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Jeff Liker

Dan Jones: Essential Lean and Six Sigma

By Jeff Liker, - Last updated: samedi, avril 10, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

The fundamental power of the ideas behind Lean and Six Sigma are too important to be lost sight of as the improvement movements that champion them compete for attention. These ideas came together in a unique synthesis at Toyota in the 1960s as it was developing its business system. In my view they need to come together again as the rest of the world strives to realize their potential.

What the Quality movement, of which Six Sigma is the latest incarnation, brought us is the idea that this is how we can use the scientific method to solve social as well as technical problems. At one level it enables us to understand the root causes of variance and to conduct controlled experiments to reduce the causes of this variance. At a more general level it gives us the Plan Do Check Act method for clearly defining problems and prioritizing and testing actions to solve them.

At the core of the Lean movement is the idea, whose origins can be traced back through several centuries of industrial practice, of organising work in process sequence instead of by activity or by Department. Through experimentation the founder of the Toyota Production System, Taiichi Ohno, was able to extend the Flow Production ideas Henry Ford developed to produce the Model T at Highland Park to produce a variety of products through the same process flow. The Lean movement has subsequently generalised these tools and principles for working together in process sequence to all kinds of industrial situations.

The most obvious place where the Quality and Lean ideas come together is in the workplace. Measuring variance in the performance of work is one thing, but sustaining it is another. Lean also starts by establishing basic stability in order to be able to tightly link steps along the work flow. It is this very interdependence that makes any slippage or variance highly visible. Which is why quality improvements are hard to sustain without the visual management lean uses to manage these integrated end-to-end work flows, which we call value streams.

While Six Sigma in particular develops deeply skilled experts in variance analysis who can be brought in to solve a problem, the tightly interdependent work flows lean is trying to create involve teaching new skills and new behaviours to everyone. The Training Within Industry programme developed in wartime America to teach newcomers to industrial work formed the basis of Toyota’s experiential learning process. The major role of Lean experts or Senseis as well as line managers is helping others learn how to solve problems for themselves.

Higher up the organisation the Quality movement also introduced the tools for prioritizing where improvements should take place, turning strategic objectives into focused operational improvements and resolving trade-offs in designing new products. Lean shares all of these. But Toyota went one step further in turning its A3 planning and problem solving methodology into the core way of developing managers at every level and throughout their careers to learn to think in the right way about the right things. This learning process brings together the use of the scientific method in defining the problem to be tackled, consciousness of the end-to-end process and its impact on customers and the experimental method for making lasting improvements.

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