This content was written for the Onset blog by employee and Lean Six Sigma instructor, Ken Tolbert.

Building a culture of continuous improvement within an organization goes beyond the ability to execute process-improvement projects. An organization that supports continuous improvement promotes a non-blaming culture, focuses on the improvement responsibility of all employees, and uses the talent of the entire workforce.

Such an organization empowers employees to speak up when they see an opportunity for improvement and values all feedback received. These types of organizations believe that everyone has two jobs: doing the job, and improving the job. In order to implement these values, Onset has proactively trained in-house employees in Lean Six Sigma, followed by Lean Six Sigma improvement projects.




Pictured above from left to right: Ken Tolbert (Quality Assurance/Lean Engineering), Billy Kinney (Production), Justin Payne (Engineering), Gregg Daly (Operations), Tom Hurley (Manufacturing Engineering), and Vlad Stakev (Manufacturing Engineering)

About Lean Six Sigma

Lean was born out of the automobile assembly line by Henry Ford. Then Japanese industrial engineer and businessman Taiichi Ohno developed the concept as the Toyota Production System (1948 to 1975), which focused on the elimination of waste in a process, and promoted standardization and flow.

Six Sigma was introduced at Motorola in 1980 by Bill Smith, during the early days of cell phone development, as a method that focused on variation reduction and process control.

In 2001, the combination of the two systems was conceptualized by a book titled “Leaning into Six Sigma: The Path to Integration of Lean Enterprise and Six Sigma” by Wheat, Mills, and Carnell.

This combination has been successful in improving all aspects of business through the elimination of waste and variation reduction.

As a result, Lean Six Sigma (LSS) has since expanded into other areas such as Healthcare, Sales and Marketing, Software, Service, Finance, Energy, Government, Construction, Hotel, and Pharmaceutical industries. It encourages the practice of continuous improvement through the elimination of waste and process variation, thereby adding value to the customer and improving employee motivation and job performance.

Lean addresses the 95% of waste created from:

  • Transportation (movement of things) – Searching and moving information (physically or digitally)
  • Inventory – Stockpiles, disorganized storage areas
  • Motion – Human motion within the workspace
  • Waiting (people waiting for things/things waiting for people)
  • Over-producing – Work in progress (WIP) buildup, queues, multiple tracking systems
  • Over processing (touching a thing more than it needs to be touched) – For example, multiple approvals, redundant tasks, workaround development
  • Under-utilization of human resources

Six Sigma addresses the 5% of waste created through process variation:

  • Defects – For example, incorrect drawings, misinterpreted customer requirements, adding missing info, clarifying info, coding, etc.

Onset embarked on its first overall company-wide Lean initiative in 2013, reducing waste, refining and defining process, and changing physical layout of office and production space to drive improvements.

To advance the continuous improvement philosophy, five Onset employees recently completed an LSS Green Belt course, which consists of two weeks of training and passing a four-hour test. This is followed by all new Green Belts completing their own projects using the knowledge and tools learned.

The two-week course, which used a Present/Practice/Apply/Review strategy, taught Onset employees:

  • Lean Six Sigma (LSS) philosophy
  • DMAIC process (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control)
  • Multiple LSS tools used in each of the DMAIC phases
  • How to apply “keep it simple” statistics, to improve processes and products

The DMAIC process and LSS tools are applicable to drive measurable improvements in every business aspect of Onset, from marketing to manufacturing, including suppliers. Small project teams led by Green Belts and supported by a Black Belt will work together so Onset can continue its quest for excellence in everything it does for employees, partners, and customers.

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About Ken Tolbert: Ken is a seasoned LSS Black Belt, starting as a Green Belt at Honeywell Sensors Systems and then completing his Black Belt at Waters Corporation. He also completed the Tyco Valves & Controls Black Belt course. His LSS “Train-the-Trainer” course was completed at Air Academy Associates.

For more information, visit the American Society for Quality website (asq.org).

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