Improving Your Productivity with Lean Six Sigma

July 4, 2017

As I have detailed in previous columns, there has been a great deal written about applying Lean Six Sigma (LSS) in production and more recently in office functions. Here I plan to introduce some ideas about how LSS can be applied to your personal working situation.

Tons of Hidden Waste in Our Personal Processes

What I am referring to here relates to the hidden waste that each and every one of us struggles with to a greater or lesser degree - losses to our personal productivity. For example, if you were to rank each of these issues on a scale of one to five, with one being ‘it is a non-issue’ to you and five as a ‘major issue,’ how would you rank these?

  • Never enough time to do things right?
  • Feeling stressed-out looking for the information needed to do the work?
  • Dealing with zillions of interruptions every day?
  • Forced (or encouraged) to multitask to survive?

The Multi-Tasking Myth

I don’t know about you, but I had to honestly give myself a three or four on most of these issues. Let’s do a mini-assessment: what are the root causes of these issues and what is at stake? We will examine the root causes next, but let me assure you that what is at stake is a potential 25% to 50% improvement in personal productivity if you can address these issues.

Don’t believe it? Let’s do a little self-assessment of your work habits. First, take a look at your personal multitasking capability and habits. In our Western culture, people who can reply to e-mails, answer the phone and run a meeting at the same time are looked upon with great admiration by management. We tend to glorify and promote those who seem to be able to juggle everything at the same time and not let too many balls hit the ground. There is one little problem: 99% of us are not very effective when multitasking. Most of us who multitask and believe we are effective are just fooling ourselves. What is really happening is:

  • Many false-starts.Starting a task and abandoning it to do something else more urgent, or "it will just take a second to answer that e-mail or call" means you are doing excessive rework. Rework? Yes - you get to start all over again on the original task, effectively wasting all the time you had invested to that point.
  • Compromised quality. Can you really look yourself in the mirror and say that the work you completed while multitasking is fully up to the quality level you desire? Would you say your customer is always pleased - even delighted by the quality of your work?
  • Missed details. Without concentrating adequately, do you suppose some important details may be missed?

The Fallacious Open Door

Do you pride yourself on answering the phone in two rings or less every time, or answering every e-mail within 90 seconds of receipt? How about dropping everything for anyone who enters your space? While there are many good things about these practices, one should consider the consequences of your quality and effectiveness. As in the multitasking issues discussed above, well-intentioned interruptions that we may, in fact, invite are often a direct roadblock to getting mission critical things done.

Workspace Organization

Take a little inventory for yourself. How true would you say these issues are for you?

  • Do you have a large stack of things in your "to-do" box or file that don’t get routinely reviewed?
  • Do you use an electronic or paper system to keep track of all your tasks and commitments, but still lose some of them?
  • Do you seem to spend a lot of time looking for a document, project elements, correspondence or reference materials in your workspace?
  • Do you end the day often realizing there were important things that did not get done - and either work longer to make up or deal with the consequences?
  • Despite your best efforts do you end each day feeling a bit defeated and behind the eight ball?

If you feel two or more of these are true for you, then join the rest of us mortals who have the same problems.

You now have a start in assessing your situation. In the next column, we will begin examining the ways to improve your performance with Lean Six Sigma techniques.

If your organization would like to learn more about LSS, contact me for a free Webinar to dive deeper, or e-mail me at to learn more.


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