Saturday, February 18, 2012

Applying Lean Six Sigma to Facilities Management - Pt. 2

Two Disciplines with Common Goals Combine to Improve Operations and Profitability

This is the second and final installment on applying Lean Six Sigma in Facilities Management organizations.  Last week's post defined Lean and Six Sigma and discussed their histories.  This week we look at how the two disciplines can be integrated and how one FM organization used Lean Six Sigma to solve a long standing problem.

Combining Lean and Six Sigma
The advantage of combining Lean and Six Sigma is in simultaneously improving the speed of work (Lean) and the quality of work (Six Sigma).  This dual-purposed approach integrates initiatives to improve process efficiency and effectiveness as measured by quality, speed and cost.  Critically important is the vision and leadership of senior management.  Without visible commitment from the top Lean Six Sigma risks succumbing to the pressures that endanger all change management initiatives.  For the initiative to be successful the attention to it must be consistent and long lived.

While both Lean and Six Sigma take a customer first approach the perspectives are slightly different.  It is important that a combined program make customer driven requirements, specifications and expectations a pre-eminent part of enterprise culture.  This is not always easy to do and it should be expected that there will be challenges.  Old attitudes must be changed and operational protocols adjusted.  Services that once focused on cost reduction alone while maintaining an acceptable level of quality must now deliver customer driven results of higher quality with lower cost.  Functional or vertical boundaries must take on open characteristics so that cross-functional improvements can reach the breadth of the enterprise.  Attaining this will mean a fundamental analysis and streamlining of every process involved and a willingness to let the facts and data take you where they will without dilution by old issues of turf, inter-departmental competition and the like.

Goals of Lean Six Sigma
Because they are both quality initiatives the goals of Lean and Six Sigma also have much in common.  They strive to increase the importance of customers throughout the value chain by taking a customer focus on process improvement.  Further they strive to drive these changes throughout an enterprise both vertically and horizontally.  The result is that a successful Lean Six Sigma organization is attuned to and indeed driven by customer requirements, dictating a unified and synchronized provision of goods and services in a manner that reduces or eliminates the normal friction of business.

Eliminating waste, streamlining and synchronizing processes across organizational boundaries, and making objective decisions based on hard data are the hallmarks of successful initiatives.  While Kaizen seeks to make incremental changes that result in immediate improvement which often come from front line workers, Six Sigma looks to institutionalize and maximize gains.  Both seek to change corporate culture in fundamental ways.

Implementation Case Study
Shared services organizations are good candidates for Lean Six Sigma programs.  As service organizations they serve internal customers but never the less have great leverage on the corporate bottom line.  Facilities management is nearly always the second largest cost center on a balance sheet and IT is also a giant.  In many shared service organizations these two reside under the same leadership, presenting an opportunity to join forces to improve the quality, speed and cost of services to the larger organization.  Such was the case when the Facilities and IT groups of a mid-sized company teamed up to tackle a vexing problem.

For years the two groups had struggled with aligning data center operations.  One was responsible for providing and operating the physical infrastructure, the other for equipping and managing data center operations that served the global enterprise.  Frequently there were disconnects in project planning and communication.  The key individuals in the two groups, however, had good relationships and jointly recognized the opportunity to investigate and resolve this issue.  Working inside an organization with a strong commitment to Continuous Improvement and in which resources and tools were available gave these practitioners the tools and management commitment they needed to attack the problem.

Working as a joint team this group used a number of Lean and Six Sigma tools to identify, investigate, and analyze root causes.  Using an Ishikawa diagram (Fishbone) they brainstormed issues that contributed to the problem.  The X-Y Matrix tool then led them through a process of scoring and ranking the issues they identified, resulting in a short list of high value opportunities to affect change.  The Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) identified individual failure modes, thereby informing the redesign of the processes involved.

As is usually the case these investigation and analysis tools identified causes that team members were already aware of.  In these cases the issues were quantified and documented to make them visible, understandable, and actionable.  As is also usually the case, this disciplined process of objective investigation revealed causes they were casually aware of without recognizing their full importance, or had been completely blind to.  One such key realization was that annual budgeting cycles for the two groups were not synchronized, with the facilities group being well down the budgeting pathway before the IT group began developing its annual project plans.  The obvious result was that facility budget decisions were made before IT projects and their implications to data center infrastructure were known.  As a result projects were often debated and delayed, preventing IT from providing services internal customers were waiting for. 

While this example may seem obvious that is often the point in these exercises.  The obvious becomes the norm, gets locked in and becomes a part of corporate rubric where it is all but forgotten except in times of stress.  But when discovered these issues can be dealt with and turned from red to green on the process status dashboard.

Keys to Success
As I mentioned this organization enjoyed a long standing commitment to Continuous Improvement and is familiar with Lean Six Sigma principles and protocols.  Over time these have become an ingrained part of their culture.  The environment established by leadership, the continuation of the commitment and the tools provided are all there.  But this is not an organization that has a large quality department.  Rather, Continuous Improvement has been made a requirement of all - it is largely a home grown bootstrap type of initiative. 
That said, tools have been provided.  Key individuals with Six Sigma experience from previous jobs have taken leadership roles as a collateral duty, functioning as coaches and mentors.  All staff in the entire shared services organization down to the first line supervision level (and often beyond) receives training in CI, Lean and Six Sigma courses taught on site by co-workers.  There are no consultants in sight.  Finally, CI project teams and their projects are periodically recognized.

The advantage of adopting Lean Six Sigma in your organization is that it provides a structured set of methodologies and tools which allow you to identify and remove obstacles.  While it is a disciplined approach it is not complicated and need not require a unique set of resources.  Indeed, the best results come from within based on commitment and perseverance. 


  1. Hey,
    Very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did.
    I will definitely be coming back here more often.
    Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment.Lean Six Sigma Training

    1. Nice post. I am a lean practitioner myself and agree with you – we should collect failed stories so that we can get an understanding of what not to do.lean six sigma

  2. Six Sigma's implicit goal is to improve all processes to that level of quality or better.
    six sigma