Quality, Lean and Lean Six Sigma

Quality management involves the systematic strategic development and continuous improvement of operations, products, services and processes. A well-led organization is constantly evolving: customer value is created, processes do not become outworn and staff retain strong expertise and problem-solving skills.

Aalto PRO's  programs will strengthen your organization's strategic quality management, development methods, and problem-solving techniques. Our traditional quality management program offers a wide-ranging and in-depth overview of contemporary quality management and operational development, as part of strategic and operational management. Problem-solving skills are developed in Lean programs of varying scope: participants learn to identify key problems and to successfully apply the most effective problem-solving methods in each situation.

Quality management ensures that things are done correctly

Quality never goes out of fashion. Whereas a strategy ensures that a business is doing the right things, quality management is about doing the right things correctly. To ensure competitiveness, organizations must invest in keeping quality and development competencies up to date, irrespective of the sector. Modern quality management emphasizes the management of development activities and its links with strategy in particular.

Quality means doing it right when no one is looking." - Henry Ford

A systematic approach is required when developing quality and improving operations, processes and performance: management skills and tools for achieving practical improvements. Each and every employee, manager and leader must adopt a ‘continuous improvement mindset’ as well as executing their set duties. The aim must be to switch from fire-fighting towards strategic, profitable and systematic development.

Change management skills are a prerequisite for continuous improvement

In support of intuitive management and common sense, an expert in quality and development needs both theory and practical tools. This provides a broad basis for up-to-date quality know-how and systematic process management and improvement. Change management skills are also needed in the face of rapid changes in the business environment and continuous improvements in competitiveness. Quality professionals too must admit that either they or their operating models – at both personal and organizational level – must change as the world transforms.

What is quality?

One way of defining the concept of quality is via the ISO9000 Quality System Standard: it is the "degree to which a set of specific features meet requirements".

Quality can only be measured and evaluated after identifying features considered central from the perspective of internal and external customers, and setting target values on this basis. The actual values must then be measured and compared to the target values. We can only identify deficiencies in quality once we know how things should be and are – or whether we have even achieved excessive quality. Only then can quality be discussed unambiguously.

The actual values must then be measured and compared to the target values."

Quality definitions generally describe a product, i.e. goods and services. But since the definition is universally applicable, it can also be used to define and measure process and management quality. If a company or organization has problems with the quality of a product or service, the fundamental reason often lies in the quality of a process and thereby in quality of management. Since a product or service is the result of a process, to affect their quality we need to identify and optimize process-based factors impacting on the result.

Efficient use of resources improves quality

An organization’s results and customer satisfaction can be improved by taking a more intelligent approach – enhancing processes. Strengthening quality and development competencies creates the means, methods and tools for setting strategic goals properly: by the right people, in the right place, at the right time – reducing waste, eliminating problematic inconsistencies, and making efficient use of resources. Investments should focus on the right things and on the essential: how to generate more value for the customer and what the customer is willing to pay for. 

Quality is the handmaiden of strategy

In the case of both quality managers and directors, quality and development experts must be able to read a company's strategy, use it as a tool rather than just to frame and hang on a wall, and create KPIs on its basis. A culture of continuous development is better understood when strategic goals are integrated with daily management and are comprehended at employee level in terms of their own tasks and the organizational structure. This increases the holistic understanding of relationships between high-level issues: quality, leadership, operating models and expertise are crystallized in day-to-day management.

Process development is the basis of quality development

The development and management of processes is a sub-area of holistic, quality-based thinking. A successful quality manager is also familiar with quality management interfaces. Meeting the challenges presented by process management, quality management and organizational structures helps to build the big picture. In addition, processes must be viewed from the perspective of the customer and service quality: what kind of process is experienced by the customer and how does he or she experience operational quality and service production.

The Lean philosophy is based on the standardization and systematic development of work

Lean principles can be applied to the management of almost any product or service-based business organization. An organization led on the basis of Lean principles is constantly evolving: processes do not become outworn and staff retain strong expertise and problem-solving skills.

Lean is a concept based on research into the competitiveness of automotive companies, conducted at MIT at the end of the 1980s. The aim was to find out why the Japanese automotive industry was more profitable and making better cars than American and European companies. The research team found similar practices and behaviors among the Japanese companies, from which it created the Lean concept.

One of the basic principles of Lean involves a focus on reducing waste and increasing value adding work."

Lean can be defined, for example, as a management system based on the standardization of work and its systematic and continuous development thereafter. It is not a management system for the automotive industry only; the same practices and behaviors can also be found in other successful companies. The key issue is to understand the nature of Lean as a management and development system.

One of the basic principles of Lean involves a focus on reducing waste and increasing value adding work, which is defined as including only work that generates value for the customer.

Lean Six Sigma refers to the systematic and result-oriented development of processes

Above all, it concerns what can be learned from current practices and how they can be systematically developed to meet set goals.

The starting point for development is benefits generated for the customer, i.e. fulfillment of the customer's needs and the organization’s performance as shown by key indicators. Results and customer satisfaction can only be improved by choosing where the available resources will be directed and how things can be done more rationally than before – by developing processes. Another fundamental issue is to continually improve at all organizational levels, with the involvement of the entire staff. These core elements are, without a doubt, the drivers of the successful roll-out of Lean Six Sigma.

The goal of LSS is smarter and more flexible operations, efficiency, productivity and the reduction of waste, a safe work environment, well-being and satisfaction, and financial savings and the opportunity to earn more. In short, LSS involves the ability to achieve one’s goals and succeed in a changing competitive field.

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Heli Paalamo

Senior Competence Manager

+358 10 837 3829

heli.paalamo@aaltoee.fi