6 Tips for Process Improvement: Applying Lean Six Sigma at Work

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

Lean Six Sigma is among the most popular management strategies used by businesses worldwide, improving performance by blending the methodologies of LEAN and Six Sigma. If you’re not sure, though, how this synergized approach can help your organization reduce complexity and eliminate waste, explore our 6 tips for process improvement and begin applying game-changing Lean Six Sigma principles at your workplace to optimize value, quality, and efficiency.

man in production facility analyzing a business process

Not Familiar with Lean Six Sigma?

If you’re not yet familiar with the strategy, here are the basics. Pulling from the best qualities of the two most popular business process improvement methodologies, Lean Six Sigma combines the focus of LEAN (eliminating waste to streamline processes) and the focus of Six Sigma (reducing variation) to create a process improvement system built on the DMAIC model. And what is that? It’s shorthand for the five steps used by Lean Six Sigma practitioners to solve process problems that have an unknown cause:

  • Define: Figuring out your work problem.  
  • Measure: Mapping out your processes as they exist right now.  
  • Analyze: Identifying the causes of your work problem.
  • Improve: Implementing your remedy and verifying that it’s working.  
  • Control: Maintaining the solution.  

In short, Lean Six Sigma and its tools are simply a way to solve your organization’s problems.

How Can You Apply Lean Six Sigma at Your Work?

Lean Six Sigma training offers many benefits, but it delivers the most bang when its tools are used to address organizational and process challenges, customer relationships, your company’s can-do culture, and return on investment. So, peek inside the Lean Six Sigma toolbox to see how useful mastering its methodologies can be in your line of work.

Tip No. 6: Apply 5S to Whip Your Workplace Into Shape

If your office, factory, hospital, restaurant, or worksite is a shambles – or just not as organized as it could be – it might be time to apply the 5S strategy, five important steps that will keep your workspace safe and humming at maximum efficiency.

  • Sort: Get rid of anything not necessary to your daily processes.
  • Set in order:  Put everything in its most logical, accessible place.
  • Shine: Make workspaces clean, with everything in good working order.
  • Standardize: Organize how every task in your workspaces should be performed.
  • Sustain: Develop team discipline to maintain your new practices.

Notice how your spiffy local Starbucks looks pretty much like every other Starbucks on the planet? Seems like a they’ve added a shot of 5S to their corporate culture.

Tip No. 5: Try Kanban to Improve Customer Satisfaction

A Japanese term that translates to card or board, Kanban in the context of Lean Six Sigma is the strategy of creating a visual signal to trigger an action. Implementing Kanban can be surprisingly simple – think of FedEx package tracking, email auto-responders, or, yes, Starbucks penning your name on a cup so you know when the barista has started on your latte. When it’s put in place for the benefit of your visitors, clients, or shoppers, it can be a powerful part of your process, resulting in happier, more loyal customers.

Put Kanban to work for you in two easy steps:

  1. Know what action you want customers to take.
  2. Create systems (signs, call-backs, prompts, notifications) to communicate information clearly to customers about the next step in the process.

team gathered around a table brainstorming and taking notes

Tip No. 4: Use Standardized Work to Scale Your Business

Manufacturers stick to a standard process because doing the same thing over and over minimizes errors and waste. Similarly, when you create a checklist for every task, product, and process in your organization, you’re making your team’s work standardized, reducing variation and the competition of individuals’ preferred methods of completing projects. This standardization of workflow, responsibility, quality, and interaction with the customer is essential as you grow your business and expand your workforce. Even the scope, timing, and content of meetings can be standardized. This is how you establish best practices and continually improve on the way to scaling your business. After all, there is a right way to make a latte and a wrong way to write a customer’s name on the cup. Perhaps even the misspellings are standard operating procedure.

Here’s a template that lays out the steps of standardizing work.

Tip No. 3: Create Value Stream Mapping to Eliminate Waste

A visual flowchart that displays the steps, delays, and information needed to deliver a product or service to a customer, a value stream map helps you eliminate waste, calculate lead time, and evaluate the status of a work in progress. Creating this map will help you optimize your organization’s workflow by getting rid of what’s not working and anything that is not adding value. Your deliverables will be on time and of optimal quality because your processes will be more streamlined, defined, and expeditious.

Create your own value stream map in about an hour. Adding more details helps your team see the link between your current flawed process and your future ideal process.

Here are a few pointers as you create your roadmap to eliminate waste:

  • Sketch your first map by hand.
  • “Walk” your map in reverse, from end product (or service or design) to its origin; this gives you a fresh perspective on your process.
  • Ask why and then ask it again.

Tip No. 2: Ask the 5 Whys to Improve Your Corporate Culture

Ready to get to the root cause of whatever ails your process, with your whole team on board? Start by asking why. In fact, plan to ask it a solid four more times as part of the 5 Whys, a Lean Six Sigma strategy that will move you past the symptoms to the heart of the problem. When you include coworkers and other stakeholders in offering alternative answers to the stream of whys, the collaborative effort can go a long way in fostering a corporate culture that embraces change and values input from all.

Here is a sample of five whys you might need to ask until you and your team arrive at a root cause. Symptom: Customers are angry.  

  • Why? They had to wait too long.
  • Why? We were running behind.
  • Why? We ran out of cups.
  • Why? Nobody authorized the purchase.
  • Why? They’re all at the Cup Summit.

Tip No. 1:  Go for the Quick Wins to Improve Your ROI  

Suppose you have a single problem and it’s limited in scope. This, without a doubt, is the opportunity for a slam dunk or a quick win, a Lean Six Sigma concept that encourages you to just do it, go ahead and implement that no-brainer solution with haste. You’ll gain momentum, encourage your team to be more productive and creative, and give a boost to younger coworkers who can be tapped to fast-track projects that have a foregone conclusion. So, if you know writing your customers’ names on a (reusable?) cup will make them love their lattes, improve customer satisfaction, and increase sales, take the W, no second-guessing needed.   

Want another quick win? Become a process improvement expert by earning your Lean Six Sigma Green Belt or Black Belt from USF. In just 10 Saturdays, you’ll master the fundamentals of reducing waste and process variation to increase customer satisfaction and improve efficiency. Another win: Professionals with Lean Six Sigma training earn $16,826 more on average annually than those without training.    


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