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BSS #015: Process Improvement Methodologies for Manufacturing and Distribution

If you’ve ever felt like your operations are running at half-speed, it may be time to consider a process improvement initiative to help you streamline your processes.

But what is the best methodology?

I’ll share my go-to approach towards the end but there are several process improvement methodologies available, and each has their own advantages. Let’s look at four of the most popular ones:

  1. Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma
  2. Lean Manufacturing
  3. Theory of Constraints
  4. Process Mapping

People often get process improvement methodologies confused with specific process improvement tools so it may be helpful to look at the definition before we dive into each one.

What are process improvement methodologies?

Process Improvement Methodologies are frameworks that help you identify and eliminate the slowdowns within your existing processes to solve a problem, impact a specific business objective, meet current industry standards, or customer expectations.

Most popular process improvement methodologies

  1. Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma

Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma are two of the more popular process improvement methodologies for those in manufacturing and distribution. Both approaches use data-driven quality control strategies to reduce defects and improve the overall efficiency of operations. The main difference between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma is that Lean focuses on reducing waste while still improving quality control.

  1. Lean Manufacturing

Lean Manufacturing is another popular methodology used in manufacturing and distribution. It focuses on eliminating wasteful activities while still maintaining high levels of production output. It emphasizes streamlining workflows by removing any non-value adding activities within a process. The goal is to provide customers with the highest quality products possible while also maximizing profits by reducing costs such as labor time and resources used in production.

  1. Theory of Constraints

The Theory of Constraints (TOC) is a management framework focused on identifying what constraints, or things that limit performance, exist within an organization’s systems or processes so that those constraints can be addressed or removed. TOC helps organizations identify and prioritize opportunities for improvement so that they can focus their efforts where they will have the greatest impact. TOC concepts were explored in depth in the book The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. If you’ve not read this book, I would highly recommend picking up a copy!

  1. Process Mapping

Process Mapping allows manufacturing and distribution leaders the ability to visualize complex processes so that you can better understand them, identify potential problems or bottlenecks, and develop solutions for them accordingly. It involves creating detailed diagrams which outline each step involved in a particular process from start to finish – including inputs, outputs, risks, decisions, points etc. This helps visualize how each step interacts with one another as well as identify areas where bottlenecks may occur, or improvements can be made to speed up production time or reduce costs associated with certain activities or processes.

The process improvement methodology we use

I’ve never been one to just “check the boxes” so to speak and the topic of process improvement is no different. That’s because there is a huge difference between applying a framework in the real world and in pre-defined use cases.

The real world teaches you how to navigate the “people” element that you will encounter when implementing any type of change initiative. Learning to get your toughest critics on board can be a real challenge if you’re consumed with a textbook implementation.

To combat this, I’ve crafted my own framework which ends up being a combination of the frameworks I detailed earlier.

I’ve found the best place to start is with a Process Map. Once you’ve got that, you can brainstorm with the team to identify waste (Lean Manufacturing), identify constraints or bottlenecks (TOC), or use your KPIs to lead the conversation (Six Sigma). From there, it’s about creating a future state map, implementing your future state, and finally getting into a cycle of improvement by auditing your processes and repeating this entire cycle.

TL;DR

What are process improvement methodologies?

Process Improvement Methodologies are frameworks that help you identify and eliminate the slowdowns within your existing processes to solve a problem, impact a specific business objective, meet current industry standards, or customer expectations.

The 4 Most popular process improvement methodologies

  1. Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma
  2. Lean Manufacturing
  3. Theory of Constraints
  4. Process Mapping

The process improvement methodology we use

I’ve crafted my own framework which ends up being a combination of the frameworks I detailed earlier:

  1. Process Map your current state (what processes are currently being executed)
  2. Identify waste (Lean Manufacturing), identify constraints or bottlenecks (TOC), or use your KPIs to lead the conversation (Six Sigma)
  3. Creating a future state map
  4. Implementing your future state
  5. Implement a cycle of improvement by auditing your processes and repeating this cycle

Process improvement methodologies provide an effective way to identify areas where your operations could benefit from additional optimization measures such as reducing costs or increasing efficiencies while improving overall quality control standards. Depending on your specific needs, one methodology may be more appropriate than another—but all four are worth considering when determining which approach makes sense for your organization’s goals and objectives. Investing some time into researching these various methods now could save you significant headaches down the line!

That’s all for today.

See you all again next week!

Dave

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