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How to Get Started in Lean & Six Sigma Without Getting Overwhelmed

Maybe you’ve heard of Lean. It’s the name we give the philosophies, tools, and systems originally developed by Toyota to build highly reliable and consistent cars. Lean isn’t just for cars, though. It’s been adopted by thousands of companies worldwide and is a proven catalyst for improving quality, reducing costs, and boosting employee morale. It’s sister discipline, Six Sigma, developed at Motorola in the 1980s and popularized at General Electric in the 1990s, leverages statistical tools to understand and improve business processes. Together, Lean and Six Sigma (typically called “Lean Six Sigma”) have proven to be a powerful driving force for improvement across industries, including healthcare and education.

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With all the buzz around Lean Six Sigma (LSS), you might be wondering how to get started if you haven’t already. As you probably already know, a full-scale, organization-wide adoption of Lean Six Sigma requires senior leadership commitment, time, and energy. That’s a pretty tall order for most people who are curious, but not in an organization already committed to LSS. With that in mind, we’d like to recommend the following approach to getting started on a personal level:

1. Read and Join – Take advantage of the free articles, training, and discussion groups to expand your knowledge.
2. Go to the Gemba – In Lean, the gemba is the place where work is done. Get out of your office and go observe without judgement.
3. Try – Try your hand at some basic Lean tools, like 5 Whys and 5S.
4. Debrief – Ask for feedback after each project and adopt changes based on that feedback.
5. Try Again – Using your debrief feedback, continue to try tools as you learn them, adopting ideas from error proofing (poka yoke) and visual management.

Read & Join
All journeys start with gaining knowledge. There are so many great Lean Six Sigma resources available to help you get started that it’s hard to recommend just one. Here are a few of our favorites:
• blog ( – This free and easy-to-navigate blog offers regularly-updated videos and articles on LSS applications and concepts.
• “The Toyota Way” by Jeffrey Liker – This classic book tells the story of Lean’s origins at Toyota and provides examples of how those ideas have been applied successfully across industries.
• “Lean Hospitals” by Mark Graban – This book is the definitive guide to adopting Lean in healthcare settings.
• “The Lean Six Sigma Pocket Toolbook” by Michael George, David Rowlands, Mark Price, and John Maxey – This easy to use tool book guides you through common LSS tools and how to apply them.

In addition to reading, there are many great interactive ways to actively join LSS practitioners in discussing the tools, philosophies, and application of Lean Six Sigma. If you prefer discussion forums, the Lean Enterprise Institute offers a great way to share and read ideas ( Or, if you’re an active LinkedIn user, search for #leanthinking, #leanmanagement, or #sixsigma, and join the conversation.

Go To the Gemba
In Lean, the “gemba” is a very special place. Gemba is the Japanese term for the place where work is done. For Lean practitioners, going to the gemba to learn about and better understand your processes is essential. Processes can never truly be understood in a conference room; only by going to the gemba can you learn how value is truly delivered to your customer. If you’re not accustomed to going to the gemba, be sure to do the following:
• Observe without judgement. You’re there to learn, not to criticize.
• Walk the process from back to front, following the flow of the goods or services from the customer back up stream.
• Ask questions and truly listen to the answers. Ask why things are done the way they are. And, be sure to ask people what problems get in the way of doing their job.

TrySix Sigma 60
Perhaps the best way to learn is by doing. So, once you’ve learned about the basics and been to the gemba, it’s time to try a couple of Lean tools. Two great places to start are the 5 Whys and 5S:
• Five Whys – This root cause analysis tools encourages you to ask why five times until you truly understand the source of a problem. Five is not a magic number, sometimes you can ask three times, sometimes you may need to ask ten times. The idea is that we don’t address just surface problems, we understand the true source of the problem.
• 5 S – If you like Marie Kondo’s KonMari method to decluttering your space at home, 5S is the right Lean tool for you to try out. 5S is a step-by-step Lean approach to organizing your workspace in 5 steps: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. 5S is a great tool to use bring people together at work and introduce them to Lean concepts on a project where the results are visible and obvious.

As simple as it may sound, one of the most powerful and important Lean concepts is: Respect for People. One way we show respect for people is by soliciting their feedback after every Lean initiative. Conduct a debrief after your first Lean initiative. Be sure to ask:
• What went well?
• What could have gone better?
• What would we change next time?
• What should we let others in the organization know that we learned from this?

Try Again
As you gain confidence and skill, be sure to keep going. Even if a project doesn’t go well, learn from it and apply those learnings to your next project. LSS tools that you might want to  apply next include:
• Error Proofing (Poka Yoke) – We’re all human and we all make errors. The Lean concept of poka yoke is intended to improve quality by preventing, correcting, and/or drawing attention to human errors in real time. A key tenet of poka yoke is to make the right thing the easiest thing to do.
• Visual Management – Perhaps no concept is more inherent to Lean than visual management. Visual cues in the workplace help us to understand status at a glance. Parking place for equipment, three bin systems, huddle boards, and real-time process performance charts are all ways of communicating vital information as its needed, not days or weeks later.

At Soriant, all of our Consultants are Lean Green Belt certified. If you want to learn more about how Soriant uses Lean Six Sigma in its engagements or just need help getting started on your own Lean journey, please contact us. We’re excited to help you discover the innovativeness of your employees and reach your organization’s potential.

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