Process Mapping – Lean or Six Sigma Tool?

If someone walked up to your this morning at the coffee machine and asked you, “is process mapping a Lean or Six Sigma tool?” what would you say? This may seem like a trivial question but I dare say it is not.

Poka-Yoke is a Six Sigma Tool?

I remember reading Michael Georges’ book “Lean Six Sigma” and being taken aback a bit when he said Poka-Yoke was a Six Sigma tool. I thought, “Huh, are you crazy man?” Then I stopped for a second and realized I had first learned about Poka-Yoke in a Six Sigma training class many moons ago. So is Michael George, arguably one of the leading Lean Six Sigma experts in the world, wrong?

This gets right to the point of this blog which is which tool bag do certain tools belong? Let us begin with Process Mapping.

Types of Process Maps

Most of us have drawn up process maps. My favorites are the ones drawn up over lunch on a napkin. There are many different kinds of process maps such as:

  • SIPOC
  • Detailed Process Maps
  • Swim Lane
  • Brown Paper
  • Value Stream Maps

Each of these process maps help us in different ways and at varying degrees of detail but they all have one thing in common – they help us better understand how something works.

Both Lean and Six Sigma rely upon this basic understanding in order to get on with more advanced things like deciding if a step is muda (Lean approach) or determining which inputs are controllable, noise, or SOP (Six Sigma approach).

Value Stream Maps

What about Value Stream Maps, also referred to as ‘Material and Information Flow Maps’ by Toyota? Surely this is a Lean tool, right? I mean Toyota invented it! Well, out of respect for Toyota and the sensei that first drew them I would say that VSM’s officially belong in the Lean tool kit. But it doesn’t mean a Six Sigma practitioner cannot use them!

Process Maps Unite!

For example, a favorite trick of mine is to start with a SIPOC to get a better understanding of the process and who should be on my team (I use the supplier and customer columns and pick team members accordingly). I then usually move to a VSM where I “learn to see” the process. Next, depending on the situation I may decide to drill into a process step with a swim lane process map in order to really understand this process step. Now I am in position to decide if my problem is more of defects/variation (Six Sigma approach) or waste/speed (Lean approach). But you see I don’t discriminate and I use all the tools I have at my disposal in the beginning of any improvement initiative.

Summary

So, to answer my own question of whether of a process map is a Lean or Six Sigma tool I will respond with the obvious answer – yes!

9 Comments

  1. Michael Marx

    January 16, 2007 - 8:23 am

    Hello Ron! I enjoy reading your blog. There is a true shortage of good Six Sigma blogs to read. Keep up the great posts.

    Don’t get discouraged if comments are rare the first few months of blogging. It’ll take time to grow your readership. Just keep writing informative content like you have and the readers will come.

    Thanks for the link to the iSixSigma Blogosphere!

  2. Ron Pereira

    January 16, 2007 - 8:52 am

    Thanks Michael. I have lots of ideas for blogging and another associate of mine (former GE MBB) will start to blog here too. So stay tuned and keep up the great work yourself!

  3. JWDT

    January 17, 2007 - 8:22 am

    Ron,

    Good point, use the tool that works to get the job done. What is interesting is I learned most if not all of the Six Sigma tools (not branded that way) as an Industrial Engineer student.

    JWDT

  4. systhinc

    January 23, 2007 - 7:25 am

    And I learned most of the Six Sigma tools as a Quality Engineer. By the way, the George Group, in their LSS training teaches the progression SIPOC to Process Map to VSM. It is also what I learned from Toyota in the 90’s. For me, there is one big tool box for Quality Improvement and you choose the tools on an as needed basis. Sometimes you need both Lean and Six Sigma tools. Sometimes you just need to watch and move a basket four inches…I agree with your answer-yes!

  5. Ron Pereira

    January 23, 2007 - 8:39 pm

    Thanks for the comments!

  6. Anderson

    August 21, 2009 - 1:30 pm

    Hi Ron !!!

    I enjoyed your articles !!!! So, i always have seen your articles and this help me in some doubts at my work…and some to persuade my stubborn boss!

    I did same commentary about Poka-Yoke…oh my gosh…..Also we need to remember that don’t have anything new in Six Sigma program…

    Greetings of Brazilians Quality Enginners…

    • Kevin

      October 10, 2012 - 5:09 am

      Hi, As a supplier development engineer I have presented both the “Problem Solving Six Sigma tools” and the lean “waste reduction/elimination tools” but it is the emphasis on Business improvement through waste reduction and production efficiencies that get the most support, and at the end of the day, unless there is executive sponsorship to the Improvement/Change process nothing meaningful will happen.
      So to my point:
      if you have to persuade your boss improvement and/or waste elimination is a journey worth taking, I respectfully suggest you either change your job or your boss.

  7. asad

    July 4, 2010 - 1:15 pm

    good post

  8. Ivan Macarulla

    October 1, 2010 - 1:40 am

    Thanks a lot for your comments, I agree with you because I think that during some projects of Lean o Six Sigma, there are a lot of discussions in order to define if this tool is for one Lean project or Six sigma. From my point of view could be more important to define why use this tool and after we can say will be correct to use for each kind of project. Although it is possible to use without problems in each case.