Lean Six Sigma, a management buzzword that seems to persist and many don't understand. But what is it and how is it related to Project Management? Lean Six Sigma is an approach for Process Improvement Projects, combining many different conceptual tools depending on the situation. Essentially Lean Six Sigma is a fusion of two ideas: "Lean" and "Six Sigma":
Lean is a approach that seeks to eliminate Waste during a production process; it originated in Japan on the production lines of Toyota. It tries to make a process as efficient as possible, to reduce excessive costs and time - meaning the customer get the product they want faster and cheaper, the company improves their margin. It identifies seven categories of Waste which should be investigated and eliminated (though others have since been suggested):
Six Sigma looks to improve the quality of the output of a process by reducing the variation of the output; it was introduced at Motorola in 1986 and resulted in $16 billion of savings. The term sigma comes from the statistical concept of standard deviation of the normal distribution; if points are normally scattered about a mean then one sigma is defined such that it would capture 68% of data points, 2 sigma would capture 95%, 3 sigma 99.7% etc. Six Sigma has a strong statistical focus, and defined in purely statistical terms a Six Sigma process is one in which 99.99966% of all opportunities to produce some feature of a part are statistically expected to be free of defects.
Six Sigma uses a lifecycle called DMAIC, that has five distinct phases each consisting of an array of tools that can be employed - depending on the nature of the project:
A Lean Six Sigma project can be a really effective way of delivering Process Improvement Projects - a distinct methodology from PRINCE2 or PMBOK. Alternatively, if you are managing mainstream project using either of these methodologies, you could then run a LSS Project using DMAIC on the across the Project processes themselves e.g. your demand management process, testing processes etc.
What are your experiences of Lean Six Sigma and DMAIC, good and bad? Let us know in the Comments!
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