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Observation : a lean tool for improving the effectiveness of Lean Six Sigma

Arumugam, V. and Antony, Jiju and Douglas, Alex (2012) Observation : a lean tool for improving the effectiveness of Lean Six Sigma. TQM Journal, 24 (3). pp. 275-287. ISSN 1754-2731

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Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to propose a robust “observation” procedure drawn from the social science research literature for adoption in a Lean Six Sigma project setting. A case study aims to illustrate the application of the proposed observation procedure in a Lean Six Sigma project undertaken in a European airport to improve process speed and reduce variability. Design/methodology/approach – The paper takes the form of a literature review and uses case study process information from a real project. Findings – The study finds that by utilising “observation”, which is basically a Lean tool, not only is speed increased by eliminating waste, but also it helps to identify the root causes of variations in the output quality characteristics, whose reduction is the main objective of a Lean Six Sigma programme. Research limitations/implications – The proposed approach has been applied and tested in a transactional Lean Six Sigma project. Its applicability to a wider context needs to be established through more case studies in both manufacturing and transactional environments. Practical implications – Critical observation has a profound impact both on the organization and its people. It improves organizational learning, promotes employee involvement and offers experiential learning to employees. This study may inspire managers to provide motivation for people to engage in observational activities by imparting structured training on observation. The employees may be motivated to become involved in observational activities as self-directed actions to improve the employees’ effectiveness. Originality/value – This paper is an interdisciplinary study drawing knowledge from other branches of social research and adopting it in quality management. By a case study approach, this paper explains how “critical observation”, a tool used both in Lean and social research, enhances the power of Lean Six Sigma.