Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Lean Government

Lean and Six Sigma Process Improvement Methods

Administrative Process Wastes
  • Backlog of Work
  • Errors in Documents
  • Rework
  • Doing Work Not Requested
  • Unnecessary Process Steps
  • Waiting
  • Unnecessary Motion
  • Transport of Documents
Lean and Government Primer

Lean Government Primer

For more information on Lean and Six Sigma, see the Lean and Government Primer, Working Smart for Environmental Protection (PDF)
(28 pp, 392K, About PDF)

Lean Methods Guide

For more information on lean methods, see the Lean Government Methods Guide (PDF) (37 pp, 1.2MB, About PDF).

What is Lean?

Lean[1] refers to a collection of principles and methods that focus on the systematic identification and elimination of non-value added activity (waste) involved in producing a product or delivering a service to customers. Two common methods used in Lean are value stream mapping and kaizen rapid process improvement events.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM). Value stream mapping refers to the activity of developing a visual representation of the flow of processes, from start to finish, involved in delivering a desired outcome, service, or product (a "value stream") that is valued by customers. In the context of environmental agencies, a value stream could be the process of permitting the air emissions of a certain type of stationary source, approving a brownfield site for redevelopment, or hiring new agency staff. VSM examines information flows and systems, as well as the flow of the product or service product (e.g., permit) through an agency’s processes. VSM can increase understanding of actual decision-making processes and identify sources of non-value added time (e.g., documents waiting to be reviewed). The typical products of a 2–5 day VSM workshop are two maps—a map of the "current state" of targeted processes and a "future state" map of the desired process flow—and an associated implementation plan for future process improvement activities.

Kaizen Events. Kaizen is a combination of two Japanese words that mean "to take apart" and "to make good." Kaizen refers to an approach to continuous improvement that is founded on the belief that small, incremental changes routinely applied and sustained over a long period result in significant performance improvements. Kaizen focuses on eliminating waste in a targeted system or process of an organization, improving productivity, and achieving sustained improvement. Kaizen activity is often focused in the form of rapid improvement events (sometimes called a kaizen blitz), which bring together a cross-functional team for two to five days to study a process and begin implementation of process changes.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma [2] is a rigorous methodology that utilizes information (management by facts) and statistical analysis to measure and improve an organization’s performance, practices, and systems. The fundamental objective of Six Sigma is the implementation of a measurement-based approach that focuses on process improvement and variation reduction through the application of Six Sigma improvement projects. In the context of state agency processes, unnecessary variation in how a process is implemented can result in significant delays and poor quality of decisions and outputs, such as permits. The Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) method is a system for improving existing processes that fall below specifications. Like Lean, Six Sigma focuses on identifying and implementing steps that foster continual, incremental improvement. Six Sigma can also be used to develop new processes, services, or products at Six Sigma-quality levels (often referred to as "Design for Six Sigma").

Six Sigma is typically executed by trained personnel (often referred to as "green belts" and "black belts") who have experience with multiple performance measurement and statistical analysis techniques.

For more information about these and other Lean government methods, see the Lean Government Methods Guide (PDF) (37 pp, 1.2MB, About PDF).

Footnotes

[1] James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos coined the term "Lean" in their 1990 book The Machine that Changed the World to describe the manufacturing paradigm (often referred to as the Toyota Production System) developed by the Toyota Motor Company based on principles pioneered by Henry Ford.

[2] Six Sigma methods were first developed by Motorola and Allied Signal, and were refined and popularized by General Electric in the mid-1990s.

Top of page

Jump to main content.