What Do Lean, Six Sigma, and Process Re-engineering Have in Common?

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Painting a street scene might sound like a simple project. To an artist, there are so many options to consider. Depending on the choice of medium (type of paint), the surface, and the shades of color to be used, the look and feel of the painting could be very different. For the best effect, the artist needs to select the proper tools such as paint brush and an appropriately primed canvas that work with his choices.

In business, there are so many tools and techniques available for tackling various business issues. Lean, Six Sigma, and process re-engineering are common approaches organizations use to improve performance. The techniques for each methodology have different focus. Some are more suited for tackling specific issues. However, they have three things in common.

  1. Problem Solving
    Bottlenecks, dupication of work, and inconsistent quality are some of the problems that any one of the three approaches can be used to tackle. Lean applies the concept of continuous flow to identify root causes and wastes in each step of a process. Six Sigma applies rigorous data analysis to identify souces of variation which cause performance deviation. Process re-engineering applies the process mapping technique to diagnose the deficiencies of the end-to-end process.
  2. Process Improvement
    Whether your business is in manufacturing, hospitality, or education, there are many processes involved in running the business. Each process comprises a series of steps. How well work is executed depends on the effectiveness of each step and the deployment of the resources. Each methodology places a strong focus on getting the process right. Lean calls its process analysis work one-piece flow. Six Sigma starts with the process in question and incorporates measurements along the process to optimize outputs. Process re-engineering emphasizes the importance of coherent work activities and silos elimination across functional barriers to improve performance.
  3. Continual Monitoring
    Improvement is not a one-time event. Once a change is in place, it is necessary to monitor the results and make enhancements to further improve performance. Lean uses the Kaizen blitz, a focused approach to make bite-size continuous improvements. Six Sigma measures critical input and output, performs statistical analysis, and monitors deviations that call for corrective action. Process re-engineering evaluates the process flow performance metrics to diagnose cause and effect.

While each methodology uses different techniques, it is wise to adapt the appropriate tools that are relevant to the problem in question. Certain issues such as departmental conflicting activities can be addressed by using process re-engineering to improve how key activities are handled. When the key activities are well defined, refinement could be handled through Lean. Six Sigma is more suited for work that requires a high level of precision.

It is not necessary to follow each methodolgy verbatim. One can use a combination of techniques from Lean, Six Sigma, and process re-engineering for best results. A great artist is not bound by the medium or surface. He knows how to combine the technical know-how in sequencing the use oil and acrylic, and the use of colors to create a vivid painting.

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