As organizations worldwide seek to perfect their operations and keep themselves ever more competitive, they are increasingly turning to the tried and true bastions of quality control and quality management. Lean Six Sigma (LSS) has long been at the heart of quality management best practices and has seen great successes in various industries and across vital business processes. It is a data-driven business management methodology that seeks to achieve process excellence and improve product quality by reducing waste and optimizing the value of every stage of the product or service lifecycle. According to a recent report, almost 20 percent of organizations plan to deploy cross-functional quality processes and teams across design, manufacturing, and service.
Practitioners of Lean Six Sigma and other quality management disciplines have been thriving for years. Following are a few examples of how LSS is being implemented in key industries and business models to help achieve operational excellence.
Improving Manufacturing and Supply Chain Quality
Manufacturing companies provide perhaps the best examples of how Lean Six Sigma can help build quality into the product development process. 3M company, for instance, recently employed LSS principles in their design and manufacturing capabilities for compressed natural gas systems in North America. They paired leading materials, technology, and expertise in Lean Six Sigma to improve the overall quality and reliability of their natural gas tanks, making them 30 percent lighter and with 10 percent more storage than alternative tank models. 3M has also put together a long-term plan to meet financial and customer objectives, using Lean Six Sigma to streamline manufacturing, supply chain, and even customer service. Manufacturers benefit not only from offering higher quality products to customers (that consequently have fewer defects that need fixing) but also in the speed with which they can address problems that do occur once they reach the end consumer. Quality management is a core component of this ongoing strategy.
Reducing Defects in Pharmaceutical Products
When companies produce products that impact the health and safety of everyday consumers, they have a responsibility to ensure that the development and testing of these products are done in a manner that reduces risk to near zero. Pharmaceutical manufacturers fall into this category, and they are bound by stringent legal mandates to ensure product safety. As reported recently on LinkedIn, Lean Six Sigma principles can help companies achieve this level of confidence in their processes to the point where they are virtually error-free. Pharma companies use LSS to implement end-to-end product testing, predict and eliminate errors during the developing and testing lifecycles, and ultimately enhance product quality and meet compliance measures. LSS helps them eliminate the risk of passing on damaged or ineffective medications that can have serious health implications for consumers.
Healthcare Onboarding Processes
The healthcare industry is notorious for its lengthy and complex business processes. One example lies with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (JHACH), which had a provider enrollment process that was slow and inefficient (taking up to six months to onboard providers). JHACH patients, who rely on those providers, experienced delayed visits to physicians or had to see a completely new physician, leading to upset patients and low customer satisfaction with the process. By implementing Lean Six Sigma workflow, combining departments and developing a tracking tool to monitor every stage in the process, JHACH increased the number of hospital-employed providers who are active with health plans by nearly 30 percent.
Better Quality Software Products
Software quality assurance (QA) engineers are key players in ensuring that software products meet rigorous quality standards and work the way they are supposed to. Certified Tester Foundation Level (CTFL) training is a career essential for those in the software development and testing domain. But steps can be taken earlier in the development lifecycle to improve quality from the beginning. Lean Six Sigma can help companies reduce unnecessary cycles and waste to churn out products faster and with higher quality. Among the most important areas that can be improved with LSS are: using value stream analysis to identify and eliminate non-value added activities; building a process to get customer input and buy-in on requirements before development work starts; creating a knowledge management system that stores all reusable components in a knowledge base that can be accessed later; benchmarking with other team members to deploy best practices without having to reinvent the wheel each time; and resource utilization to see what’s being overused and underused, and take necessary corrective or preventive action.
As companies strive for better competitiveness in whatever market they are in, they will need Lean Management and Lean Six Sigma trained and skilled professionals who can employ problem solving and business know-how to enhance internal processes and bake higher quality into their products and services.