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Use cases for Lean Six Sigma as a BPM tool

Lean Six Sigma and BPM are intended to improve business optimization. Learn how working with both improves long-term goals.

Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and BPM solutions are all meant to improve business processes so that the business improves,...

grows, or gains financially by reducing wasteful practices and increasing productivity. Each influences business processes, and both Six Sigma varieties are well-tested veterans that have survived decades of use. BPM is not the same as either Six Sigma flavor but is rather a software program or tool to more easily measure and quantify results and make them visible via management dashboards and other viewable tools.

Each method can be a benefit to a business in multiple ways, but combining either Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma with a BPM tool provides a full range of improving business processes and provides accurate, viewable metrics over time to continuously improve or keep the improvements moving in a positive direction. In this tip, we'll discuss the benefits of each version of Six Sigma and the positive business gain of adding in BPM after the process-improvement phase is established to keep it going.

Six Sigma has been around for decades and remains a fixture in the business process improvement world. It is supported by various levels of consultants, activists, trainers and enthusiasts. The two main methodologies are DMAIC, meaning define, measure, analyze, improve and control; or DMADV, meaning define, measure, analyze, design and verify. Either form of Six Sigma offers an effective way to understand a business' current processes thoroughly and to work to improve process flow to reduce waste, find and fix bottlenecks one-by-one, and instill a corporate culture around process flow and continuous improvement.

The techniques used in Six Sigma can be overwhelming at first, but once understood, they are typically easily leveraged throughout the organization. The techniques are advanced statistical measures meant to get to the root of a business' issues. Six Sigma experts are skilled at identifying and quantifying variations with the goal to solve process problems. Six Sigma has been found to positively affect employee morale as well, while improving or building a positive corporate culture. The reasons are many, but include employee inclusion or involvement and the reduction of wasted or duplicated work efforts. It is a valuable and proven process but an expensive undertaking. The price of consultants and training is a significant consideration that a business must weigh against the expected benefit. Additionally, the projects involve employee time and allocation. In other words, it's not a quick or easy fix and planning for resource allocation is essential.

Six Sigma: The Lean version

Lean Six Sigma focuses mainly on eliminating wasteful practices within business processes. It is intended to improve workflow by improving productivity and output. The Lean mantra is "do things better," and like Six Sigma, adopting the methodology can improve productivity and product quality, as well as corporate culture and employee morale. Lean is most successful when it's adopted fully across business silos and is universally backed by management, more in deed than in word. In other words, for Lean to work, it needs to be truly supported.

An advantage of Lean is that it typically has a faster implementation time. Businesses get nearly immediate benefits related to productivity and error reduction. It takes time, as does Six Sigma, for the long-term benefits of improved business financials, customer satisfaction and employee morale to be visible. However, over time Lean becomes organically ingrained into every business process or action and is flexible enough to be better received than Six Sigma. The flexibility of Lean makes it a more popular choice for software development, financial and other non-manufacturing based businesses.

BPM After Six

Business process management (BPM) sounds like another business process improvement methodology alongside Six Sigma and Lean, but it's different. BPM basically is a tool set that incorporates business intelligence and predictive analysis into viewable forms that management uses to design, engineer and execute business process improvements. BPM is a software-based tool that measures and tracks improvement methodologies such as Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma. BPM tools are used to automate and manage business processes in a predictable, presentable fashion.

For a business, implementing a chosen methodology such as Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma must occur before implementing a BPM tool. Process improvement methods must first be in place, supported and in progress before a BPM tool is implemented. For example, the method used may determine what the business needs in a BPM tool. Also, the views or dashboards presented by the BPM tool will rely on the data chosen based on either Six Sigma or Lean. Once an overall business process improvement system is in place and established, then a BPM tool can be used to create data views that allow management to visualize and analyze functions, processes and improvement results quickly and repeatedly or as often as desired. The quick return of business results by means of dashboards assists in monitoring and managing critical customer-facing processes such as billing and customer service. Problems noticed early can be fixed faster, and a BPM tool makes problem areas more easily visible.

BPM software is a tool to understand, engineer, and analyze business process results using real-time and historical data. It allows management access to repeatable, automated result views at the touch of a button or view of a screen. Basically, it automates the business results so management can act quickly to correct or improve business processes. BPM on its own won't improve business processes, but, used alongside Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma, it assists businesses in monitoring, analyzing and improving business process through access to views built with real data.

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