Getting to the Buzz Behind the Buzzwords


Getting to the Buzz Behind the Buzzwords

Lean Six Sigma is just jargon for common-sense
ways to improve your operation.

This is the first thing to understand about lean Six Sigma, according to Greg Griggs of Builders FirstSource: The two concepts—“lean” and “Six Sigma”—are simply formal terminology for things that most people are regularly trying to do anyway.

“Lean is basically identifying and eliminating waste,” explained Griggs. This principle can apply to any process. A lean company, for example, doesn’t produce reports that no one reads. Its employees don’t waste time searching for supplies. As BJ Louws of Louws Truss explained, lean encompasses all the ways you try to increase the amount of time staff spend adding value to your product. In an eight-hour shift, a lean company gets nearly eight hours of productive staff time, instead of only six or seven.

Six Sigma is quantifying processes in order to identify effective lean strategies. A company implementing Six Sigma strategies collects data to evaluate the results of process changes. For example, you analyze data to determine whether buying a new piece of equipment has increased production or decreased defects. Data is a way to track improvement and measure change so that you can see how each step of a process affects productivity. Data can show, for example, when more time spent on one task increases overall production efficiency even though it slows down the work of a handful of staff.

LEAN: Increasing speed with process improvement. A lean business works efficiently. It’s continuously eliminating tasks that don’t contribute to the value of the product customers buy. The goal is to improve processes by making necessary steps easy and avoiding activity that slows things down. 

Six Sigma: Increasing quality with robust data. A business using Six Sigma methods collects data for everything it does. The data show which processes reliably add to your bottom line and act as a baseline measurement so that you can evaluate whether your lean efforts are successful in making your production process more efficient.

“Everybody practices this in their daily activity,” Griggs explained. “Lean is the part people are already doing in their head.” Whether you’re running a company or getting a cup of coffee, you try to avoid wasting time. You don’t want employees walking all over the facility searching for tools. You don’t want to wander all around your house or office searching for a misplaced mug.

What people aren’t already doing in their heads, Griggs explains, is documenting their improvement. It’s probably not critical for you to know you get ten more minutes of work done on a day when you know exactly where your coffee mug is. It is critical for you to understand how many additional trusses are assembled when truss plates are easily accessible. It’s critical to know how many designs are finalized in a week when design staff don’t have to spend time searching for the right files on the server.

“I don’t want anyone to be scared of Lean Six Sigma,” Griggs said. Lean is simply a mindset that helps a leadership team determine which processes can be eliminated and which need to be improved. Six Sigma is just a way to measure processes so managers can track changes and evaluate whether they improve efficiency. Griggs sums up the value equation of Lean Six Sigma this way: “Speed,” which you get from an efficient, lean-optimized process, “plus accuracy,” which you get from a standardized, Six Sigma-optimized process “equals better delivery, better quality, satisfied employees, satisfied customers, and a pile of money.”

This article was based on the 2015 BCMC Educational Sessions Achieving Maximum Efficiency: The Big Picture & The Real World. Many thanks to Greg Griggs (Builders FirstSource) and BJ Louws (Louws Truss).