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Transition to Lean Sigma

The profitability of a business is directly influenced by the external and internal environment. With little or no control over the external factors, the business must minimize the internal cost of production which can be controlled more easily. Modern operations research scientists have developed innovative ways of controlling the cost factors. Tools like Lean Sigma were developed to have a check over the cost centres within the organisation.

Lean Sigma is a tool which combines the practices of Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing to deliver value to a business. Six Sigma enables a practitioner to deliver better quality products or services by minimizing process variations. Lean methodology helps in optimizing process by identifying and eliminating wasteful activities. Though developed independently, when implemented together, Lean Sigma (also known as Lean Six Sigma) helps in delivering a better quality product or service at an optimal value.

The first step in transitioning to lean sigma involves understanding the current process improvement and quality processes implemented in the organization. Some might have already implemented some of the practices advocated in pockets. In this case, it would be good to conduct a gap analysis by a lean sigma expert, and accordingly draw out an action plan to implement the lean sigma practices. In case the organization is in preliminary stages of quality system implementation, or has no lean methodologies implemented, it would be prudent to deploy the lean sigma in its entirety.

Applying DMAIC (Define Measure Analyse Improve and Control)
DMAIC techniques (typically six sigma techniques) can be applied in the same order, however, the program now assumes two important goals, viz. reduce variation and cycle time reduction. Normally, all tools used for Lean Sigma can be mapped to DMAIC phases.

Cultural Change
Implementation of any new or changes in process would be successful only if there is a buy-in of the practitioners. The lean sigma methodology is not any different; it needs the commitment of the top management and the employees to make it happen. Lean sigma emphasizes listening to one's customer and involving him depending for giving the inputs – often termed as VOC, as in Voice of the Customer.

Customer’s View Point & Value Stream
The next step of transitioning to lean sigma model involves in understanding the customer’s perspective. This step begins with understanding what is the value that customer perceives. Based on this, the implementation team identifies the processes that are absolutely essential for delivering value to the customer. The definition of the value stream is the next step. By value stream, one means the set of processes that are involved in transforming the raw material to what the customer is willing to pay for (i.e. what the customer sees value in). It is very important to know the end customer; this helps in understanding or defining how the value stream should work so as to meet the end customers’ needs.

Identify and Eliminate Impediments in Value Stream
Impediments or constraints are that which prevent us from delivering value to the customer. Identifying constraints in the value stream helps in understanding the value system better. It also helps in understanding the wasteful processes undertaken.

Organization with Six Sigma Practices Institutionalized
In the IT/ITES industry, the process groups would be familiar with Six Sigma; in these companies, Lean process is a new concept. For an organization which has institutionalized six sigma practices, it is easy to transform to lean sigma methodology quickly. The process group and the practitioners in such organizations would be well aware of the statistical tools used in six sigma (typically, FMEA, Regression Analysis, Pareto, Scatter Diagram etc.). The new aspect that lean sigma brings is reducing cycle time by optimizing the processes i.e. identify what the customer values and ensuring that all efforts are spent in that pursuit, thus avoiding wasteful processes and activities.

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