Friday, May 18, 2018

Is Lean Six Sigma Right for You?

By: Anna Stefos

A few weeks ago, The Center’s Brian Mamo wrote about great food pairings as a way to define the combination of “sales” and “marketing” into “smarketing.” An equally dynamic pairing provides manufacturers with valuable tools for reducing waste and improving quality as well as efficiency: Lean and Six Sigma.

What Does “Lean” Mean?
Coming from the Toyota Production System in Japan in the 1990s, the Lean methodology aims to eliminate anything that does not add value in a given process by targeting variation and defects. With an emphasis on standardization, the goal of Lean is to eliminate variation caused by human operators to improve both quality and efficiency in a factory. A variety of Lean tools, from 5S to Kaizen to Value Stream Mapping, can be used to identify and measure production problems, implement standard systems, and continuously monitor production to automatically know when an issue arises. Due to its ability to maximize profitability and eliminate waste while increasing value for the customer, Lean has become a widely-used methodology among manufacturers of all sizes.

The Six Sigma Side
Six Sigma was originally introduced to the United States in the late 1980s after proving its success at Motorola. Six Sigma is a statistical approach to diminishing variation in production, with the goal of achieving no more than 3.4 errors per one million opportunities. This method of analysis targets true process variation – rather than man-made variation – to improve things like process yield, down time, etc. This is accomplished by identifying the underlying causes of issues in production to eliminate defective processes and ultimately improve the effectiveness of business practices.

A Powerful Pairing: Lean Six Sigma
Taking Lean’s focus on adding value and eliminating waste, and Six Sigma’s emphasis on reducing process variation, Lean Six Sigma is created. This comprehensive methodology brings together the best of both tools, combining statistical analysis with standardization to make for the most effective production transformation possible. Although these techniques have slight differences in how they approach problems, they each seek to accomplish the same things: reduce waste and variation in business processes to maximize profit and customer satisfaction.

The application of Lean Six Sigma unfolds in just a few steps. First, Lean principles are applied to identify the eight different kinds of waste in a company’s processes and eliminate them, along with all man-made variations in production. Once these elements have been removed, Six Sigma methodologies are applied to identify any remaining process variations and, from there, reduce defects and improve business practices.

Although many companies utilize Lean and Six Sigma separately, they have more power when used together. Manufacturers who have applied Lean Six Sigma have realized greater and more prolonged impacts compared to using only Lean or Six Sigma. By combining methodologies, workers are equipped with more tools for fixing problems, essentially maximizing the opportunity for improvement. The benefits and effectiveness of Lean Six Sigma have been proven over decades of use, making it a popular management technique and a viable option for your company to consider utilizing in the future.

Mastering Lean Six Sigma: It All Starts with a Belt
When it comes to implementing Lean Six Sigma, having a strong understanding of the central ideas behind each methodology is necessary to achieve success. Recognizing this, The Center has developed a fundamental training course called Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt to assist all levels of an organization in developing the skills necessary to participate in Six Sigma initiatives. This unique, introductory-level course serves as a preface to the Belts of Six Sigma, ideal for manufacturers looking to learn more about Lean Six Sigma or contribute to Six Sigma projects in a supportive role. Those who attend this three-day course can learn how to implement, perform, interpret and apply Lean Six Sigma principles in a skilled, yet limited, context, with a focus placed on the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) method and basic Lean Six Sigma teachings.

If you are interested in attending a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt class, or would like to learn more about the offering, view the upcoming course schedule.

If you have already started your Lean Six Sigma journey, view the schedule for our Lean Six Sigma Green Belt courses and other upcoming Six Sigma training.

Anna Stefos
Operational Excellence Manager

Anna Stefos has a diverse background in automotive spanning 20 combined years at GM and FCA, ranging from international manufacturing to product development, strategic planning, program management, corporate strategy and international operations. Anna’s experience in partnering with C-level executives provides a strong foundation for and advising small and medium-sized companies to achieve Enterprise Transformation and propel them towards Operational Excellence. Anna has a passion for Lean Six Sigma and is a trained Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, May 11, 2018

Tactical Deployment: The Real Strategic Plan

By: Ron Quinkert

Now that we’re five months into the year, it’s safe to say that most of us have long-abandoned our New Year’s Resolutions. Whether we were hoping to lose weight, get better sleep or save more money, we probably forgot about our 2018 missions just about as soon as the new year started. This is not due to laziness or lack of time, however, but because we did not establish a tactical plan for meeting our goals.

Take, for example, the goal of trying to lose weight. If your resolution was to get healthier and shed some weight, but you did not own a scale or establish a workout regimen, it would have been nearly impossible for you to achieve any real results. Without a tangible goal in mind, complete with steps for how to get there and measurements of progress, these visions are useless.

To successfully turn any goal into a reality, you need to understand the importance of tactical deployment. This is the practice of establishing specific and measurable plans for achieving a larger strategic goal (learn more about strategic and tactical planning here).

The significance of tactical deployment is especially substantial when it comes to business planning, as it could mean the difference between your company reaching or falling short of its strategic goals. To understand how tactical deployment can help your company achieve its goals, let’s look at two companies that each had the vision of improving profitability.

Company 1: All Strategy and No Bite
This company places a strong emphasis on creating long-term visions for the company to achieve but does not put any energy into attaching realistic goals or measurements to these ideas. Although they make it a priority to “improve profitability,” there is no established time-frame in which to achieve this, no identified areas to target and no outlined steps in place to achieve this goal. The company continues to operate as usual and hope for the best, with no real plan for how to achieve results. The strategic vision cannot be achieved and is ultimately useless without tactical deployment.

Company 2: Using Tactical Plans to Get Results
This company sees much more success with their “improve profitability” initiative due to their devotion to tactical deployment. Working with this vision in mind, this company develops SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-Bound – that create tangible steps to closely follow in order to realize the vision of improved profitability. With these concrete goals in place to address the when, how, who, why and what of this vision, there is no reason this company can’t achieve the results they’re hoping for.

The First Step to Tactical Deployment
Companies of all sizes and types must tackle tactical deployment if they want to realize true success. Whether your organization is looking to grow the company, improve customer satisfaction or boost profitability, the first step always is to assess your business and understand which areas need improvement in order to reach your end goal.

Need extra help getting started? The Center offers a free Transformation Planner that can help any company identify which areas to target first to ultimately reach their goals. For further assistance, experts at The Center can work with you to decide how to move forward and put an effective tactical deployment plan in place to finally make your company’s visions into a reality.

Learn more about how to successfully reach your business goals at The Center's upcoming free Strategic Planning event on May 15 from 8:30am to 10:30am.

Ron Quinkert
Senior Business Solutions Manager

Ron Quinkert is a Senior Business Solutions Manager with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center and has 20 years of automotive sales and manufacturing experience. He works directly with manufacturers in seven Southeast and Central Michigan counties. Ron is a seasoned professional with expertise in team building, automotive product and manufacturing processes, tool design, operational audit practices, procedures and improvements.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Friday, May 4, 2018

Automation and the Workforce: Addressing the 800-Pound Gorilla in the Room

By: Chuck Werner

Discussions of the Industry 4.0 technologies among small to medium enterprises usually take one of two paths. The first is a politely positive path where everyone ignores the impact these advancements will have on the human workforce. This is what is known as ignoring the “elephant in the room,” where there is an obvious problem at hand, but no one wants to address it.

The other is usually approached more fearfully, as if we were crawling into a cage with a seething Silverback. Down this path, we are often keenly aware of the presence of this “800-pound gorilla,” but we feel utterly powerless to do anything about it. As we see it, the robots are waiting to take everyone’s jobs and we the “people” will be completely displaced.

In each of these approaches, nobody wins. Refusing to talk about something never results in a resolution, while ignoring it out of fear poorly serves both the business and the people who are part of it.

The truth is, there are some jobs where machines cannot compete with a human, and it will be a long while before they can. Frankly, there are some jobs where the cost to automate does not provide a sufficient return on investment to make it worthwhile. Also, robots cannot match the dexterity of a human. Operations that require fine manipulation and sensitivity are still beyond the ability of any automaton. Additionally, many jobs require critical thinking, judgement and the ability to react to unusual outcomes. It is true that analytics have come a long way, but most examples of “artificial intelligence” are still just programmed responses defined by expected inputs. Humans are much better at handling the unforeseen and possess a greater ability to adapt and overcome. Lastly, most people are still vastly superior at interacting with their fellow humans. When was the last time you enjoyed hearing “Press 1 for…”?

On the other hand, there are jobs where automation makes sense. Tasks involving simple repetitive movements, harsh environments, heavy lifting and poor ergonomic positions are prime candidates for the application of robotics. These are often positions where companies have difficulty hiring or in which they see high turnover. These jobs lack the ability to challenge and stimulate the human mind. Other times the low rate of pay offered to perform such simple tasks makes them unappealing. In regions where competition for dependable employees is high, these jobs are not seen as promising enough to entice potential employees to relocate.  Lastly, many millennials are simply not keen on the idea of factory work.

Automation-friendly jobs also include those primarily composed of non-value-added activities. Transporting or moving an object from point to point – or a “lift and tote” job – is one example. Another is sending someone out to collect information or “go and see.” The use of technology and analytics not only provides real-time data, but also presents the information in a usable format to decision-makers without long hours of entry and analysis. Freeing employees from performing these wasteful tasks allows them to spend their time on more value-added functions. It also enables them to perform a function at which the human mind excels: identifying and implementing improvements to a product, process or service.

Some jobs will continue to be performed by humans as much as they always have. Or, they will still be performed by people, but with assistive technology to allow for greater effectiveness and efficiency. And, as time goes on, and technology continues to improve, and the cost to implement it continues to decrease, some jobs will be given over to automation. Ignoring this fact will only put your company at a disadvantage.

There are several things that any business should be doing to prepare for success in these ever-changing times:

The management team should take an honest look at what isn’t – but should be – happening around the workplace. It isn’t unusual for activities like equipment upkeep, training, auditing, quality checks and other important tasks to be postponed or even ignored in the face of task saturation or trying to ensure on-time delivery. Additionally, most people find themselves so busy working in the process that they are never able to identify time to work on it. Technology provides the opportunity to eliminate these non-value-added and time-consuming tasks. This time can then be invested in enabling team members to focus on the upkeep, control and improvement of product or process.

Within the company, the leadership team will want to invest in improving the skillsets of their team members. In some instances, the implementation of technology will create the need for new positions to install, operate and maintain it. Support and mentoring will also need to be provided for the workforce to be able to capably adopt and utilize these technologies. More importantly, the goal is to elevate the work force from mere process operators to creative process improvers. This may require additional training and skills that may not have been provided to front-line positions within the organization. Skills like root cause analysis, lean tools, and process improvement will be needed in the advanced manufacturing environment.

On a larger scale, businesses will need to partner with local educational entities to promote interest and training on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) skills for our future workforce. The mismatch in demand versus supply of these abilities is already creating many employment gaps. Studies show that there will be roughly one million programming jobs unfilled by the year 2020. The construction industry anticipates around the same number of positions available in that same timeframe. And the benefit isn’t just in those industries or simply with jobs involving STEM skills. Studies also estimate that for every STEM-related job created, 4.3 jobs in local goods and services industries are generated.

If businesses choose to ignore their elephants or gorillas (or lions or tigers or bears – oh my), one thing is certain: others will collect on the opportunities these new technologies provide and become dominant in their fields. But if you engage now and employ those assistive technologies that make good business sense for you, your company will not only achieve success for the business but provide greater job satisfaction for the teams. You also will help pave the way for the workforce of the future.

To learn more about how Industry 4.0 technologies can work with your company rather than against it, come to The Center's free Industry 4.0 EXPLORE event on May 10 from 8:30am to 10:30am.

Chuck Werner
Lean Program Manager

Chuck has been a Lean Program Manager at The Center since 2016. His areas of expertise are in Lean, Six Sigma and Quality. Chuck has devoted many years to practicing Six Sigma methods, ultimately earning a Six Sigma Master Black Belt in 2011. He is passionate about helping small and medium-sized manufacturers become more prosperous using a variety of tools and methods gathered from over 27 years of experience. Additionally, Chuck is a certified ISO/QS9000 Lead Assessor, Training Within Industry (TWI) Master Trainer and is certified in OSHA Compliance and Accident Reduction.

Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at