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The Curse of Lean Six Sigma: You'll Never See the Same Way Again -

Have you ever attended a class where the instructor announced she was going to “curse and infect you?”

That was how I started a class of mine. As I introduced myself, I let my students know that one of my goals was to “curse you all with Lean Six Sigma eyes.” When my co-facilitator Sabine introduced herself, she said her goal was to “infect you all with a passion for process improvement.” Given these threats, attendees may have considered leaving at that point—lucky for them being cursed and infected was a good thing!

We were excited to spread the infectious passion for Lean Six Sigma. We were thrilled at the thought of our students seeing with Lean Six Sigma eyes—the ability to see waste in processes that they never noticed before. There’s a related quote by Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.”

One of the basics in Lean Six Sigma is to train your eyes to see waste so that eventually you spot it naturally, without having to look that hard. This leads to a fundamental Lean Six Sigma concept—the 8 Wastes. The idea is that processes predominantly contain 8 forms of waste. They are everywhere and some types of waste are more prevalent than others.

The 8 Wastes

8 Wastes -

If people fail to see waste, they find it easy to stick to the status quo. They keep working around waste rather than addressing it. If people are unaware of the waste around them, then they generally have no desire to remove it. The waste remains and people continue to sink their time and energy into workarounds and other activities that add no value.

If people are unaware of the waste around them, then they generally have no desire to remove it.

Practicing the art of “seeing” waste can be as simple as going to lunch! It’s also a great exercise in observing “flow.” Flow is the way things move through a process. I want to share a few stories of how going to breakfast or lunch can be a wonderful exercise to help you see waste. Next we’ll cover how to identify waste at work, by going on a Waste Walk and lastly, I’ll share a few projects that showcase successful waste reduction.

Chipotle vs. Subway—A “Waste-a-thon”

My boys love the Subway sandwich shop franchise. Unfortunately, if we are in a rush (what mom isn’t?) I’m not as keen on going to a Subway because there’s variation in the delivery Lead Time. On a few occasions, when I found myself waiting longer than I wanted, I started to consider, “What is it about Subway’s process that is adding variation and wait time?”

With time on my hands, I watched the process and noticed a few things that might contribute to long Lead Time:

  • The bread is not precut.
  • There is too much hand motion when adding meat & cheese—for example, if the sandwich requires 6 pieces of meat or cheese, the employee places them on the sandwich one-by-one with 6 separate arm movements. (That’s 12 separate movements if you ordered both meat and cheese!)
  • The dreaded “Do you want your bread toasted?” question. My hope is that the people in front of us say “no” to toasted bread, since that takes time and bogs down the flow.
  • There are too many veggie and sauce options—this could be a value-added aspect for some patrons, but the decision-making time adds variation to everyone’s Lead Time.
  • The decibel levels are a delay factor as well. I’ve noticed that at times people can’t hear each other. There is a 6-ft plexiglass barrier between the patrons and the employees. People aren’t used to speaking as loud as they need to for the employees to hear their order when it’s busy. Subway workers are often forced to ask, “What??” Or, “Which one are you pointing to?” This is especially challenging for quieter—or shorter—customers.
  • Finally, one worker usually walks you through the whole process, (Single-Piece Flow seems like a good idea but for some reason it doesn’t work here). If they ring your order up, they need to remove their gloves to handle money.

Clearly, I’ve spent too much time analyzing the causes for “waiting” in the sandwich-making process at Subway!

The Curse of Lean Six Sigma: You'll Never See the Same Way Again -

My boys also like going to Chipotle, and I find Chipotle to have consistently better Lead Times. What is it about Chipotle that makes the flow go faster than Subway?

With not quite as much time on my hands I watched the Chipotle process and noticed a few things that might contribute to shorter Lead Times:

  • There are less options on the menu.
  • They use pre-measured utensils that only require one hand motion for beans, meat, salsa, and guacamole (unless you want a double order— then it’s 2 hand motions).
  • During lunch rush, the workers don’t physically move through the line, only their arms move as they pass orders down the line to each other.

These factors stuck out to me. I’m sure there are more reasons that Chipotle is faster, but I didn’t have as much downtime to analyze their process!

If you want to practice seeing waste, restaurants can be great places to try your hand, especially when you’ve had the experience of being a “defect” in a lunch process—there is a silver lining when things go wrong—a learning opportunity!

If you want to practice seeing waste, restaurants can be great places to try your hand.

This is what I meant when I told my students they would be “cursed.” When you have “Lean Six Sigma eyes,” you spot waste and analyze flow wherever you go. In this next example, I’ll share a story about the waste I witnessed while getting breakfast in a hotel.

Experiments at a Hotel Breakfast Bar

I had a 4-month consulting engagement where I stayed at the same hotel during each visit. The hotel was close to Disneyland in Anaheim, California. This hotel was similar to a Residence Inn so it included free, self-service breakfast but didn’t have a full-service restaurant.

I noticed the staff were trying to address a problem with flow in the breakfast area. I wasn’t completely clear on their problem or their goals, but I did witness a number of unsuccessful experiments as they attempted to improve the flow of guests through the breakfast area.

In the original setting, food was organized around the perimeter with tables in the middle of the room. It was a self-serve design. As crowded as it sometimes got, people were generally polite and waited their turn to assemble their breakfast.

Given what I witnessed, none of the experiments were as successful as the original layout. These problem solvers probably didn’t have the luxury of being trained on how to see waste or manage flow. But that didn’t stop them from conducting some trial and error.

Experiment Number 1: Assisted Service

The staff put up a counter and placed all the food behind the counter. People came to the counter and asked for breakfast items. An employee would pull the requested items, place them on a tray and hand the customer the full breakfast tray.

The result? Guests formed a long line and experienced a major bottleneck to get their breakfast. The two employees behind the counter were completely overwhelmed and customers were clearly unhappy about waiting. They were waiting in line and they hadn’t even gotten to Disneyland yet!

Experiment Number 2: Pre-Orders

The second experiment required guests to place their breakfast orders the night before using a newly designed form. The staff pre-packaged each order by room number and guests came to the breakfast area to pick up their breakfast bags. If they hadn’t pre-ordered, they got reprimanded and trained on the new process by the breakfast staff. Once reprimanded, the counter staff pulled the requested breakfast items for the guests.

The result? There was still a major bottleneck that created long lines of guests waiting to pick up their breakfast bags. The employees were overwhelmed trying to sort the bags and often couldn’t find the right bags with the corresponding room number. Clearly, the area of bag organization wasn’t big enough. A few times I placed an order the night before, and in the morning they couldn’t find my bag. They had to gather what I needed once I showed up—I would venture to guess that they found the original bag later and had to dispose of it.

I didn’t want to intrude and “fix other people’s process” but after seeing the results of these experiments, I was curious to know what problem they were trying to solve. When I asked one of the employees, she told me they were having trouble refilling items with the original layout because there were too many guests in the way. Unfortunately they affected the customer negatively while experimenting with how to resolve the refill issue.

My client engagement ended and I stopped traveling to Anaheim, so I don’t know how their experiments worked out once I left. Kudos to them for taking risks and experimenting with the process. My hope is that they figured out a better solution and customers can get to Disneyland without waiting in line for breakfast!

I’ve shared how much you can learn by observing process waste when you’re out at breakfast and lunch. Now let’s discuss a method to make it easy to see waste at work.

Seeing Waste in Work Processes

The benefit of being cursed with Continuous Improvement passion is that once you see the waste, you want to remove it. Processes become more efficient, more effective and end up contributing to improved employee satisfaction—working in processes with less waste means you enjoy the workday more.

In order to start “seeing” more waste, you should start by reviewing the 8 Wastes. One option is to take White Belt Training, and another option is to go on a Waste Walk.

Waste Walks

A Waste Walk is a structured observation of a workspace or process to identify the 8 Wastes (Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Non-Utilized Talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion and Extra-Processing).

A Waste Walk gives people practice seeing waste in the workplace—seeing with new eyes—it provides opportunities to get input on current problems and it gets people excited to engage in process improvement. It spreads the word and builds problem-solving momentum.

The Secret to Surveys: Go to the Source -

The Waste of Motion

Below is an example of how a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt analyzed a process at work, identified waste, found the root causes of the waste and systematically addressed them.

Hampton Sublett is the Director of the Office of Strategic Solutions at UC Davis. With his Green Belt Project, he was able to reduce the wastes of Transportation and Motion which in turn reduced service technician drive time saving 2600 hours a year.

Below are Hampton’s Problem and Goal Statements:

  • Problem Statement: The campus is comprised of more than 1,000 buildings of varying ages which require significant work to maintain. UC Davis wants to increase “available wrench time” by decreasing the time trade professionals need to spend on tasks that are not directly related to their trade.
  • Goal Statement: By January 25th, 2018 increase “wrench time” for electricians by 5%.

By utilizing a SIPOC, Process Walk and a Swimlane Map, Sublett and his process improvement team set out to understand the customer requirements and build profound knowledge of the process.

Below are two of their discoveries:

  • Parts were being stored in multiple locations for a single order
  • There were far too many steps in the process “From Budget Approval to Job Site Start Date”

When it came to the Data Collection Plan, it was rather simple—the entire project was rather simple. That’s one of the beauties of the deliberate approach of Lean Six Sigma. Sublett and his team created a Histogram displaying the time spent pulling parts at a specific location (Location 3). Next they developed a Spaghetti Map to further understand the process.

“Current State” Spaghetti Map

The Curse of Lean Six Sigma: You'll Never See the Same Way Again -
Take Away: Extra trips for waste removal and additional return trips to Location 3

Below are two of their discoveries:

  • 65% of trips took 5 minutes or less
  • There were about 15 minutes during each day that were non-value added

If they eliminated these trips all together, they could achieve some serious savings with respect to unnecessary drive time.

Here are some possible root causes:

  • Waste: Non-Utilized Talent—Electricians are pulling parts at Location 3 instead of having Project Managers order all at once
  • Waste: Motion—Electricians are spending too much time driving back and forth to Location 3 and the Project Manager Office

Below are the solutions selected by the team:

  • Utilize “Location 3” warehouse staff to deliver electrical parts to the Electrician’s Shop
  • Have the Project Manager place the orders for Non-stock and Stock parts, thus eliminating the need for Electricians to shop for Stock parts at the Location 3 warehouse

Next they created a Future State Swimlane Map for the “Budget Approval to Job Site Start Date” process and implemented the improvements.

“Future State” Spaghetti Map

The Curse of Lean Six Sigma: You'll Never See the Same Way Again -
Take Away: Removed 4 extra trips by electricians and Parts Pulling at Location 3

Success: The team was able to reclaim 30 minutes/day of Electrician’s time!

  • Time per day per Electrician: 30 minutes
  • Time per year per Electrician: 130 hours (30 mins x 260 work days)
  • 130 hours x 30 Electricians = 2,600 hours saved!

The result? Electricians repurposed their saved hours to more wrench time—less wasted time and more time to fix and repair!

Learn more by checking out Hampton’s full Project Storyboard and recorded presentation.

More Waste-Reduction Projects

Hampton’s project is a great example of how easy it is to achieve a big impact simply by observing and removing waste. One way to learn how to see and remove the 8 Wastes yourself is to learn how others have done it. Below are 3 more examples of projects that successfully reduced waste:

  • Franklin Garrett and Jared Church were able to reduce the wastes of Motion and Waiting from their process which helped reduce mail packaging time from 415 to 96 minutes. Check out slide 16 to see the before and after Spaghetti Map.
  • Kristin Kielich analyzed the employee onboarding process and was able to reduce the wastes of Extra-Processing and Waiting. Check out slides 8, 21-23 to see the removal of Extra-Processing.
  • James Fuhrman’s Problem Statement stated that first run parts were right only 60% of the time. The parts were wrong due to several issues—wrong holes in wrong location, wrong materials, wrong size of part, wrong program numbers. His project reduced the wastes of Defects, Extra-Processing and Waiting.

Next Steps

Are you excited to be “cursed” to see with new eyes? Are you ready to be “infected” with passion for process improvement? You’ve got lots of options and none of them take much time.

You can start making a difference in your own life—on the job, at home—and in the lives of others. You’ll never see the same way again!

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