Lean Six Sigma 101

What is Lean Six Sigma? Maybe you’ve heard of it before; maybe you haven’t.

Lean: The systematic reduction or elimination of waste within a process or system, revealing the aspects of a process that add value and those that do not.

Six Sigma: Reducing variation in quality of the products of a process. It is focused on removing possible causes for defects in a process, leading to an improved process that produces the desired outcome at a higher success rate.

Lean Six Sigma: A combination of the two concepts above, is a methodology to improve the performance of a process or system by systematically removing waste.

Lean Six Sigma

..is usually applied within a company by a team formed for the express purpose of the improvement of a specific process within that company. For example, eliminating the waste caused by defects that occur along a manufacturing line. Or eliminating the wasted time spent by personnel waiting during a process. There are 8 specific types of wastes usually targeted for continuous process improvement: Time, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over production, Over processing, Defects, and Skills. Per usual, iteration is the name of the game,

Getting Lean Six Sigma certified is somewhat similar to taking a course in karate. There are multiple levels: White Belt, Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt, and Master Black Belt, each with increasing levels of commitment and training required. Certifications are usually provided by an accredited body or within a corporation itself. I received White Belt accreditation within 3 hours at a workshop hosted by the US Navy at the 2015 SASE National Conference in Houston, TX (which is another story for another time!).

A White Belt is only responsible for understanding the vision of the company, and applying Lean Six Sigma concepts to his/her work. A Master Black Belt, however, a full-time position that is expected to train and coach other employees, and oversee large, complex Lean Six Sigma projects within a company.

Did you know that most companies in the United States function at between 3 and 4 Sigma? At 3 Sigma, that translates to 2.3 defects per 100 occurrences. By contrast, 6 Sigma demands 3.4 defects per 1,000,000 (a million!) occurrences.

Thankfully, our hospitals have had hundreds of years of iterations and now function at a level higher than 3 Sigma. At least, I’d hope so.