Lean Six Sigma Business Transformation: What Does Managed Process Mean?

By Roger Burghall, Vince Grant, John Morgan

One of the vital ingredients for success in any organisation is clarifying individual people’s roles. Of particular relevance is the need for managers to realise that their role is to work on the process. What’s more, they need to work on the process with the people involved in the process in order for a culture of continuous improvement and everyday operational excellence to develop and become part of the organisation’s DNA.

In all too many organisations the majority of managers don’t really understand their roles. Often the manager is someone who has performed extremely well in their previous role and has been promoted as a result. If they’re lucky, they receive training in a variety of topics, including, for example, interview techniques, budget setting, appraisals and report writing. Unfortunately, many organisations fail to see the need to also train their managers in process management and improvement activity.

As a result, the processes aren’t effectively managed and the people in the process are often seen as the cause of process problems. The following quotation sums up the position very well:

‘Eighty-five per cent of the reasons for failure to meet customer expectations are related to deficiencies in systems and process rather than the employee. The role of management is to change the process rather than badgering individuals to do better.’ – W. Edwards Deming

So, the steps to creating a managed process begin with managers being clear about their role and aware of the various tools and techniques available to help manage and improve process performance and achieve everyday operational excellence.

The majority of managers are likely to need training with a sub-set of the Lean Six Sigma tools taught at Green Belt level. Here, though, the tools are being applied to daily activities and not just improvement projects. Used in this way, these tools enable processes to be effectively and efficiently managed with the following key elements in place.

  • The process has a clear customer-focused objective. In other words, measureable Critical to Quality Customer Requirements (CTQs) have been identified. These not only clarify what the customer wants, they also provide the basis for determining the output measures for the process.

  • Appropriate process maps are in place, ensuring that everyone in the team knows ‘how the work gets done’. These ‘pictures’ of the process also help in identifying the variables that most influence the process performance. In particular, what are the inputs to the process and are they arriving on time and without error, for example? And what’s happening in the process itself? Are there bottlenecks or rework, for example?

  • These input and in-process variables need to be measured. They influence the performance in meeting the CTQs and help ensure that the team knows how well the work gets done. Presenting the data on control charts ensures that variation and the state of the process are understood. It’s easily seen whether the process is stable and predictable and where action is or isn’t needed.

  • Performance in meeting CTQs is monitored and understood and improvement activity is underway where the CTQs are not being met. Progress is picked up as part of the daily team meeting.

  • The process has been error-proofed. Prevention has been built in where possible and the identification of new error-proofing opportunities forms part of the daily team meeting.

  • A control plan is in place clearly identifying how the work should be done and what to do if things go wrong.

The ongoing application of this approach also serves to begin the process of introducing a common language of Lean Six Sigma tools, techniques and principles into the organisation.

Creating a managed process takes time but provides effective and efficient products and services. With the right measures in place, you can assess the process and identify and prioritise opportunities for ongoing improvement.