Lean Before Six Sigma


    I have seen many Six Sigma Projects that collect data at a very minute level (at a sub process level) and try to effect improvements at that level. In many cases, these may not account for much in the overall scheme of things. This happens more in the context of outsourcing. Outsourcing usually involves a smaller part of the larger process. The outsourcing service provider effecting any improvement over their part of the process may not account for much improvement in the overall process.

    For example, if a Help Desk process is outsourced and the same kind of help desk call with the same problem is handled over and over again by the outsourcing service provider, any amount of process improvement will not improve things. This may be due to some design flaw in the basic product that is being helped with. The right thing to do in this case is to address the root cause and make sure that this problem does not recur rather than find a faster and cheaper way of doing the same thing over and over again.

    This is where Lean Efforts make a lot of sense before Six Sigma efforts are taken up in earnest. After all, why improve a process step if you can eliminate it altogether or address the root cause much more effectively so that you don’t have to perform certain actions or perform them with smaller amounts of energy and effort?

    Forms (paper of online screens)  simplification and re-design is a great example of the kinds of Lean Efforts that pay off well before Six Sigma efforts. This is where good software engineering can implement many Lean Concepts without realizing that that’s what they are upto. Forms validation on the screen can be simple syntactic (like Numeric fields, string fields, proper URL formation in a URL field, etc) or more semantic (checking an internal database for verification - Amount of Mortgage Payments for the Loan asked for cannot be more than X% of Monthly Income, for example). The more semantic checks are done at the forms stage itself may save a lot of time and effort on the part of a Mortgage Underwriter or an Insurance Underwriter!

    These kinds of solutions make it easy for the end consumer as well as the business. It may be better to Lean sometimes before applying Six Sigma!

    Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense. – Gautama Buddha


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