Kai Sigma — An Approach to Rapid Improvement

By John Morgan, Martin Brenig-Jones

Another common term is Kai Sigma, which provides both a systematic and pragmatic way for people and organisations to improve performance. Its key concepts and principles are supported by a carefully selected set of practical and relevant tools and techniques enabling people to solve the problems that they’re tackling.

At its heart is the need to ensure that people at all levels of an organisation both feel able, and are able, to challenge and improve their processes and the way they work. Naturally, this has significant implications for the organisation’s culture and for the manager’s role.

Managers and their teams must have a clear understanding of their processes and their roles:

  • Managers need to be working on their processes with the people in the processes to find ways of continuously improving those processes.

  • People need to feel able and are able to challenge and improve their process and the way they work.

Kai Sigma brings together the powerful concepts of Kaizen to involve people in continuously seeking to improve performance within the framework of DMAIC, the commonly used and systematic improvement framework in Lean Six Sigma. One of the potential dangers in rapid improvement events can be the lack of a systematic improvement framework. Not using DMAIC, for example, can result in the absence of the all-important Control phase and Control plan that ensures gains are secured and held, and that new opportunities are prompted.

Kai Sigma is a facilitated workshop approach to improvement, typically run as a series of half or one day workshops over a period of five or six weeks, though it can be run as a straight five-day event. The foundation for the improvement comes from focusing on how the work gets done and how well it gets done. The workshops follow the framework of DMAIC with particular importance in the Define and Control phases.

Kai Sigma workshops need to be expertly facilitated by people who are able to identify how best to tackle the problem, using the right method and the right tools. They need to know how to scope the problems being addressed, and they need to know when more advanced tools and techniques are needed.

It’s also essential that they know a comprehensive range of tools and techniques that can be applied to tackle the problems identified for the projects. In terms of the commonly used tools needed, they are likely to include the following Lean Six Sigma tools and techniques:

  • Critical to Quality customer requirements (CTQs) — or something similar

  • SIPOC (the high level process map identifying suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers)

  • Process stapling

  • A process or value stream map

  • The Theory of Constraints

  • The Seven Wastes (Tim Wood — transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, overprocessing, defects)

  • Five Ss

  • Visual management

  • Data collection

  • Data displays — control charts and Pareto charts

  • Fishbone and interrelationship diagram

  • Failure Modes Effects Analysis (FMEA) and error proofing

  • Control plan

If appropriate, the facilitator doesn’t need to use the language of Lean or Six Sigma. The aim is to involve the people in the process to make improvements to their process through the series of workshops following the DMAIC phases.