Implementing LEAN/Six Sigma in the laboratory has become a popular topic over the last few years. The benefits of cost or time savings, efficiencies, and an overall improved organization have been instrumental in helping laboratories overcome production or research timeline obstacles. Many labs incorporate LEAN principles into their laboratory design, even if this effort is localized to bench top work cells. LEAN/Six Sigma implementation can be simple exercises such as incorporating 5S (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) in day to day activities or tackling large scale production issues like defects or time constraints. There are also opportunities to incorporate formalized training. The formalized LEAN/Six Sigma training follows a “belt” structure that starts with white, then yellow, onto green, and finally black.
But there are also some unexpected benefits of LEAN and Six Sigma; ways that these professional frameworks actually have positive impacts on professional and personal growth.
Personally, I’ve found that the benefits of LEAN and Six Sigma stretch farther than processes and designs….and it surprised me that I could not find many articles or studies showing the personal growth benefits each has to offer. As a LEAN Six Sigma black belt, I have had the pleasure of working with teams and independently on my own projects. I have been able to learn and grow from my experiences and share this newfound knowledge with my colleagues. Being on a project team, no matter the project size, is no easy feat. Completing the project brings its own rewards of satisfaction, accomplishment, and of course whatever savings benefit you were able to implement. While the achievement of completing your training or project is deeply satisfying, there are other ways that LEAN/Six Sigma can enrich personal and professional growth. Here’s how:
The more we know, the more empowered we are. Being involved in any training exercise or project can help you learn more about your process, lab techniques, the overall process flow, your company, or different tools (A3, process mapping, statistical analyses) you didn’t have before. This increase in knowledge helps us overcome obstacles we may be facing in our performance or our overall contribution to the team. We also may get a few different tools to use that we didn’t have before.
LEAN/ Six Sigma training offers opportunities to look at problems from different perspectives and how to thoroughly define issues – which then gives us the ability to implement effective changes.
Having an increased ownership or stake in the projects we work on, helps us grow our confidence. When our confidence increases we are more likely to speak up and discuss new ideas going forward.
As we increase our knowledge, our fear of change also decreases. It’s not long before we look for areas to improve and bring those up to our managers and peers.
If we aren’t having to search for our work tools, or deal with distractions trying to sort through clutter or processing ambiguity, the more productive we become. Being able to get to tools and standardized direction easily, means we can get to the task at hand more efficiently. If the project focuses on time savings, you may also get an opportunity to streamline the process so that wasteful processing steps are removed – further streamlining our time and making us more productive.
Working on a LEAN/Six Sigma project may mean working in teams to complete the education component (belt status) we discussed earlier or a project. Teams are often interdisciplinary to bring multiple perspectives and expertise levels to the team dynamic. Teamwork can strengthen work relations and help us be more accountable to each other in our everyday work. Team oriented projects can be fun too…like doing a contest on who can 5S their area best, or find the most waste in their process, etc. Doing fun projects like this can become an annual tradition and a great way of sustaining LEAN/Six Sigma practices as part of the company culture.
Finally it’s rewarding to share the knowledge we have gained along the way. Helping others experience the changes and improvements you have seen helps them grow…thus keeping the cycle continuous. Also, you never know what hidden opportunities you may find along the way. For example, in the above section I mentioned having a fun team building exercise such as seeing who can 5S the best. What if the result of that exercise was finding items you could donate to a school or club? Not only do you get the great team building aspect, but you can help others with valuable lab equipment.
LEAN/Six Sigma is well known as a powerful tool for providing different tools and production efficiency opportunities. However, it can also be a catalyst to help us grow professionally. I am grateful for my experiences with the various teams I have been able to work with. I have had the opportunity to see things from other perspectives and help others learn and grow. When we are empowered and confident, we can achieve amazing things.
What can LEAN/Six Sigma do for you?
Breeann Bryan is a dedicated laboratory professional with a LEAN Six Sigma Black Belt. Her background ranges from the bench to operational administration and project management. She is proud to share her knowledge and empower others to tackle their process improvement challenges, whether it’s troubleshooting data quality issues, finding out how to maximize efficiency in the lab, or keeping teams on task. She firmly believes that everyone deserves to have the right tools needed for the job.