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Issue of May 2005 

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Leaning on the right pillars

Lean Six Sigma is a term a CEO would be interested in. It is an approach that needs to be rolled out across an organisation. However, to create efficient and optimised processes and workflows, do you as senior managers really need to wait for the board or the MD to wake up to it? Lean Six Sigma is often perceived as something much more large scale than it really is. Where the approach fits in from the smallest to the largest level, and how to interpret it, are issues the book What is Lean Six Sigma? co-authored by Mike George, Dave Rowlands, and Bill Kastle attempts to clarify.

At the outset, the authors establish what is implied when they use the word “customer.” A customer, by definition in Lean Six Sigma, is anyone outside the company who buys the product as well as anyone inside the company who is affected by the result of your work. In the case of the IT department, this usually includes everyone, because IT is now spread across all the functions of the organisation. It is important to treat the internal team quite like you would treat someone spending money on your product.

Every customer has an expectation from you, and it is critical to meet that expectation in the interests of both the organisation and the department. The range of shortfalls from the expectations is defined as variations. The book makes it clear that complete elimination of variation is practically impossible, and may even be unhealthy. However, too large a variation is annoying to customers, and every time they face a bad experience your credibility takes a knock. In Lean Six Sigma, the authors suggest, a reduction of such variation can come packaged in parameters that include good quality, quick service and low cost.

Title: What is Lean Six Sigma?
Authors: Mike George, Dave Rowlands & Bill Kastle
Publisher: Tata-McGraw Hill
Price: Rs 265

The first step is to base all decisions on data. Most organisations are already collecting that. However, the important question to ask today is how reliable and valuable is this data. The book establishes that the first action a manager should take is to assemble reliable data. Thereafter, the authors believe that a management often tries to pin errors on people and therefore gets stuck in a vicious cycle which goes from bad to worse. The error, they say, lies predominantly in processes that need to be redefined to reduce waste and cultivate efficiency— and that can only happen if all the people in it work together.

Lean Six Sigma as an approach requires some people to work dedicatedly at process improvement and assessment, and others who look into it every now and then as a side function of their core job. This creates a blend of specialists and non-specialists involved in quality control, which leads to a quality-conscious culture among members of a team.

The authors of this book suggest that it takes about six months for Lean Six Sigma to show results. Thereafter, the monetary benefits may be significant or negligible depending on how well your process had been designed in the first place. The book finishes with six must-dos for managers if they are to support Lean Six Sigma:

  • Pick the right projects
  • Pick the right people for the job
  • Follow a well-planned method
  • Define roles and responsibilities clearly
  • Communicate and be transparent
  • Create ongoing training and learning environments

Overall the book is concise and gives a fair interpretation of Lean Six Sigma. It makes for easy reading that a manager, and particularly a CIO, may find useful to put the team’s functioning in perspective.

- Deepali Gupta

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Indian Express - Business Publications Division

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