We interviewed Theo Hunt, our resident Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, to get a clearer understanding of what Lean Six Sigma is and how to take her knowledge and turn it into some steps our readers can take to move metrics forward in their organization.

What is your designation, and what does it mean?

Theo: I am certified as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. “Six Sigma” looks at improving the process that creates products with the aim to eliminate the errors or defects and minimize variation in the prodcuts. “Lean” looks at the process with the aim to eliminate useless work or waste within the process; removing those steps that do not add value for the customer to the finished product. Both have the same goal of eliminating waste and creating products efficiently, they just focus on different approaches towards achieving this goal. The combination of the two, i.e. Lean Six Sigma, looks at both the reduction in product variation and the steps in the process to improve results.

You talk about Lean Manufacturing and processes with products and defects. Can you apply Lean Six Sigma in a non-manufacturing setting, a service setting? 

Theo: Absolutely. All organizations can benefit from Lean Six Sigma tools because all organizations have processes they follow to deliver results to customers, regardless of whether they are a service or product-based industry in the private, public or non-profit sector.

From your experience, what is most significant about the Lean Six Sigma process/tools?

Theo: What continues to impress me is that the tools are only there to support the effectiveness of a team. A Lean Six Sigma project, regardless of the setting or organization, can still fail due to poor team dynamics. In other words, you can have the best tools in the world, but if you don’t have trust, good communication and accountability within the project team, the project can still fail.

What is the process to bring lean six sigma into an organization?

Theo: Lean Six Sigma is a set of tools or methodology, and a common vocabulary.  The implementation of a Lean Six Sigma project at a client site varies depending on the level of the Lean Six Sigma culture at that site.

Some organizations, particularly in manufacturing, are highly advanced in their use of Lean Six Sigma; using the terms, continuously measuring results, tracking the success of process improvement projects, maintaining feedback loops from customers, using dashboards and Kanban boards to communicate, etc.  In organizations that do not yet have an advanced Lean Six Sigma culture, implementing the tools looks very different. In all cases, we assess a client’s greatest needs, co-design a solution to drive the results the client is looking for ensuring alignment with their long-term vision, implement the solution with the client measuring results and gathering feedback, then support the client in operationalizing and sustaining the changes made.  The process is set up to empower and continuously improve operational excellence with our clients.

In either case or type of culture, we keep the same focus on measures of success, data based decision making, analysis and improvement of processes and communication channels, and empowering leadership and staff. The tools and implementation of them are tailored to the client needs and culture of organization. So the look may be different depending on the culture and the uniqueness of the organization, but the theory is the same.

What if you don’t have the Lean Six Sigma training? Can the “average guy on the street” create good metrics without a Black Belt certification?

Theo: Absolutely – the continuous improvement process can happen at any level in any organization.  An individual doesn’t need a certification to use data to analyze systems and drive results and improve processes.

How can an organization or individual not educated in Lean Six Sigma begin to put data and metrics into their work?

Theo: It depends on what systems they have existing and in place. All organizations are currently using some type of data to make decisions. Do you have customer satisfaction data or financial data already in place? Start with what you have and improve it.

In some organizations, the data analysis tools are primarily in Excel, manually combining information from different systems the organization uses. Other organizations may have interfaces set up gathering and analyzing data in real-time from the different systems the organization uses and displaying that data in dashboards tailored to the different departments and levels within the organization.

Build metrics from the platform you already have to improve the data gathered and reported so that you are able to improve your decision-making

drive results with metrics and dataHow does an individual or organization determine what they should measure?

Theo: Ask “what is your objective?” Get very clear on the end results they are trying to achieve and make sure it aligns with the organizational mission. Then ask “what factors or activities help you achieve those objectives that are within your control?” Make sure that these factors or activities (leading indicators) will impact their objective, knowing over time the alignment will get more and more accurate. That is a starting place on what to measure.

How many measures should someone have?

Theo: First there is a distinction that should be made between driving results with key performance measures vs. measuring processes and monitoring results.  You can have a lot of different measures, but can only focus on driving results with a few key measures.

Each organization has a different appetite on the number of measures they can drive results from. Limiting the number of measure to focus on is essential. Each leader should only have 2-5 measures to focus on. As you dig down into the organization, you can look to the measures that help you drive results at each layer.

Once it is set up, how does someone use a measure effectively?

Theo: You get curious. Ask questions, explore the impacts of changes in the system, etc.

Data and metrics are not everyone’s idea of fun. What makes data and metrics interesting and worthwhile?

Theo: Data and metrics allow for making better decisions. And, through on-going exploration of the data and metrics, you are able to continuously improve decisions, knowing you are driving successful results. Maximizing performance. That is exciting to me.

Parting thoughts?

Theo: “The journey of 1000 miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu    The first step for anyone implementing metrics would be to start thinking about how you currently make decisions. Do you use sound and current data? What data do you need to make better decisions and reach your objective?

Where people are at in their use and trust of data varies dramatically from individual to individual and organization to organization.  Start with exactly what you have now and begin to build your use and trust of data in driving results and making better decisions.