Lean Six Sigma Starter Kit

There is a lot of information about Lean and Six Sigma tools and techniques, but how do you setup a strong and sustainable improvement program? There are some roadmaps and guidance, but not many step by step approaches available.

Over the next few months, I’ll be enhancing this page with more details and links to help you implement in your organization.

Steps above in white are required, and those in grey are highly recommended.

Before any of this process begins, we first need to establish some interest in Lean and Six Sigma methodology. Often this is done through an overview training. We have an online course called “Lean Six Sigma and the Environment” that can give you some insights into this approach (focused on the environment of course). Executive and leadership training is also conducted, to ensure top level support.


1. Vision and Purpose

  • This has nothing to do with financials, which is typically the purpose of most companies (to make money). However, this is not inspirational or motivational to your customers or employees. A vision and purpose need to be viewed in the long-term. From this vision, we are able to align all decisions and improvement activities, so we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.
  • Here are some things to consider when clarifying your organization’s vision or purpose:
    • Not financially focused
    • Motivational
    • Builds trust in customers and stakeholders
    • Not something achievable in the short term
    • Incorporates the ecosystem (aligns with nature)
    • Should be difficult to measure
  • The organization should discuss why they need a formal process improvement approach, and what problems they are trying to solve.
    • Customer satisfaction? Inventory? Customer response time? Cash flow? Employee Retention?
  • In The Toyota Way Fieldbook, they suggest using a matrix of People, Business, Internal and External (along with long and short term thinking) to define your vision.
  • Here is Toyota’s vision statement (as an example):
    • “Toyota will lead the way to the future of mobility, enriching lives around the world with the safest and most responsible ways of moving people. Through our commitment to quality, constant innovation and respect for the planet, we aim to exceed expectations and be rewarded with a smile. We will meet our challenging goals by engaging the talent and passion of people, who believe there is always a better way.”

2. Philosophy

  • Improvements can be made in a good or bad way. For example, you can reduce your healthcare costs at your organization by making employees pay a higher deductible (bad), or helping them receive more preventative care (good). Often the “bad” improvements are quicker and easier to implement, but damaging to customers, employees or the long term success of the organization. The “good” improvements take longer, but are better for customers, employees and the long term organization success. The philosophy is meant to ensure we are making “good” improvements.
  • Here are some concepts that many companies have adopted, to set a framework for HOW the improvements will be conducted.
    • Commit to no layoffs as a result of improvements
    • Respect for people
    • Collaboration across all departments
    • Go to the “gemba
    • Employee-led improvements made by those who do the work, as they are the process experts
    • All employees can be problem solvers (regardless of education level) if given proper coaching, training and reinforcement
    • Coaching and mentoring from management by asking questions, not telling workers what to do and how to improve
    • Allow time for workers daily or weekly to improve their processes (work on the process, not in the process)
    • Problems are opportunities to improve
    • Failure should be welcomed, it is a chance to learn
    • Make decisions based on long term results that optimize the overall system for the customer, not short term results for isolated processes
    • Look for low cost and simple solutions first, not capital or expensive solutions
    • Work smarter, not harder or faster
    • Keep it simple
    • Visualize and track your work to quickly find problems
    • Reinvest your improvements back into the people and processes
  • Each organization should create their own list, but you can use the list above as a starting point.

3. Scope

  • You cannot solve all your organizational issues at once. We suggest picking a specific product or service you offer to your customers or stakeholders, and focusing all your initial effort on it.
  • Pick an area that has one or more of the following: lots of observed opportunities, requires the most labor and resources, has the most customer complaints, highest employee turnover, most overtime, or requires the most management attention.
    • If you want to get more technical, you can define the criteria for selecting the area, and rank each product or service against these criteria using a prioritization matrix.
  • This will be the “showcase” area. We recommend all of your effort goes into a full transformation and improvement, so that it can be a model for others to replicate. You will have limited resources in process improvement (employees and consultants), so it’s best to focus them on one area only.
  • The showcase area will need additional resources and help to be able to work on the improvements, conduct kaizen improvement events, and may require some funding for training and consulting.
  • This may seem like it is going very slow in the beginning, but you are building credibility in the program, proving it works in your organization and industry, and making sure it is a success. When others in your organization see the success, they will be motivated to repeat the results in their area, and resources from that showcase can be sent out to help them, and the deployment will scale very quickly.
  • We are suggesting you go slow initially, in order to go faster in the long term.

4. Logistics

  • A plan needs to be developed to determine how the showcase area will be successful. Consider the following tasks and schedule:
    • Training plan for showcase area (who, what, when, how, etc)
    • Deployment plan (1st showcase area, then 2nd, 3rd, etc), along with when to get started.
    • Identify the Process improvement leader who will be responsible for the success of the program. Preferably it should be the leader of the organization (President, Executive Director, CEO, etc).
    • Stabilize the management system, and setup recurring reviews and cadence for checking progress in showcase area. We suggest:
      • Weekly meetings with the process owner in the area and the improvement team
      • Monthly meetings with leadership in that area
      • Quarterly meetings and reviews with senior leadership and sponsors of the initiative (hopefully top leadership in the organization)
      • Annual sharing of success stories with the rest of the organization (annual report, conference and tours, “all hands” meeting, stakeholder report, etc)
    • Select the key personnel that will be getting advanced training and will become the improvement experts in the organization.
      • It is preferred to have some dedicated resources to this effort, as part-time staff will find it hard to do another job and focus on implementing a large program. External consultants (like BPI) can be used to assist your existing resources, but cannot replace the day-to-day activities required to build the infrastructure.

5. Training

  • Finally, we get to the actual training of Lean and Six Sigma tools and techniques. At this stage, we start simple with the most useful and effective techniques:
  • To maximize the engagement and success of the training, we recommend a train-the-trainer approach, where each manager is trained on how to teach these concepts to their employees, instead of taught by an improvement expert.
  • Start by teaching the 8 forms of wastes through gemba walks, and 2 Second Lean to encourage daily improvements. Support this effort with criteria and boundaries for making changes, such as safety, legal and industry restrictions and regulations, capital investment, pushing problems to other departments, etc. We have a White Belt training we can share with you if interested.
  • This training can be provided to all employees, not just those in the showcase area. This will build a foundation and culture of improvement while the showcase area is being transformed, and there will be some great success stories that come from the use of these simple tools and approaches.

6. Catch Ball (Hoshin Kanri)

  • Catchball ensures that there is alignment, prioritization and buy-in on the key leadership goals and objectives in the organization. The principles of Lean and Six Sigma will make this discussion more relevant, which is why it comes after the training. At this stage, we will only be focused on the showcase area, but eventually you will want this completed for the entire organization.
  • Learn more about Hoshin Kanri and the X Matrix


7. Huddles (Daily Management System)

The structure for getting a cross-functional team together on a regular basis to focus on the customer needs. This includes a review of the most recent performance, identification of problems, and assigning of action items for quick resolution.

Ensure daily meetings meet the following criteria:

  • No longer than 15 minutes (10 mins typical)
  • Standing only, no sitting (no ensure it is concise)
  • Next to the work area (gemba)
  • Defined content and agenda (show on communication board)

Typical agendas include:

  • Aligning resources from absences or other issues
  • Discussion on metrics from previous day (SQDC)
  • Risks (safety and hazards)
  • Upcoming events, celebrations and activities
  • Projects and Future Work (cross training)
  • Communications and company announcements

Here is a good example:

Consider establishing 3 levels of daily huddle (accountability) meetings:

  • Front line workers lead by Team Leader
  • Team Leader lead by Supervisor
  • Supervisor lead by Value Stream Manager (who owns the overall process)
  • Value Stream Manager lead by Executives

8. Challenge Board

This board focuses on a key problem in our work area, and through a series of experiments, we can quickly try out incremental solutions to determine whether they work or not, and make adjustments.

Within the board is a section called “Experimenting Record” which tracks our activity and results. Reflection is made after each change, and is the basis for future changes. This approach (called “Coaching and Improvement Kata”) works great when the problem is manageable, and not overly complex.

For more information on Challenge Boards and Experimenting Records, see Mike Rother’s Kata website.

See the section called “Projects” for dealing with complex or large scale improvements.

9. Communications Board

  • A whiteboard or visual display that makes it easy to see if the process is meeting customer needs on a frequent basis (as the work progresses) to assist management with problem identification and quick resolution.

10. Standard Work

  • The use of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), Checklists, Videos, and other techniques to capture and train workers on the best method to complete tasks (until a better method is found).
  • This also includes Leader Standard Work, a series of checklist items and reminders to help reinforce that the agreed-upon standard work is being followed, and to follow-up with process changes to help build discipline into the process.
  • How much standard work is needed? Depends on the job. Here are the typical amount of time each week that should be defined and standardized (derived from Creating a Lean Culture by David Mann)
    • Value-added front line worker = 90+%
    • Team leader (working leader) = 75-80%
    • Supervisor (non-working leader) = 50%
    • Value Stream leader (manager) = 25%
    • Executives and C-Suite (top leadership) = 10%


11. Metrics

12. Cross-Training Matrix

  • In order to align your customer demand with your staffing levels, you will need to cross-train your staff, so they can adjust their work and support other workers to keep the customers happy.

13. Risk

  • Often times we get too wrapped up in current problems that we overlook potential problems that haven’t happened yet. We must have a process to routinely identify, prioritize and actively work on risks. Before performing a full FMEA, make sure you read this article about more efficient approaches to save you time.
  • We suggest reviewing your risk actions or risk register quarterly at a minimum with all process owners and stakeholders. New risks should be added, past risks should be re-assessed, and a new prioritized list should be generated. Examples of risk include:
    • Cross-training an experienced worker in case they leave the company
    • Ordering backup parts for a critical piece of equipment
    • Finding an alternative supplier for a critical part
    • Setting up a backup system for key databases
    • Making improvements to the process to prevent errors, mistakes, or accidents

14. Advanced Training

  • As problems become more difficult, additional training is provided to solve these challenges. We assist you in learning tools covered in advanced Lean courses, or Six Sigma Green and Black Belt classes. Tools such as SMED, OEE, Takt Time, Standardized Work, Heijunka, Capability Analysis, Gage R&R, Measurement System Analysis (MSA), Regression, ANOVA, Nonparametric analysis, Advanced SPC, Design of Experiments (DOE) and many more.

15. Projects

  • We help you conduct Six Sigma Green or Black Belt Projects on key, critical or difficult problems with unknown solutions to increase the chance of project success.
    • For consumption, quality improvement and variation reduction projects, we follow the structured DMAIC roadmap, and include the following tools: Project Charter, Inputs Process Outputs, Prioritization Matrix, FMEA, Gage R&R, Statistical Process Control (SPC), Capability Analysis, Graphical analysis, Minitab or JMP software, ANOVA, Regression, Hypothesis testing, Design of Experiments (DOE), Error proofing, Paynter Chart, Control plan, and project report.
  • Another project approach is a lean transformation, where we focus on a key process area, and through a series of kaizen events, we reduce inventory, run smaller batches, improve the layout, reduce barriers to flow and reduce delays in turn around time. This is done following the 5 lean principles of value, value stream, flow, pull and perfection, also within the same DMAIC framework. Tools include: SMED (setup reduction), kanban/supermarkets, heijunka and level loading, standard work combination sheets, lean startup, and daily management system.
    • We execute this through a series of kaizens in key areas, implementing 5S, flow, cellular layout, error proofing, daily huddles, and visual management. After a series of improvements, we might step back and look at the Value Stream Map approach to identify the larger problems or constraints in the overall system. This will focus some of the kaizen events in the right area, after the fundamentals are in place in each individual area.
  • Looking for project ideas? Check out our list of examples
  • Too many projects to take on now? It’s better to do fewer projects but have success with them, then take on too many and get frustrated and overwhelmed. Consider starting a Project Hopper with ranked selection criteria to collect up the other great projects that you can review and assess on a quarterly basis.

Improvements will start taking place as early as the first Training class, but the majority of improvements will occur when Huddles are established, and Standard Work is implemented. The largest improvements will occur in the Challenge and Projects steps.

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