5 Steps to Getting Started on your Lean Six Sigma Journey

By Paul Swift


Much of the fear of #lean Six Sigma is simply shrouded in the ‘Not knowing’ how to get started and this is a question I’m often asked by lss_journeyprospective clients, “How do we go about the whole Lean Six Sigma Thing?”

Here are some steps in the LSS process to consider for your business if you are contemplating taking a hard, real look at how you operate, function and plan to get better using Lean Six Sigma tools:

Step 1: Leadership and Commitment

Buy-in, championing and supporting the effort from the top is essential. Decision-makers have to back up what is being planned and visibly support the improvement efforts and projects. Without this support, companies will often, quickly and soon revert back to old habits and sustained change will not be possible or feasible.

Vision and direction has to come from senior management as well.

Step 2: Educate and Empower: Gather Knowledge, know how and practice Lean Six Sigma

Training, fundamentals and even books, consulting and advice from other businesses that are implementing and experimenting with Lean can all help you get on your way. Formal training and certification are available at

There are training programs offered by MEP’s (Manufacturing Extension Partnerships) around the world such as Green Belt or Black Belt’
It is a priority to educate and empower, giving people the tools they need, raising awareness of lean, introducing and using a couple of the tools at a time, over a period of a couple of weeks or months, or a whole coordinated deployment or roll-out effort with resources and project plans. These are all feasible, depending on the needs of your organization and the depth you want to or feel like you have to get into.

Step 3: Making Things Visible To All and Accountability

Understanding processes, cause and effect, root-cause analysis and even being aware of waste, goes a long way to get to low-hanging fruit, win and reward right away. Any improvement for your business, saved dollar and lower costs are good right? Why not use lean to help you and your employees SEE and DO something about it. Try to see if you can trace the source of waste. Just walk around your operation and try to spot where ‘waste’ is occurring (recycle bins), discarded, defective product, things on the floor, cluttered areas etc. This can be A great first step. Tracing and mapping out how it got there, how severe the problem is (pages per day, waste removed or scrapped, defective unit # versus yield). Any metrics and active tracking heightens awareness of potential problems and sources, creative solutions and harnessed resources working to save money. All wonderful, without necessarily even having implemented any formal LEAN SIX SIGMA TOOLS as yet! See the promise and potential here?

This can very easily then form a quite powerful technique and general base or platform for identifying bottlenecks, excess inventory and even discontinuous flow, more advanced Lean tools to cope with and address these issues are at hand. Getting all the staff involved in these processes give you the great opportunity to motivate and mobilize your entire workforce. Imagine everyone working to saving and making money, which is why we all work and got hired in the first place … or started our own business, right?

Step 4: NOW THE TIME HAS COME! Focused Improvement Activities and Advanced Lean Six Sigma Tools

Map out the major processes in your business. Identify all the sources of waste, prioritize the areas you want to focus on first, where the maximum gain is with minimum effort. Always a good place to start. Take the area, process or problem apart, analyze it and see how you can make it better. Put the improvements in place and ensure that it does not happen again and stays in control should be a priority as well. Plan for the sustainability, by having a project or process champion and getting employees to take the lead and responsibility as well.

Some of the most wonderful stories, opportunities and promise lies in the fact that LSS effectively brings together a motivated group of individuals/people involved in work and/or a typical process, maybe even also from other areas of an operation, combines their talents and focus on a particular issue or topic, area or problem. Next, defines and maps the current situation, cost and waste, (baseline and diagnose), set some clear objectives to change and make things better. These can be metrics or stated smart goals, measured in terms of wait or lead-time, process steps, cycle time, floor-space, inventory, and other metrics) Time-frame for improvements are set and the group celebrates the successes, outcomes and results together.

Step 5: Looking Further Ahead and Beyond

LSS enables you individually, collectively and as an organization/business to get renewed momentum, continued effort and on-going improvement (what lean often refers to as Kaizen – the pursuit of continual improvement and perfection, a standard of sorts).lss_business_3

  • Lean and speedy processes and how they affect business

Some of the Lean Six Sigma tools that might be able to help you in your processes are:

  • 5S
  • Cellular Manufacturing
  • Mistake Proofing
  • Set-Up Reduction

A basic, fundamental tool in Lean Six Sigma that can help any business the ‘5S’ approach is an organizing, structuring technique to get rid of clutter and waste. Cleanliness and having a set place for everything is key.

The name stems from the Japanese meanings and equivalent words for…

  • Sorting things (seiri)
  • Setting things in a particular order (Seiton)
  • Shining, daily maintenance (Seiso)
  • Standardization (Seiketsu)
  • Sustainability (shitsuke)

Cut costs and reduce waste by applying these simple techniques to your business today.

Cellular manufacturing has to do with organizing not the workplace only but the work as well. Work-cells and designated work- areas, certain spaces for certain activities, minimizes movement of people and things, therefore costing less. In an operational sense this means no batching, no waiting, no delays, no queuing, just smooth operation and easy flow.

Mistake-proofing (Poka-Yoke)
Built-in safeguards, reducing defects to zero is at the center of this approach. Highlighting problems as they occur, not letting mistakes, oversights and errors slip through is key. Processes are designed around this principle to be more efficient and will help you business cut down on cost, scrap and waste.

(SMED or single minute exchange of dies ) Quick and speedy change-over in business processes, manufacturing and operations are essential. Remember time and quality matters, means money! Process thinking is the key here. Getting rid of unnecessary steps, actions or movement are key. Reducing time on any line, saves money.

There is more to Lean Six Sigma that just these couple of tools. They just serve as an introduction to some of the major business enablers that LSS can bring to your business and organization.

Two key rewards for your business to capitalise on: Breakthrough profit and competitive advantage.

Improving quality and speedy delivery rates are any company’s priority. Making and keeping customers happy is what it is all about. LSS offer you the tools to do that practically, quickly, easily and consistently.

You can not change what you do not acknowledge or know about. Lean Six Sigma brings with the appeal and awareness to ‘take note’ and notice things around you (cost, waste, movement, clutter, scrap etc.) and then DO something real, meaningful and constructive about it!

What improvements should and could be made are both important questions to ask, prioritize and act upon. Customer priorities, things that affect your incoming revenue should get attention quickly and first. Things like quality, lead and waiting, cycle time, cost, inventory and other internal processes that affect the customer and are ‘internal’ and controllable, should be dealt with expediently.

In order to get you started asking the right type of questions could provide you with hints as to a strategy and starting point/priority:

  • Which process or step should get the bulk of our immediate attention –where is the biggest WIN-WIN for both the customer and the company?
  • What are all the priorities that we need to pay attention to in this organization/business and operation, map the processes and make the list. Then ask in what order you should tackle the priorities?
  • How do we get the BEST improvements the quickest way? How do/can we tap into the benefits of LSS right away?

If reducing overhead, quality costs and inventory to save money, reduce weight and be a smooth operating, streamlined and cost-efficient provider are keys to your business success, LSS can help your business in all aspects and areas.
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Lean Six SigmaPaul Swifti&iImprovement and Innovation