Lean Six Sigma: Moving Past ‘We’ve Always Done It That Way’

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By Craig Treml 
Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Candidate, McKesson
six sigma

Damon Werner is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt at McKesson, and he said something that made the audience sit up and take notice at this year’s McKesson Homecare & Hospice National Users’ Conference. During a session on Lean Six Sigma, Werner said, “World-class processes tend to have 50% non-value add activities.”

Hearing that, I imagine that everyone immediately began thinking about how many non-value add activities must be in their processes. Then Werner said something else that hit home. When he looks at processes in healthcare organizations and asks why a task is performed a certain way, the answer is usually, “Because we’ve always done it that way.”

During the session, Werner and I described the basics of Lean and Six Sigma and stressed the importance of using the right tool for the job. Lean helps organizations do more with less by eliminating waste. Six Sigma focuses on process improvement through defect reduction. Both disciplines complement each other and have a selection of tools that can be used, depending on the problem being addressed.  “If you’re carrying a DMAIC hammer, everything looks like a DMAIC nail—but it’s not,” said Werner, referring to the Six Sigma acronym that stands for (D)efine, (M)easure, (A)nalyze, (I)mprove and (C)ontrol.

Werner described a progression of process improvement methodologies that starts with Workout, a one- or two-day activity aimed at solving relatively simple problems within 90 days. Lean is next on the continuum with a focus on improving workflow and eliminating waste. Full blown DMAIC projects are implemented to resolve complex problems. “At this point, we’re doing more than just eliminating waste – we’re using statistics and sophisticated measures to fine tune a process,” he said.

I related several stories about how we at McKesson have used Lean Six Sigma to improve processes and meet customer expectations. We were the first healthcare company to launch Six Sigma and in 2008 were at the top of iSixSigma Magazine’s Best Places to Work list.

In one instance, our own hardware staging department was unable to keep up with demand, resulting in significant overtime and delays in getting hardware to our customers. A cross-departmental team held a Workout session and applied one of the Lean tools, 5S to the work area (Sort, Store, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain). The improvements dramatically decreased the time it took to stage hardware, minimized overtime, and enabled us to meet customer demand.

Finally, Werner and I offered the audience this list of signs that a process includes non-value added steps.

  1. Procedures passed on by word of mouth, no standard operating procedures (or procedures don’t reflect the actual process)
  2. Frequent rework
  3. Waiting time and multiple hand-offs
  4. Multiple approvals required
  5. Process is seen as complex, or mystical
  6. Junk emails
  7. Redundant activities
  8. Large file areas and frequent archiving
  9. Written correspondence required for process to complete

If some of these sound familiar, please contact me to discuss how McKesson can help your organization use Lean Six Sigma to improve efficiency and meet key metrics.

About Craig Treml

Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Candidate, McKesson

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