Lean Six Sigma Makes Biz Customer Responsive

by Tabrez Khan    Jun 30, 2009

Lean Six Sigma (LSS) is a management concept that focuses on customer needs like no other process does, says Balaji Rajagopalan, executive director-Operations and LSS, Xerox. Rajagopalan dwells extensively on the LSS concept in an interview with Tabrez Khan.

Can you tell us briefly, what the Lean Six Sigma concept is about?
Six Sigma has been around for a while, but Lean Six Sigma (LSS) as a concept emerged in India in 2002-03, at least from our perspective. Six Sigma is mainly about removing variations in processes and thereby minimizing as far as possible the defects in products. For instance if we produce 10, 00, 000 units, the target should be to not have more than 3-4 manufacturing defects. Lean Six Sigma takes this concept forward to incorporate elimination of waste and reducing cycle time for products, over and above reducing defects. It adds the vital dimension of speed to an enterprises processes.

How does an enterprise go about implementing LSS?
Enterprises need to create infrastructure for LSS, but the most important aspect is training your employees or getting people skilled at LSS. There s a six sigma hierarchy with champions, who are from upper management, ensuring implementation of LSS across the enterprise. They are assisted by Master Black Belts who dedicate 100% of their time to LSS, and they ensure implementation across departments and functions. Black Belts are led by master black belts and they focus on actual project execution of LSS based on guidance provided by Champions and Master Black Belts. Green Belts are the employees who take up Six Sigma implementation along with their other job responsibilities. They operate under the guidance of Black Belts.

How did Xerox go about implementing LSS?
At Xerox we have detailed targets for each business division in terms of certification and training for LSS. We also provide Yellow Belt training, which is an online training for LSS basics to each one of our employees. So 100% of our workforce is trained at least to the yellow belt level, apart from the LSS specialists. Our LSS is based on the DMAIC principle, which stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. Earlier, a top US-based Six Sigma Consultant, George Consulting Group, used to train our Master Black Belts, who in turn trained others in-house but now we have developed capability to train our own Master Black Belts as well.

How have you benefited from LSS?
We have leveraged LSS to bring in a lot of improvement in our processes. Over the last 4-5 years we looked at processes taking long lead time for product delivery. Through LSS implementation we have been able to bring the product lifecyle down from 150-160 days to 35-40 days. Also we have improved productivity by 25-30% by undertaking various LSS initiatives. Our new business model is more responsive to customer needs and we have been able to get material productivity gains and quality improvement.

What are the benefits to customers?
Our trained Lean Six Sigma experts help deliver expert business process consulting and assessment services. They help find ways to save up to 35% of customers total document costs and leverage their investment in IT and infrastructure. This can have a big impact on their bottom line, since document management costs consume 5 - 15% of a company’s total revenues.

LSS has been criticized as just another Belt-producing factory with no concrete results. How do you react to that?
Over the last 26 years of my career, I have done many projects even before LSS implementation, including concepts such as Total Quality Management (TQM). However, I have realized no other concept including TQM stresses on the customer s needs as much as LSS. LSS tries to understand the customer needs in detail, and establishes the bottom line on customer needs and their critical requirements. This was never done in the past, not with TQM nor with any other concept.

Besides, we have a methodical way of implementing LSS based on the DMAIC principle; each project has a sponsor who is responsible to assess and ensure whether I am getting the desired business result. Besides, there are technical specialists who take care of deployment, risk mitigation tool and failure moderation effects analysis, which measures impact on customers of a possible failure of an LSS project. These were never used before.