Learn and Understand Lean Six Sigma (Part 1)

Posted by Mohamed Elgendy on March 7, 2016
5 minutes read


Much of the business analysis and project management work is about improving the process implemented by considering a problem, finding the root cause(s), developing alternative solutions and recommending the best resolution for the situation. Improving decision making at all levels of an organization enhances the short and long-term performance of the business. PMs and BAs are strategic decision makers.

Poor decisions can lead to decreases in productivity and increases in waste. In Corporate America it is clearer than ever that lean process is the single most powerful tool available for creating value while eliminating waste in any organization.

In this series you will learn the power of Lean Six Sigma, the lean principles, the five phases of the DMAIC process, and understand the basic Lean Six Sigma tool set.

This series consists of 3 articles, organized as follows:

  1. Part 1: The Lean Process (Eliminate Waste)
  2. Part 2: Six Sigma (Eliminate Variation)
  3. Part 3: Lean Six Sigma Challenge (Win a free copy of the 3D Business Analyst book)

What is Lean? top

Lean process is the framework used to eliminate waste in a process (convert waste into value). It is called Lean because it offers a methodology to produce more with less human effort, less equipment, less time, less space, while providing customers with exactly what they want. Sounds ideal, right? Follow along to see how this can be done!

Lean process creates new jobs rather than destroying jobs in the name of efficiency.

What is Waste (Muda)? top

Muda is a Japanese word for “waste”. It basically represents anyone, anything, or any activity that absorbs enterprise resources but creates no value from the customer’s perspective. In Lean process, there are 8 types of wastes:

  • Transportation: unnecessary transportations could be stakeholders, equipment, or documents between office locations
  • Inventory: could be excess paperwork in your office, work in progress, or equipment that is holding space
  • Motion: it’s the movement of employees with no purpose, like walking to get tools or to the copy machine, or looking for people
  • Waiting: a group of people in a downstream activity standing around waiting because an upstream activity has not delivered on time, like waiting for information or
    approvals from stakeholders could hold up the technical team from starting their system design
  • Overproduction: production of items that is not needed, like adding requirements not requested by the clients (gold plating) or excessive or unread reports, etc.
  • Excess processing: too many processing steps that are not actually needed, like too many inspections, work redundancy and multiple document drafts
  • Defects: mistakes which require rework or change requests
  • Non-utilized talent: like not inviting the appropriate stakeholders to your meetings

Now that the wastes are defined for you, change your perspective and make it a habit to observe any wastes in your day-to-day activities and work on reducing or eliminating them.

Principles of Lean Process top

Lean production is a strategy that uses less of everything compared to traditional manufacturing. The focus is on eliminating waste or non-value added activities within a process. The 5 steps of the Lean Process are as follows:

4.1. Define Value top

Value is defined from the customer’s perspective in terms of goals, needs and requirements. This is called the “Voice of Customer (VOC)”. It is any feature or step in the process that the customer has requested, and is willing to pay for if done right the first time – the customer will not pay twice for the same product.

  • In Project Management (PMBOK), this process is called Collect Requirements
  • In Business Analysis (BABOK), this process is called Requirements Elicitation
  • In Lean Six Sigma, this process is called Define the Voice of Customer – VOC
  • Various tools* are used to define the Voice of Customer:

    • Interviews
    • Focus Groups
    • Questionnaires and Surveys
    • JAD Sessions
    • Brainstorming
    • Complaints
    • Root-Cause Analysis (Fishbone Diagram)
    • Kano model – to analyze customer requirements
    • Quality Function Deployment (QFD)
    * I'll be explaining these tools in future articles.

    4.2. Identify Value Stream top

    The value stream is the entire set of tasks (activities) required to create a specific product from requirements to its final state presented to the end user. Identifying the value stream of your project will allow you to realize the gap between the value stream (ideal stream) and the current stream in your organization. Many of the activities in the current stream could be eliminated almost immediately with dramatic cost savings.

    To Identify the value stream, you will need to use the process mapping tools (like UML Diagrams) to capture the following:

    • Current state map: which is the process exactly as it occurs now, not how it is supposed to or how you wish or think it should occur. See the example below from the requirements elicitation process
    • Ideal state map: it is the value stream. The benefits of identifying the ideal state before thinking about the future state is that the ideal state shifts the entire paradigm for the team, so they think about what they want to achieve instead of focusing on fixing mistakes in the current map
    • Future state: is the improved flow that we want to achieve based on using LEAN tools and methodologies. The future state is not created in this phase, usually it is created after incorporating the lean principles of Flow and Pull (after the analysis work is done)

    Now let’s assume you were asked to improve the “Requirements Elicitation process" in your organization. You will want to start your analysis by creating a current state (As-Is) of the process using the Functional map (spaghetti diagram).

  • Functional map (spaghetti diagram): it is pretty much the same concept as the physical map but it depicts the functional flow instead of the physical flow.
  • How to draw physical and functional maps:

    • Draw a circle and add all parties involved in the process. See the figure below
    • Draw lines from each sender to each receiver
    • Same as the physical map, draw a line for each functional communication (could be requirements elicitation, review, inquiries, approvals, etc.)
    • Identify bottlenecks – you will have more than one bottleneck in more complex projects

    Image from the "3D Business Analyst" book.

    Functional maps show how information flows between team members, like who talks to whom and how many times regardless of their physical location and the communication channel.

    By analyzing the functional map you can obviously determine that the Lead BA is a bottleneck in the flow of information in this process, which could have consequences on the project schedule, cost, and performance. In the next step (FLOW) you will work on relieving bottlenecks by offloading, better prioritization, re-engineering the process, etc.

    4.3. Flow (make the process flow) top

    Once value has been accurately defined, the value stream for the product is completely mapped, and the current state and bottlenecks have been identified, it is time for the next step in lean process: Eliminate the wasteful steps in the process that are causing the bottlenecks to make the process flow.

  • What flows in software industry? Information, documents, requirements, approvals, etc
  • The goal is to make the system flow as smoothly and easily as possible by eliminating constraints and bottlenecks
  • 4.4. Pull top

    Pull is a method of work where nothing is produced by a downstream workstation unless an upstream work station triggers a need.

    Now let’s apply FLOW and PULL principles to eliminate wastes and relieve bottlenecks from the process and create a future state map. (Case study below)

    To eliminate the motion wastes in communication with the Lead BA we need to relieve the bottleneck identified. Some solutions to relieve the bottleneck at the Lead BA could be:

    • Reassign tasks between Lead BA, BA 1 and BA 2
    • Relocate other team members’ physical location to more efficient locations based on their communication needs
    • Apply PULL principle to reduce communication with SME’s (BA’s pull information when needed)

    Now let’s create the future state of the functional map. Remember that our goal is to eliminate wastes and relieve bottlenecks by reassigning tasks between the Lead BA, BA 1 and BA 2.


    4.5. Seek Perfection top

    Perfection state is achieving/attaining a system that contains absolutely no waste, so that every activity along the process stream adds value to the customer.

    • Perfection means keep looking for wastes and eliminating them
    • Perfection is a never-ending journey, not a destination
    • There is no end to the process of reducing effort, time, space, cost, and mistakes (Kaizen)

    5. Build Your Lean Vocabulary top

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