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Lean Six Sigma: The Five Phases

Lean Six Sigma is an organizational principle that aims to constantly enhance the speed and quality of processes to satisfy the customer in a way that maximizes accuracy and flexibility while minimizing operational costs. In the late 1980s, an American multinational telecoms company became its first user. A quality engineer known as Bill Smith created Lean Six Sigma as a way to improve quality and measurement systems with the end goal of eliminating errors. This occurred at a time when the telecoms company dealt with too much rework, repetitive testing, and scrap, leading to customer dissatisfaction.

The Lean Six Sigma methodology mainly aims to point out and remove process variations. When the variation is out of the picture, the outcome of the process can be correctly predicted every single time. When a system is designed to ensure that such a predictable outcome remains within an extent of acceptability from a customer’s point of view, process errors can be obviated.

But that was not the end for engineers in that telecoms company. Their experience told them that a lot of process changes were ineffective because they did not reach the root of the problem. Also, the changes would not work for the long term, with operators eventually reverting back to the original manner. These very issues gave rise to the five phases of Lean Six Sigma.

Definition

In this phase, the parameters for the process are set, together with expectations for the process from a customer perspective. This is to make sure that any changes actually improve customer experience.

Measurement

In this phase, the present performance of the process, product or service is measured to find out what is actually occurring, especially from a customer’s viewpoint. This makes sure that the analysis and solution are based on practical facts instead of theoretical or anecdotal information.
Analysis

This phase involves identifying problem-causing variations by analyzing the product or service using the data measured. This ensures that the origin of the problem, not just a symptom, is known.

Improvement

This phase entails studying possible changes to the process, product or service as well as testing them. The point is to make sure that the desired results are obtained and that variations are controlled or eradicated.

Control

This phase consists of the application of changes, upgrade of supporting systems, and control – generally statistical process control – of the process, product, or service to ensure full and sustainable implementation and ensure timely identification of signs of declining performance.

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