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Quick Wins: What are they and how to get them?

Author: Alberto Yáñez-Moreno, Ph.D.

Posted: August 2021

How many times have you led a Team Launch in which team members begin to jump to solutions? This is a very common experience for most Lean Six Sigma practitioners. The recommended response is to explain to your team that LSS requires use of the DMAIC methodology. It is also important to let them know you appreciate their input and enthusiasm, to document each idea, and to place it in a ‘parking lot list’ for use in the Improve phase.

Going through Define, Measure and Analyze can take 2 to 3 months – sometimes longer – before you get to the Improve Phase. This is very common, unless we are performing a Kaizen event, in which case solutions may only take 2 or 3 days.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a team member on a new LSS project. They want to see the problem solved. And right now – not months from now. For many of them, this whole ‘DMAIC thing’ can feel like an unnecessary delay. Is it any wonder they become frustrated? What can BBs and GBs do to help team members get a sense of accomplishment?

The good news – the DMAIC process has a mechanism for implementing solutions prior to the Improve Phase: Quick Wins. What are Quick Wins, and how are they used in the DMAIC process?

A Quick Win (some companies prefer Just Do It or Quick Improvement) is any activity that meets the following criteria:

  • Minimal or no capital expenditure
  • Fast timeframe (typically less than one week, including planning)
  • Low or no risk
  • No negative impact to downstream operations
  • Narrow scope
  • Buy-in by all stakeholders
  • Team has authority to implement

For most team members, every idea is a Quick Win! You need to remind them that a Quick Win must meet all the requirements described above.

Here is one of the best things about Quick Wins: They can be identified and implemented in any phase of the DMAIC process. In fact, most Quick Wins are identified in the Measure Phase, as part of detailed process mapping. This is where teams discover the ‘AHA moments’ – those sudden insights which naturally occur when staff from different parts of the value stream get together to document what they do.  Once team members look at a detailed process map, they begin to question or challenge the current process. And multiple solutions can be easily identified. Some of those solutions fall into the category of Quick Wins.

Examples of Quick Wins include:

  • Minor Procedure Change
  • Communication Improvement
  • Part Substitution
  • Training on Best Practices
  • Error Proof a Process Step
  • Minor Layout Change
  • Simple Visual Management

Most Quick Wins have a relatively small effect in solving the problem. That’s OK, as these improvements are just part of the overall solution. And when multiple Quick Wins are combined the total effect can be quite large. I would like to share some examples of actual projects submitted to TMAC where GBs and BBs identified and implemented Quick Wins that had a significant impact.

1. A large hospital had its own ambulance service. The problem: Referring physicians and clinics requested other transport services about 54% of the time, resulting in a loss of revenue for the hospital. During mapping it was learned there was a lag between the time when the referring clinic requested the ambulance service and the ambulance dispatcher determined if a crew was available. By this time other transport had typically been arranged. The Quick Win solution: (a) Determine from the beginning if a crew is available to transport patients and (b) offer the ambulance service to the clinic up-front.  This project generated $898,673 of additional revenue.

2. An insulation company constantly had material discrepancies on one product.  A Green Belt was assigned to investigate the material loss. The GB looked at the bill of material, the material produced, and the scrap. The GB discovered that a roll supplier was sending rolls of material that were shorter in length than specified. The GB determined the material shortage was the same across all rolls. Purchasing contacted the roll supplier and the insulation company got credit for the last 2 years of the rolls purchased. The annualized financial impact was six figures.

3. An aerospace firm that specialized in jet customization had problems with the application of wallpaper used on cabin interiors. The problem: Once applied, the paper often had a rough, bubbly appearance referred to as ‘orange peel’. The customer wanted a smooth surface, and frequently complained about this issue. The project team learned the application process required spraying glue on cabinet walls before applying the wallpaper. Unsure of the root cause, the belt decided to conduct a fractional factorial Design of Experiments with 5 factors. One of the factors was the thickness of the wall paper. When the GB contacted the wallpaper company to ask for different thicknesses, the supplier suggested the use of a wallpaper with the adhesive already applied. To their dismay, the airplane customization company was not aware this was available. This change immediately solved the problem. 

4. A city transportation department wanted to increase productivity of pothole repairs.  During creation of a detailed process map a GB team identified multiple quick wins.

a) The current process used a single asphalt supplier. This forced the 10 asphalt repair units to travel 350 miles every morning (NVA activity) for materials. Procurement changed their policy to allow multiple asphalt suppliers which greatly reduced travel time for crews.

b) The city was divided into five zones for pothole repair, with each zone assigned one day of the week. All repair crews spent their time in the designated zone for Monday, then Tuesday, etc. A decision was made to assign specific crews to each zone. By working only in their assigned zone, crews spent less time driving and more time fixing potholes.

c) Staff tracked a lot of data including employee hours using work orders, weight of asphalt debris removed, gallons of emulsion sprayed, etc. This information was collected on approximately 1,700 paper work orders per year. Data entry and review of these activities required approximately 255 employee-hours per year on asphalt repair work orders alone. The GB asked the sponsor how this data was being used. A decision was made to stop tracking this information altogether.

After implementing these Quick Wins the city documented multiple improvements including:

  • Cost savings of $200,000 per year
  • 40% increase in weekly pothole repairs
  • Reduced program costs by 14%
  • Increased production by 24%
  • Reduced data management hours supporting the program by 50% with improved data accuracy

While many belts get caught up in the use of statistical tools and methods – which can be very insightful, especially for more complex processes – don’t overlook the power of Quick Wins. Through the creation of a detailed process map, all LSS teams can generate a list of Quick Win ideas than can be instrumental in achieving the goal of the project. Most of all, quick wins are easy to implement, do not require a capital investment, and provide a sense of accomplishment.


More about Alberto Yáñez-Moreno, Ph.D.:

Alberto is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 40 years of experience of working in a wide variety of industries from aerospace to healthcare to government, and with small firms up to Fortune 500 companies. Although he has taught dozens of LSS classes he is especially skilled at coaching Green Belts, Black Belts, and managers. Before joining TMAC he worked at George Group, the first firm to integrate Lean and Six Sigma. Alberto has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering.

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