for lean and Six Sigma talent remained more than double 2010 levels, Avery reported.

June 2013


lean six sigma for traditionalists

a hitch in the process Figure 1. The “black box” of a legacy system could prevent IEs from figuring out how calculations are performed.

about not letting the use of a tool limit your creativity.

Let’s think bigger If you’re a lean Six Sigma practitioner, you’re familiar with the SIPOC (suppliers-inputs-process-outputsconsumers) framework. Generally, it’s used to map a particular system or process, from identifying suppliers of data or raw materials to documenting the step-by-step process flow to identifying the consumers of that particular system or process. And it’s done in a tabular format. Let’s take a look at a simple example of using the SIPOC framework. Today, information technology systems are ingrained in almost everything we do to accomplish our work. Whether you’re working in a product distribution environment and leveraging RFID tracking mechanisms or in finance extracting data from numerous spreadsheets, you have been exposed to or interact with IT systems. Thus, we’re going to look at how being a little more creative on the application of a lean Six Sigma tool can improve effectiveness and efficiency


Industrial Engineer

with an example problem that, ideally, anyone can relate to. “Bill, I just ran my own quick analysis of the data, and I’m getting something completely different than what our IT system shows. It’s even different from what’s in our monthly status reports,” proclaims Jim, head of operations at a major retail distribution center. Bill laughs. “Maybe it’s just your analysis.” “Seriously, I need to see what’s going on here. This old system may not be working right, which would mean we’re not doing things right. Or the folks updating our monthly reports aren’t using the right information somehow. So perhaps looking at both processes will help us figure out why our numbers don’t match.” Let’s see what Jim does with the SIPOC tool.

Unlocking black boxes Jim hits a roadblock. Although he now understands the key components of the IT system (the common use for the SIPOC tool) and its impacts on the various users of the system, he

finds that the IT system’s algorithms are protected as proprietary, and he is unable to determine how the calculations are performed – the “black box” paradigm shown in Figure 1. Obviously, things have changed over the many years of its use. So do you buy a new one? Do you call the company (if still in business) to try to figure out what’s contained within the “black box”? Or do you just forget about it and continue forward? This alone creates an additional challenge. Jim understands the systems, and while the information is now documented, it doesn’t do anything but remain static. He certainly doesn’t want this to turn into “shelfware” that will result in numerous additional projects pulling in an array of disparate lean Six Sigma tools to move this effort forward – or perhaps move the effort back. Plus, he’s worried that using all these disconnected tools could create delays in getting something in place to address the company’s needs or even result in increased man-hours and subsequent costs. He needs a better way to move forward than relying on a hodgepodge

bypassing the roadblock Figure 2. Creatively going beyond the SIPOC tool to determine the overlaps and gaps across systems and processes can help reach a solution simply and efficiently.

of various tools and guesswork. Here’s an opportunity for Jim to leverage his current framework to take the analysis a step further. Being a little creative and thinking beyond just mapping the various processes independently and subsequently identifying the immediate problem (perhaps, in this case, an algorithm that needs to be updated) will allow Jim not only to identify what is and is not needed, but allow for a more effective and efficient means of moving forward. Here, he can turn the SIPOC tool into something that is aligned to the desired end-state. Assuming Jim was unable to dive into the “black box” of his legacy system to

understand what algorithm could have been the problem, he creates the method shown in Figure 2 to address his problems and achieve the right end-state effectively and efficiently. But how does he do it? Daniel Pink, author of several bestselling books, including A Whole New Mind, recently provided his thoughts on being creative. “There is no simple recipe. But the ingredients are pretty straightforward.” Here is Pink’s list of those ingredients: • Being curious • Having the autonomy to direct one’s own work • Reading, listening and watching

a variety of topics, disciplines and industry • Surrounding yourself with people who are diverse in outlook but who share your curiosity, autonomy and “multi-ness” Granted, a recipe can be tweaked ever so slightly and still produce the same or similar end-state. However, Jim was first curious and thought about what he could do to turn the framework into something better to help him achieve his objective. Subsequently, he took the initiative to make it happen and didn’t just rely on his texts or guides. The last two ingredients will simply allow you to continue to learn and build a repertoire June 2013


lean six sigma for traditionalists of “creativeness” by simply knowing more about the world and ways to solve problems. With this in mind and going back to Figure 2, you can see how Jim analyzes each SIPOC to determine the overlaps and gaps across all relevant systems and processes, not just using the SIPOC framework for documenting the legacy system. During his analysis, he discovers that data comes from the same suppliers (regardless of human or computer-based sources) for some systems, determines that there are redundancies in data collection efforts, discovers that all processes other than the legacy system seem to be using the right algorithm, finds inconsistent reporting (as discussed earlier), and realizes that some users continue to use systems or processes that are not necessarily used by others. To address this challenge, Jim knows that he has to do something that will consolidate the various systems and processes, while somehow effectively and efficiently “throwing the legacy system away.” His mapping process, the red parts in Figure 2, helped him get to the point of determining a set of viable solutions. Think end-state: the right type of data/information that needs to be presented based on the right calculations, understanding who will be using the data/information and how it may be used. Now that Jim fully understands what he has in place for current systems and processes, knows the relationships between them, and continues to focus on the end-state, he can finally determine what algorithms and/or processes can get the company to the desired end-state more effectively and efficiently. By knowing the end-state and working backward, he can develop


Industrial Engineer

what’s new at elss 2013 The IIE Engineering Lean & Six Sigma Conference 2013, being held Sept. 23-25 in Atlanta, is refreshing its content and creating more networking opportunities. New this year will be a track covering the future of lean Six Sigma and subtracks under industry practices for energy and business law topics. The conference also will feature a best paper competition, panel discussions and a poster session for the first time. Go to www.iienet.org/leansixsigma for details as well as content and highlights from previous ELSS events.

a set of requirements (Now, who cares about the “black box” algorithms!) and assess a number of solutions that could address the need by evaluating each against a pre-defined set of attributes (e.g., cost, schedule, performance, risk) and metrics. From there, it’s simply a matter of evaluating the various option benefits, costs and risks in selecting one that the company will label “best value.” This example is not intended to devalue lean Six Sigma tools. Rather, it’s a way to offer a more effective and efficient way of planning and executing lean Six Sigma analytical efforts by augmenting your creativity and analytical prowess. Imagine the time, effort and dollars saved by just being a little more creative upfront. Solving a problem at an extreme expense is not satisfactory, and I imagine you seek an opportunity to attack problems quickly and with the same or greater level of usefulness and quality. Challenge yourself to spend less time digging through your pocket guide or worrying about what tool is a fit to the problem, and think a little more about what really needs to be accomplished and how tools can be used to supplement your ability to think creatively and solve the problem. d

Ryan Burge is a member of IIE, a certified lean Six Sigma master black belt, and managing partner and consultant for The Boulevard Consulting Group. He holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Oklahoma, a master’s degree in engineering management from The George Washington University and a joint MBA/M.A. in government from Johns Hopkins University. An author of several articles and books, he has consulted in industrial engineering and lean Six Sigma for major private sector organizations and the federal government. James Bagg is a managing partner and consultant for The Boulevard Consulting Group. He holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial and systems engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology and is pursuing a joint MBA/M.A. in government from Johns Hopkins University. He served as an active duty infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and currently serves in the Reserves. He has consulted in several process improvement capacities for many agencies within the Department of Defense.

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