Every business owner can tell you the most important thing about operating their business. It could be client service, timeliness, quality or volume. If you went out on the floor and asked the average employee, would he or she know what it is?
When a business adopts Lean Six Sigma principles, the most important element of the business becomes more evident and is reinforced as the workforce learns more about this business philosophy. Once employees focus on the voice of the client, the company's processes become more geared to meeting the demands of the client.
Becoming a Lean enterprise is about constant education and constant improvement. After the initial Lean Six Sigma training, both management and employees will need encouragement to adopt Lean throughout the company. As your team learns the key concepts of Lean, in order to change the culture of the organization, you will need everyone to be energized and knowledgeable.
One of the major components of Lean Six Sigma is the concept of continuous improvement. It requires breaking free from the mindset of "we've always done it this way." Although it's human nature to resist change, this concept presses employees to come up with ideas to improve their processes – in a way that better serves clients. By understanding the voice of the client, and the second step, identifying how your company's processes currently work, you can begin the journey of improving them.
Identifying an initial project to apply Lean concepts is one way to start this journey. These projects can often begin by following the 5S system: sort, straighten, sweep, standardize, sustain and for some companies, a sixth "S" is added for emphasis on safety.
These organizational concepts often lead employees to detect waste within company processes, and this is truly where permission to achieve continuous improvement is necessary. Employees must be enabled to speak up about problems in the process – and permitted to find creative solutions to achieve more efficient outcomes. They must have the confidence to suggest changes as well as solutions without fear of retribution. This begins at the top of the company's leadership chain, and must permeate your management team's philosophy.
Traditional departmental manufacturing can result in operating "silos" in which employees may become more narrowly focused on individual tasks and processes and remove themselves from the most important element of the business. By breaking down departmental barriers and looking at overall processes for the business that are important to the client, your employees can become better grounded in following your company's mission and better serve your clients.
Employees must also have permission to observe changes in client demands, and to share their observations with their coworkers and management team. Since the number one type of waste found in organizations is over-production, the observations of your front line workers are key to quickly and efficiently adapting to changing client demands. Becoming Lean means that your company should not possess bloated inventories and be in "catch up" mode with industry preferences.
Lean Six Sigma can help you, and your employees, focus on what's most important to your firm. Only then can you work together to ensure you're doing what's best for your clients.