Lean Six Sigma Network 10 Year Celebrations

At the end of 2014 the LSS Network was officially 10 years in existence so it was fitting that we had a small celebration (lent was ignored for 1 day). I shared with the group the first official photo of the Network members taken back in 2004 but the reaction was so severe that I have decided not to publish here (needless to say the general opinion was that we have all improved with age so let’s just leave it at that). John Ryan, the Chairman of the Network was unfortunately unable to attend due to training demands, but Éamon ably took the chair.










Wilbert McIlmoyle attended the very first LSS Network meeting back in 2004 (along with Éamon and I) so he is officially our longest serving network member and so gets his own special photo.








Network Meeting gathering Feb 2015

It was as always a lively and interesting meeting with topics ranging from the Pros and Cons of FMEAs, holding Quality Clinics, Mistake Proofing in an administration process, Communicating project stories successfully, a look of some new papers coming down the line… to name but a few.
Always open to new members – if interested please contact



5S – How elements can be applied to Service related Process Improvement?

Many service related process (e.g. Insurance claims, processing a tax return) can be quite complex and cumbersome. It is only when these processes are mapped and clearly understood that opportunities to eliminate NVA steps and simplify a process become apparent. In many cases, the ‘As-Is Process’ involves navigating, through a maze of screens of different databases and information sources.

To redesign the ‘To-Be Process’, the Sort and Store elements of the 5S can be very useful to improve the process layout and flow e.g.

  • Simplify work screens in a software application or database by removing the unused or non-required work fields (Sort)
  • For those that are left over, create icons or shortcuts that are easy to see and access (Store)

Submitted by Éamon Ó Béarra, SQT Lean Six Sigma tutor


Collecting Data – The critical importance of an Operation Definition

Let’s be honest about it. In many cases, collecting data (especially when done manually) can be tedious and viewed by some as a ‘pain in the backside’. This is understandable to a degree but imagine a situation where after spending 6 weeks collecting data we find out that it is inaccurate, it can’t be used and is in effect a waste of time. This issue can be due to the fact that we put no thought or effort into how we defined the metric in question.

E.g., a Food Processing Company was trying to baseline the Cleaning in Place (CIP) Process. In order to understand if here a difference in the CIP time by shift, product type, CIP types, etc. they set about collecting data over a 6 week timeline to answer some of these questions.

When the Project Team examined the data after the 6 weeks, they found there were some major differences by shift and the other aforementioned factors. Importantly though, this was not due to a difference in performance but by how the Metric was being measured.

  • Shift A was interpreting the CIP time as ‘from the time the equipment was stopped until it was started again with the CIP complete’
  • Shift B was interpreting the CIP time as ‘from the time the equipment was stopped until an acceptable micro test result for the CIP was back from the Lab allowing the equipment to be restarted’.
  • Shift C had another interpretation altogether

Unfortunately, it was then back to the proverbial drawing board!

The morale of the story is to agree on a very specific Operational Definition for a metric, include it on the Data Collection Sheet and even go as far as to give the Data Collectors a fictional pre-completed data collection form to use as a guideline.


Submitted by Éamon Ó Béarra, SQT Lean Six Sigma tutor



Lean Six Sigma Certification

In order to evaluate and compare Lean Six Sigma course offerings it is important to understand the various certification options associated with them. Whilst course curriculums may appear similar, the requirements for certification can often vary dramatically.


There are three general classifications of programmes in terms of certification:

  1. Non-Certified Courses
  2. Academically Certified Courses
  3. Professionally Certified Courses


  1. Non-Certified Courses

Non-certified courses do not carry national recognition, however, there are advantages if gaining a qualification is not a key motivation for completing the training programme. For example:

  • The course can be tailored around a client’s specific training needs which may result in the removal of certain elements of a prescribed curriculum or body of knowledge (BOK) related to a specific belt
  • There is no assessment requirement. However, if a learner is motivated to complete additional self-study they could achieve professional certification by successfully completing relevant examination(s) from one of the professional accreditation bodies such as the ASQ (American Society for Quality) or IASSC (International Association for Six Sigma Certification).
  • Another advantage of non-certified training is that team based projects may be used as a means of assessment, this is generally not acceptable in academically or professionally certified training courses.



  1. Academically Certified Training Courses

Many academic institutions such as technical colleges and universities provide certified Lean Six Sigma programmes within their post-graduate or life-long learning course offerings. The advantage of pursuing such programmes is that they have been validated against prescribed award standards and have undergone a significant element of peer review and oversight by the external awarding body.

The Bologna Process has ensured comparability in the standards and quality of higher education qualifications across European countries. For example, in Ireland, the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) has been designed for the development, recognition and award of qualifications based on standards of knowledge, skill and competence acquired by learners. The Framework consists of 10 levels, from basic learning (level 1) to Doctoral awards (level 10). SQT have agreed Quality Assurance Procedures with QQI, the national agency responsible for the external quality assurance of further and higher education and training and validates programmes and makes awards for certain providers in these sectors. SQT Offers QQI Certified Special Purpose Awards at Levels 6, 7 and 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications.

Another major advantage of perusing an academically certified programme (particularly those utilising real projects in the learner assessment) is that there is a deadline for project completion. Sponsoring companies can therefore expect significant benefits to be accrued by the learners in the short term during the course of the delivery and assessment period alone.

There are two main arguments against academic certifications. The first is that academic training providers may be far removed from industry and may tend to focus too much on theory rather than giving practical insight and guidance to learners. Against this argument there are some academically certified training courses which are delivered by private training organisations, such as SQT Training, which have trainers that are in fact current industry Lean Six Sigma experts. The other argument often used against academic certification is that the assessment is purely based on the learners’ knowledge of the theory rather than competency in its application.  In reality this argument doesn’t hold true in many cases as many QQI (formerly HETAC) accredited programmes use real project submissions in the assessment of the leaners. Project management, leadership and change management skills are also assessed. For example, the assessment of SQT’s QQI Certified Green Belt programme is based on the successful delivery of a real work project through all stages of the DMAIC methodology while correctly selecting and applying tools appropriate to the project. Therefore, while academically certified, the actual course delivery has a very practical focus.


A Word of Caution…..

If you are considering perusing academic certification be sure to do the following:

  1. Compare the training curriculum against the ASQ body of knowledge to ensure that no shortcuts have been taken
  2. Check to see what level of recent practical experience the tutor(s) have
  3. Establish if there is a project requirement as part of the assessment
  4. Understand what level the programme has been validated at and the number of credits allocated (Further information relating to levels and credits are available here)


  1. Professionally Certified Training Courses

Prior to 2010 there was only one accepted source of professional certification for Lean Six Sigma practitioners, namely ASQ (American Society for Quality). The ASQ has been at the forefront of professional certification for quality practitioners for over 65 years. It has worldwide recognition and charters all over the globe. Former chairs of the ASQ include some of the who’s who of quality gurus of the past century, including Armand Feigenbaum and Philip Crosby.  Since the emergence of Six Sigma as a global phenomenon in the late nineties, ASQ has been to the forefront in identifying a standardised body of knowledge (BOK) for Six Sigma belts.  In 2010 a new organisation, namely IASSC (International Association of Six Sigma Certification) emerged as an independent third-party certification body.  Both the ASQ and the IASSC rely on knowledge assessments (exams) to determine if learners demonstrate the capacity to be professionally certified.


The two main ASQ exams are the CSSGB (Green Belt) and the CSSBB (Black Belt) exams.  While project based assessment is not included in either of these certifications, the CSSBB does require that a project has been successfully completed, with an affidavit to that effect. It is widely held that the CSSBB is a very challenging exam due to the statistical requirements of Six Sigma. IASSC on the other hand do not require the submission of any project or affidavits, and while the exam format and BOK are almost identical to the ASQ, the IASSC exam is likely to have less statistical and more lean content.


Both the ASQ and IASSC offer certification options to suitable training providers on a fee basis. The ASQ do so in a partnership model to ensure the training is consistent across providers (there are a small number of ASQ partners).  IASSC remain an independent certification body and therefore do not provide training.  Both the ASQ and IASSC exams are open to any applicant regardless of the source of training.


In Summary…

When evaluating a Lean Six Sigma Programme it is wise to remember the following:


  1. Academically certified programmes have undergone a significant level of independent review and oversight by an external awarding body, however, there is still much variance in courses offered. It is vitally important to examine the curriculum, understand the level of the qualification and associated credits, establish the practical experience held by the tutor(s), and finally whether the practical work (in most cases a project) actually forms part of the assessment.
  2. There may be valid reasons to opt for an uncertified programme, this is particularly the case where team based projects and significant customisation is required by the company seeking the training. Large corporations such as Honeywell and GE self-certify according to their own requirements.
  3. Professional bodies such as the ASQ provide the best source for what a ‘belt’ should know (body of knowledge), the exams are open to all learners but a successful result will not verify if the learner has the ability to be a good Green or Black Belt, as no practical work is examined. The professional body IASSC is relatively new and is therefore a little too early to compare with ASQ. Certification for both bodies is exam based only.


Having delivered all three types of programmes described here it is SQT’s experience that the best option both for personal development and company delivery is to choose an academic certification which assesses learner capability via project delivery. This will ensure a win/win for the learner and his/her organisation.


Opportunity for Lean Tutor

Lean Tutor required with experience in the Manufacturing Sector. Lean experience in the Services sector and a qualification as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt would be advantageous.

Please contact Éamon O’Bearra on 087 267 0480 or email


The 3 Ds of Change Management

Lean Six Sigma Projects involve implementing solutions which to a greater or lesser degree involve people. Resistance to Change is part of human nature with some people more accepting of the need for change and the continuous challenging of the status quo than others.

So how do we convince people to come on board the Lean Six Sigma Journey and go along with our Project Objectives in the Define Phase and the New Process in the Improve Phase of the DMAIC Methodology? Easier said than done, Grasshopper!

Well one technique used is known as the 3Ds – Data, Demonstration, and Demand.


Some people are convinced by Data – this would involve showing them a credible business case and baseline data in the Define Phase e.g. our current process is not capable and has an defect rate of 4.5% (158/3500 units) for Q4 of 2012. The cost of this is €56,000 if annualised.


Other people fall into the doubting Thomas category and have to see to believe – in this case we use Demonstration and could simply let the physical defects accumulate for a lengthy time in the quarantine cage and let people see with their own eyes the magnitude of the problem.


Demand normally comes from the customer or marketplace but could also come from the Regulatory Body or Corporate Management – this could be a memo saying that unless the process performance improves there is a risk that we might lose the contract or we might not get the new business or we might get fined or have our operations suspended.

Irrespective of which or all of the 3Ds you use, Change Management is all about the People and convincing them to do something different on a Monday morning versus what they were doing the previous Monday!!

(Note: DMAIC is Define Measure Analyse Improve Control)


Cost savings from Lean Six Sigma training continue

We have been delivering Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Green Belt training for the past 10 years. Our training is mostly in Ireland but increasingly we have started to deliver training overseas. We now have an International section on our website,

Recently we have tracked the cost savings for each individual project completed as part of Black and Green Belt training. The savings achieved by delegates for their companies are very impressive.

The average cost saving per project for the last:
– 36 Black Belts was €305,522
– 14 Black Belt (Service & Transaction) was €93,002
– 377 Green Belts was €78,843

Since we started collating these figures, the total cost savings is €42,024,488.

€42million in cost savings for Irish industry.
€42million achieved during Black Belt or Green Belt training.
€42million that does not include the further cost savings achieved when training is complete.

Well done to all the Black and Green Belt graduates!


A Black Belt project with a difference

Believe or not, a recent Black Belt Project in a large Service Organisation achieved over €100,000 per annum savings by focusing in on the dreaded world of paper, paper and more paper!!

The Project focused on:

– Reducing the number of reports being generated and issued

– Reducing the cycle time for the generation of the top 10 most time consuming remaining reports.

Commonsense one might rightly conclude but it is only when the organisation compiled and costed baseline data in the Define Phase of the DMAIC that the paper elephant in the room began to roar for attention.

Most impressively the Project Team decided to put Dumbo on a permanent diet by ensuring that any new reports being proposed were scrutinised with a value add and business case assessment before being approved.


The Usual Suspects, Part 2

I wrote an original blog post a while back on unusual lean six sigma projects called the ‘Usual Suspects – Part 1’.

This is the sequel, just when you thought it was safe to go back into the Line Up Room!

Typical lean six sigma projects focus on everyday process and metrics that most companies use. For example in manufacturing – yields, defects, cycle times, downtime, lead times, set-up and changeover times and in the transactional and service industry – call duration, number of errors, service level agreements, over and under payments. These would be considered – the usual suspects, the same type of projects focused on the same type of processes.

However, since the ‘Usual Suspects – Part 1’ we have come across a range of quite innovative and uncommon projects. For example;

· Reducing the number of reports in a financial services company
· Reducing the cycle time of the interview process whilst maintaining or reducing the level of turnover in the organisation
· Reducing the level of scanning of customers files
· Optimising the use of Online payslips
· Reduce the waste and cost of customer issued literature
· Increase the use of ‘Green Statements’
· Better meeting management
· Application of Lean Principles for Quality Systems
· Reduction in Canteen Operating Costs

If you notice the common theme here is that these projects are being carried out in departments and functions which in many organisations are always ‘left out’ of continuous improvement or process improvement Programs. It has always been the manufacturing, engineering, materials, customer service, and operations processes.

The morale of the story is that it doesn’t always have to be the ‘usual suspects’


The everyday use of the DMAIC – common sense can sometimes be … common!

In the Lean Six Sigma program the DMAIC (define, measure, analysis, improve, control) is deployed in conjunction with the Project to drive process improvement. In fact, Juran, the renowned quality guru said that breakthrough improvement (in the order of 50%) happens in no other way – project by project. He has been proven to be on the money as per the benchmark and most successful Lean Six Sigma companies like GE and Honeywell.

However, that does not mean that the logic behind the DMAIC cannot be used in everyday life. In many instances, we use it intuitively unknown to ourselves – e.g. we discover a water stain under the sink:

  • In the define phase we establish the nature of the problem – is it a fresh leak or an old dried out stain?
  • For measure, we quantify the problem – what is the size of the stain? Where exactly is it?
  • In the analyse phase we determine likely causes and try and validate it – a lose pipe connector or a worn seal.
  • The improve phase involves a solution – tighten the connector, replace the seal and if possible use a more robust seal with a longer lifecycle.
  • The control phase ensures the improve phase has been implemented effectively and has addressed the problem – check the connector is not loose or the seal is intact and that there is no evidence of any signs of water or leak. We check periodically until we are confident that this remains the case.
  • Therefore, the basic logic and closed loop approach behind the DMAIC can be quite useful in everyday situations but unfortunately it not used where it is most needed. The myriad of issues dominating the public airways e.g. the Ryan report, the endless tribunals, the reform of our Health Service, the reform of politics are all examples where the DMAIC loses Improve and Control and gets stuck permanently in the Analyse Phase with report after report gathering dust!

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