Lean and Six Sigma are more than methodologies.

They’re more than algorithms or workflows that you plug your processes into. They’re more than increased efficiency and reduced waste. They’re more than process improvement.

They represent a mindset shift. They’re driven by people who understand how to satisfy customer expectations. People who know how to build upon data and facts and objective analyses.

They’re a framework for thinking and improving, and even those people who aren’t experts – those who aren’t intimately familiar with the plethora of tools and resources and techniques that support Lean and Six Sigma – can experience tremendous improvement by just applying the basics to their work.

And these improvement principles become especially important in an industry where on-the-job failure can lead to catastrophic results.

Like pharmaceuticals.

Lean Six Sigma and Pharmacy

Here are a few examples of how Lean Six Sigma helps build quality into day-to-day processes in the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Lean Six Sigma simplifies your goals – Genichi Taguchi, a process-improvement pioneer, had a very simple way of analyzing work – if your product or service deviates from its target, you will experience a monetary loss. No surprise, right? But there’s a subtle brilliance behind that idea, because it forces you to define the “target” your products or services are trying to hit. And simpler is better. For pharmaceuticals, your target is (1) providing the right product (2) to the right customer (3) safely and (4) for a fair price… and any effort you expend should move you closer toward those goals.
  • Lean Six Sigma allows you to visualize your processes – Pharmacists have a lot to manage, and not everything can fit in a spreadsheet. Lean Six Sigma pulls data tracking out of a computer screen and integrates it in the world around you. There are Kanban boards, Heijunka systems, spaghetti charts and other interactable systems that make your effort and your level of organization a part of your physical workspace.
  • Lean Six Sigma gives you the framework to improve all aspects of your business – The DMAIC framework – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control – is a one-size-fits-all approach to process improvement that other pharmacists have used to great effect. It provides a disciplined and structured approach to problem solving, which leads to fewer arbitrary decisions, which leads to more consistent outcomes.
  • Lean Six Sigma reduces your reliance on tribal knowledge – The Lean Six Sigma mindset has the power to change the culture within an organization or team. It inspires controlled experimentation and hard analysis of results. This typically requires collaboration with peers and colleagues, along with strict recordkeeping to keep track of new and unexpected outcomes. All of this significantly reduces tribal or tacit knowledge and improves communication and trust between employees.

Other Examples

Pharmaceutical institutions all over the world have been using Lean Six Sigma principles for years. The pharmacy department at the University of North Carolina Hospitals have spoken extensively about their experience with Lean Six Sigma, as well as British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Lean Six Sigma principles work. They help reduce waste, raise efficiency and minimize error in an industry where one misstep – even a small one – can have devastating consequences.

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