The Most Effective Process Improvement Methods: Lean, Six Sigma and Total Quality Management

Learn about Lean & Six Sigma process improvement methods & how Total Quality Management (TQM) focuses on customer satisfaction.

The Most Effective Process Improvement Methods: Lean, Six Sigma and Total Quality Management

Process improvement is the practice of analyzing, identifying and improving processes within a company to enhance overall quality. There are a variety of systematic approaches, methodologies and tools available to support process improvement. Two of the most popular process improvement methods are Lean and Six Sigma, while Total Quality Management (TQM) is also a widely used approach. Lean is a customer-focused method that involves continuous improvement over time.

It can also be referred to as lean production or just-in-time production. This technique is often used in supply chain management and customer satisfaction projects. Womack, Daniel Jones and Daniel Roos, in the book The Machine That Changed the World, Lean highlight five fundamental principles based on the authors' experiences in manufacturing Toyota. Studies suggest that more than 40% of employees spend at least a quarter of the week on manual and repetitive tasks, such as emailing, collecting and entering data.

Implementing a technological change or a customized application can automate these repetitive tasks and employees can reallocate time to fundamental aspects of their work. Six Sigma is a well-known technique for reducing variability and defects to less than 3.4 per million units. Its goal is to minimize errors and maximize value in all sectors by taking advantage of data and statistics. Within this methodology, process engineers use two techniques DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve & control) and DMADV (define, measure, analyze, design & verify), to achieve the desired results. A noteworthy aspect is that organizations tend to overlook the first three steps and go directly to the improvement or design stage, which leads to project failure. For example, the American multinational General Electric strived to improve the service quality of its product by 26%, even after hiring experienced professionals.

However, after incorporating Six Sigma, they simplified their processes, which resulted in increased revenues. Lean manufacturing aims to reduce costs by eliminating waste. Although the name suggests that this methodology is specific to the manufacturing industry, its fundamental principle can also be applied to other sectors. To use this technique effectively, the process improvement team must map the value stream to understand the perceptions of buyers, which will allow teams to successfully eliminate waste and redundancy from business processes. For example, Intel adopted lean manufacturing technology to provide higher-quality processors in a short time. By implementing quality control factors and waste reduction techniques, Intel reduced the time needed to bring a microchip to the factory from more than three months to less than ten days. Just-in-time manufacturing, also known as the Toyota Production System, aims to minimize inventory costs and increase efficiency by producing products according to requirements.

Toyota executives invented this concept with the vision of adapting quickly and efficiently to changes in model demand and reducing losses by keeping the inventory that was needed immediately in the store. The Theory of Constraints methodology is a highly focused technique for creating rapid improvement. Identify any obstacles in the process and improve that bottleneck or restriction until it is eliminated. For example, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America (MHIA) initially created tailor-made (design-to-order) chemical environmental plant designs with a percentage of 26%. However, after incorporating the principles of the Kaizen methodology, it made small, continuous changes to its design process to establish a standardized module package.

As a result, errors were reduced in the design phase and costs for the customer were reduced by 5 to 10%.Total quality management (TQM) is a process improvement approach that continuously detects and eliminates production errors by facilitating supply chain processes, improving the customer experience, and ensuring that employees are sufficiently trained. The total in TQM means that all departments and production (such as sales, marketing and finance) are responsible for improving processes. Management at TQM emphasizes that executives are required to actively manage quality through funding, training, staffing, and setting objectives. TQM was a popular approach between the late 1980s and early 1990s while Lean and Six Sigma approaches are more popular today. TQM is similar to Six Sigma; TQM focuses on customer satisfaction while Six Sigma focuses on reducing defects. Lean Six Sigma combines Lean's approach with Six Sigma's methodology for companies.

This technique aims to eliminate defects in Lean and reduce deviations as in Six Sigma for process improvement. It allows you to establish efficient systems with high quality and efficiency while increasing final profits and helping you achieve company objectives. Process improvement initiatives should incorporate feedback from teams highlighting problems and successes for additional improvements. An agile methodology improves communication and collaboration between stakeholders facilitating adaptation to change rather than defining projects with strict deadlines. In conclusion, Lean is an effective method for eliminating waste in processes while Six Sigma reduces process variation. Total Quality Management focuses on customer satisfaction while Lean Six Sigma combines both approaches for successful process improvement initiatives.