La épica de la terminología Lean Six Sigma

12 octubre 2020

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La épica de la terminología Lean Six Sigma

Una exploración de la terminología de Lean Six Sigma desde una perspectiva histórica

¿Qué es Lean Six Sigma? ¿Es un método? ¿Es una filosofía? ¿Y cómo se relaciona el Sistema de Producción Toyota con Lean Six Sigma? ¿Kaizen es algo diferente de Lean?

Los conceptos erróneos que rodean a Lean Six Sigma son excelentes ejemplos de confusión babilónica. En general, todos hablan de lo mismo, es decir, de la mejora del proceso, pero todos se refieren a esto con diferentes nombres. Aun así, es conveniente aclarar nuestras definiciones para poder formalizar adecuadamente la mejora continua en todas las organizaciones. De ahí este artículo, en el que intentamos iluminar la terminología desde una perspectiva histórica. Nos disculpamos de antemano por la cantidad de jerga que estamos a punto de emplear.

El concepto de Mejora Continua se remonta a los albores de la humanidad. Ya que es una afirmación reconfortante, significa también que técnicamente podríamos comenzar nuestra línea de tiempo de Lean Six Sigma en cualquier momento de la historia. Para que se nos sea más fácil, elegimos comenzar nuestra línea de tiempo en la Toyota Motor Company en la década de 1950.

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El surgimiento de Lean

Toyota Motor Company y el sistema de producción de Toyota
Taiichi Ohno, junto con un grupo de expertos con ideas afines a la Toyota Motor Company, se inspiró por el Sistema de Producción Ford (FPS). La esencia del FPS era luchar por un flujo constante en la producción. Ford lo logró principalmente al introducir componentes estandarizados y la línea de ensamblaje. En los años cincuenta, Taiichi Ohno comenzó a incorporar el FPS en el sistema de producción de Toyota y le dio a este programa, que mejoraba toda la compañía, el nombre: Control de calidad total (TQC).

La introducción de una copia exacta del FPS no era posible debido a las diferencias culturales, que implicaba la base de un par de ajustes importantes en la gestión. Por ejemplo, el trabajo de línea de producción monótono en la área de fabricación no era aceptado en Japón, y Toyota carecía de los medios financieros para construir grandes fábricas.

Kaizen: el sistema de producción Ford revisado.
Además de luchar por un flujo constante en el FPS, Taiichi Ohno también introdujo los principios de bajos volúmenes y de la producción de justo a tiempo en la gestión del sistema de producción de Toyota. La ventaja de estos principios era que hacían que la organización sea ágil y flexible. La desventaja era que conllevaban riesgos y solo funcionaban si toda la organización cooperaba con Kaizen, lo que se traducía en Mejora Continua. Kaizen es una palabra que lleva mucha historia, pero Masaaki Imai la hizo popular como un término general para “mejora continua de procesos”.

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Genryou goes West and becomes ‘Lean’

As we stated earlier, Toyota’s management style is called Genryou (Japanese: 源量). Genryou can be loosely translated to ‘Reduce weight’. Later on Taiichi Ohno starts playing with words a little, and changes the term to 限量, which translates to ‘limited volume’, because he believes this is more accurate. This is where the term ‘Lean’ originates from. In 1988 Taiichi Ohno publishes a book in which the translators choose to translate Genryou to ‘Lean’. Moreover, they choose to translate the former version (reduce weight) rather than Taiichi Ohno’s later revision (limited volume).

The machine that changed the World
In the meanwhile, in 1986 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) starts a large scale research project into the differences in the automobile manufacturing industry. Researches such as James Womack, Daniel Jones, Daniel Roos and John Krafcik spend four years working on this global research project.

In 1988, in the middle of his research, John Krafcik publishes an article with the title: ‘Triumph of the Lean production System’. This article and the book ‘The Machine that changed the World’ export the term ‘Lean’ to a western audience. Due to later publications of researchers in the 90’s, the term ‘Lean Thinking’ becomes even more popular, causing Taiichi Ohno’s terms of ‘Genryou management’ and ‘TQC’ to fade into the background.

It’s interesting to note that while the term ‘Lean Management’ has far surpassed ‘Genryou Management’ in popular usage, Kaizen has entered the Western jargon without much trouble.

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The birth of Six Sigma

Six Sigma and improvement programmes
Toyota’s improvement programme is dubbed TQC and Philips names its improvement programme Company Wide Quality Control (CWQC). In this period companies increasingly give their improvement programmes distinctive names with which they can rise to fame. In 1970 Motorola follows up on this trend and develops its own unique quality programme called Six Sigma.

DMAIC projects lead the Six Sigma way
Most improvement programmes are born from necessity; a specific type of problem breeds a specific type of programme. For Motorola in 1970, this is a quality problem. Motorola surmises that their quality, which they translate to lack of defects, needs to increase tenfold. To achieve this, they set up their Six Sigma quality programme.

The programme consists out of a large number of improvement projects that are executed according to a predetermined cycle, namely the DMAIC cycle. The focus in these DMAIC projects is solving root causes of defects, substantiating these with statistical analyses and aiming for a process performance level of six sigma.
Simply put, this six sigma score indicates that roughly only 3.4 out of a million products are defects. To put it in a sports metaphor, imagine a football team that only misses 3.4 out of a million penalty shots.

Roles in a Six Sigma organization
The people executing DMAIC projects in the organization are called Green Belt and Black Belts. Besides these roles in a Six Sigma organization, there are also other roles, such as Yellow Belts, deployment managers, Champions, Sponsors and Master Black Belts.

When the General Electric Company decides to start working with Six Sigma as well, the programme becomes more widely known to the public.

Many people were involved in developing Six Sigma, but Bill Smith and Mikel J. Harry are the two engineers with the most known publications on the subject.

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Lean and Six Sigma combined

Due to the similarities and overlap between Lean Management and Six Sigma, it is only a question of time before eventually a book is published about combining these approaches. In 2002, Michael L. George publishes the book ‘Lean Six Sigma, combining Six Sigma quality with Lean speed’.

While there are plenty of differences between Taiichi Ohno’s Lean management and Motorola’s Six Sigma Way, both methodologies contain a rich set of so-called ‘problem-solving techniques’, and share a customer and process-oriented perspective.
These ‘problem-solving tools’ include, but are not limited to risk analysis, statistical analysis, communication documents, brainstorm techniques, Kanban, Poka-yoke, 5S and Visual Management. While the Lean Six Sigma philosophy is a constant, its repertoire of tools is continually expanded through new insights.

It could have been called Genryou Six Sigma
Today, Lean and Six Sigma are often considered inseparable. Green Belts and Black Belts are Lean Six Sigma Belts and the term ‘Lean Six Sigma’ resonates at the same level of the improvement programmes TQC en CWQC, with its own organizational structure, philosophy, project management methods and problem-solving tools. But Lean Six Sigma could just as well have been called ‘Kaizen DMAIC’ or ‘Genryou Six Sigma’. In the end, the name is merely circumstantial.

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So what is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is an organizational concept that aims to continuously improve the speed and quality of processes in order to deliver what the customer wants as accurately as possible against the lowest possible operational costs and with the highest possible flexibility.

Continuous Improvement can be achieved in various ways. Generally speaking, Toyota adhered to the theory of improvement in small incremental steps forward (Kata) whereas Motorola executed many DMAIC projects. But Kaizen events, improvement boards and DMADV projects are also ways to work on Continuous Improvement.

Successful Lean Six Sigma organizations have made Continuous Improvement (Kaizen) an important part of the way they work, and now situationally assess which improvement methods to use in order to reach their goals.

PS: Who really coined the term ‘Lean’…?
Only one question remains. Both The Productivity Press, the publishers of Taiichi Ohno’s book ‘Workplace Management’, and John Krafcik, writer of the article ‘Triumph of the Lean Production System’, claim to have coined the term Lean in 1988. In all fairness, The Productivity Press claims the term ‘Lean Management’, whereas Mr. Krafcik claims the term ‘Lean Production’. But the curious among us still wonder who was first…. 😉

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