Lean Six Sigma…Not Just for Manufacturing Anymore

goldfish jumping - improvement concept

More and more organizations within non-manufacturing industries are becoming increasingly aware that the correct application of the Lean Six Sigma methodology can benefit them as much as (if not more than) it has proven to benefit organizations within the manufacturing industry. In fact, one does not have to look far to find case studies that substantiate the value and increased use of Lean Six Sigma in financial services, healthcare, distribution, energy, hospitality, military, pharmaceuticals/biotech, technology, utilities, chemicals, education, government, legal, media, retail, transportation, and many other non-manufacturing industries. The list continues to grow.

I have personally led Lean Six Sigma projects in both manufacturing and non-manufacturing organizations with surprisingly similar positive results. In fact, many of the Lean Six Sigma projects that I have led within the manufacturing industry actually focused on improving transactional processes (as opposed to manufacturing processes). When considering the Lean Six Sigma methodology, one must understand that the methodology is applicable to and can yield extremely positive results in ANY scenario where a value proposition is the concern. This includes manufacturing organizations, non-manufacturing organizations, and even governmental and not-for-profit organizations. Put a different way, the application of Lean Six Sigma to ANY activity we do for ANY reason or purpose can help us to effectively and efficiently achieve that reason or purpose…or at least more of it than we are currently achieving.

Fortunately for us, nearly everything that happens in our world (with the exception of purely random events) is characterized by an underlying process. Whether or not we seek to understand and control the underlying process does not change the fact that it exists. Any outcome that is characterized by an underlying process can be improved by understanding the process steps, identifying the factors within the process that significantly contribute to the outcome, setting those significant factors at the appropriate level, and executing a plan to monitor and control those significant factors.

The Lean Six Sigma methodology can effectively improve nearly any outcome by improving the process by which that outcome is derived. The Define Phase of Lean Six Sigma allows us, with very few restrictions, to define in measureable terms the focus of our process improvement efforts and identify the process steps. The Measure Phase of Lean Six Sigma is mainly concerned with measuring the current process performance and identifying the process capability. The main purpose of the Analyze Phase of Lean Six Sigma is to develop hypotheses and to statistically test those hypotheses to determine the select few critical factors that contribute to process variation and defects. The Improve Phase of Lean Six Sigma advances the solution by identifying the optimal settings for the critical factors that were determined during the Analyze Phase. Finally, the purpose of the Control Phase of Lean Six Sigma is to ensure that the newly identified process improvements, once implemented, remain in place.

If your company participates in a non-manufacturing industry, you may be leaving money on the table by dismissing Lean Six Sigma as “not a fit”. Surely, all of the many other adopters in non-manufacturing industries must be on to something, right? I would urge you to reassess the applicability of Lean Six Sigma and the value that it can provide to your business or activity in the light of the information I have presented here. Every value proposition represents an intended outcome and every outcome is related to an underlying process that can be improved. Lean Six Sigma can be used to improve the value proposition and the profitability of your company as well.

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4 responses to “Lean Six Sigma…Not Just for Manufacturing Anymore”

  1. Gregg Rennie

    Excellent article! Not only isn’t Lean Six Sigma just for manufacturers it also isn’t just for large companies. As Richard suggests, even when it is used in a manufacturing company it is extremely well suited to any process within the company, not just manufacturing. You want to eliminate waste (Lean) in every process you have and minimize variability (Six Sigma) even in processes such as greeting a customer. I used to run a large Support Center and the process to answer a call was 11 steps, but all the tens of thousands of calls got answered exactly the same way in a manner that told the caller they had called a quality organization.

  2. Peter Vangelatos, BSc (Mech Eng), MSc (Ind Eng), PMD, MOT

    I have used and continue to use Lean Six Sigma Principles very successfully, but adapted to the Mining Environment (Gold, Plat & Diamond Mining).

    I have refined and found a permanent Wall & Sticky Note (Post-iT) Visual Hear Matrix to work well in a War Room or Boardroom situation, When accompanied with crucial KPI Trends and Pareto Analysis, it can form the basis of Continuous Improvement projects based on brainstorming (or Kaizen), with urgency Action Logs on a co-ordinate Map being the best accepted motivator to ‘GO DO NOW’. All levels of management and different functions can participate, and is the best way to involve executives with supervisors in CI.

    Regards from Africa
    Peter V

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