Lean Six Sigma Provides Two Road Maps for Process Improvement   

By Anne Foley, Director of Lean Six Sigma, International Institute for Learning   
imageThe purpose of the meeting was to communicate the strategic objectives for the upcoming year. The PowerPoint slides provided the visual display for the words being spoken. The third bullet caught my attention. It read: “Automate manual processes”.
I quickly raised my hand and asked if anyone had looked at the defects generated in the manual processes that were slated for automation. “No, not specifically, but we know they are defective and that is why we need to automate them,” was the answer to my question.
Perhaps you have sat in a similar meeting. Do you know what happens when you automate a defective process? You have just dramatically improved your capability for generating defects. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that is the goal. The better approach is to improve the existing processes or, if a process does not currently exist, design a defect-free process prior to building systems that automate or support those processes. 
Housed within the Lean Six Sigma Methodologies, are two complementary road maps containing the framework, concepts, tools and techniques to do either.
The first road map is known as DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control). Specific tools and techniques are applied in each phase to rid an existing process of waste (the Lean focus) and defects (the Six Sigma focus), before it is automated. Practitioners learn how to clearly define critical customer requirements and look for supplier or process inputs that cause defects in the process. Using historical or sampled data, the root causes are identified so the new process can be simplified, streamlined and standardized before systems are designed to support the process.
For example, we had a repetitive process that took 50% longer than the goal and it generated a large number of defects that had to be reworked. In mapping the process and conducting a value add analysis we discovered a step in the process that added no value. When asked why that step existed, the number one answer was “we have always done it that way.” Eventually, we determined that one business manager asked for this step to be added to the process (ten years prior) but quickly determined that the report generated from this step was of no value. When he asked for the report to be eliminated, no one took the step that generated the report out of the process. For nine plus years, hundreds of workers had completed the tasks associated with that step for absolutely no reason! Not only was that a waste of their time, it also generated defects that someone else had to spend time fixing. Imagine if we would have automated that step without discovering that it added no value.
The second road map is known as DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design and Verify). In contrast to DMAIC, the DMADV methodology applies to the development of new products and processes. Specific tools and deliverables are associated with each of the phases, typically complementing most software development processes. These road maps are not intended to replace good design practices but to offer a disciplined, role-based approach to improving efficiency and customer satisfaction. The focus is on removing typical errors, misapplication of existing tools and mismatches in requirements and features.
Lean Six Sigma is not the only approach to process improvement but it has the best track record for success. BAs who add this skill set to their résumé are highly sought after and more successful. They are the ones who automatically tie strategic goals and objectives to process, often preventing costly mistakes—like automating defective processes.