We are all told how effective Six Sigma is at solving a company’s problems, but is that really the case? Does Six Sigma solve practical, everyday problems or are we just being told that to sell training courses?
The truth is that Six Sigma is an enormously powerful set of tools that deliver real results in daily accomplishment of problems within many organizations. Some of the best solutions are shown below.
Hull City Council Cleans Up
Catalyst Consulting, the Lean and Six Sigma consultancy based in London, were approached by Hull City Council, who were concerned about the effectiveness of their domestic and trade cleaning services. The Council felt that there were savings to be made in the waste collection, highway maintenance, and street cleaning services that they offered, but they were at a loss to identify specific areas of saving.
The council had been through a total of four restructuring exercises but hadn’t seen significant increases in productivity nor reduction in costs. At a loss of how to proceed, Hull Council called in Catalyst Ltd.
The London firm reviewed the council’s services and suggested a series of steps starting with cross-department teamwork, resulting in process improvement driven through shared workloads and a collaborative effort. Teams were no longer assigned particular aspects of the council street maintenance work, but were encouraged to carry out tasks as they came across them. This called for a certain degree of flexibility within teams that saw both the council and the cleansing teams embraced the new working ethic.
As a result of Catalysts work with the council, recycling rates – one of the council’s key performance indicators – rose from 18% to 54%! In addition, the increase in efficiency produced savings of £2.6 million in staffing costs and resulted in Hull City Council being recognized as the Most Improved Team at the National Association for Public Service Excellence Awards.
Six Sigma Assists Healthcare
The Healthcare industry is now a huge believer in Six Sigma for process improvement as a means to reducing costs and enhancing the patient experience. Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital recognized that it was experiencing delays in discharging patients mostly caused by the limited time that a doctor could spend with them.
A Lean Six Sigma initiative was kicked-off with a detailed assessment of the current situation. The initial investigation found that each doctor typically had a caseload of around 15 patients, which could take anything up to three hours per day to deal with, giving the doctors approximately 12 minutes with each of them. The complexity of cases meant that a doctor might not be in a position to carry out a time-consuming discharge procedure, leading to delays.
With the major problem area highlighted, a new model was devised which saw two functional teams comprised of a doctor - backed up by a senior resident and an intern - working across the caseload and comparing notes. In addition, an evening meeting was set up to review those patients set for discharge the following morning and pre-emptively reach a consensus on whether the patient’s release could go ahead.
This meant that medical practitioners could delegate their time better and actually make a better analysis of patient needs. This new regime introduced a speedier yet more robust discharge process along with increased customer satisfaction.
Major Water Savings Found at Baxter
Baxter Manufacturing was experiencing significant environmental footprint, and sought to reduce it by using the principles of Six Sigma. Baxter employed a lot of water in their processing operation and it was the discharge of this that was one of the main targets for the Six Sigma team.
The group, headed by a Black Belt and populated by both Green and Yellow belt personnel, focused on collecting accurate data about their process in order to assess the significance of any changes they made. Using a combination of water-flow meters energy-usage calculations and simple stopwatches; the team established their baseline and could assess possible targets to demonstrate process improvement.
Using future-state maps, the team were able to show the top management team how changes would influence the company and were given the go ahead to make the process alterations. The team made the adjustments and then re-measured to get sight of the actual improvement made.
These measurements showed that the process improvements had saved the company over 170,000 gallons of water, which hadn’t required significant investment in capital equipment and so made a real impact on the business without meaningful outlay. Furthermore, the company found that in the first three months of the new regime, the area experienced a saving of $17,000 adding to the overall benefits of the program change.
Baxter took the time to investigate the issues that they were having and created a structured plan with real benefit. Because of the exhaustive preliminary work they carried out, Baxter management found that they no longer needed to invest in extensive and costly expansion program to achieve the same result.
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