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Lean and Six Sigma Create Valuable Synergies for RFID Adopters

Here's how to achieve the greatest return from your company's RFID investment, and facilitate continuous improvement.
By Kurt Hozak
Six Sigma especially relies on numbers-driven decision making to improve processes, so as with lean concepts, synergies are created when trained employees apply it together with RFID. Continuous data collection enables businesses using quantitative lean and Six Sigma tools to respond more quickly to changing operations conditions. Because RFID can collect data that would be more difficult or time-consuming to obtain via other means, employees can focus more on analyzing the data and creatively applying insights. It is important that the RFID applications and collected data be easy to use, so that employees will not be inhibited from performing the analysis necessary for many of the process improvements (see Lessons Learned from ERP Can Help Drive RFID Adoption for a related discussion about ease-of-use).

Decoding the DNA of the Toyota Production System, Lean Thinking and Fixing Health Care from the Inside, Today are some of the best and most influential writings on fundamental principles behind lean practices. The insights from these works can help companies go beyond being just ostensibly lean and wondering why they do not experience greater benefits. The essence of lean is not about mindlessly and halfheartedly applying a checklist of techniques previously identified as best practices, but about creatively and massively applying lean principles on an ongoing basis to add value for customers. To become truly lean and achieve the results to show it, companies must go beyond best practices to continually innovate, based on their unique and changing circumstances.

Sustained competitive advantage will not come from implementing a particular lean technique (just-in-time production, for instance) or a single RFID application. Good ideas about lean techniques and using RFID will inevitably be copied (and perhaps improved at a lower cost) by the competition, thus reducing differentiation over the long term, if the originator does not keep improving. Companies need to continuously improve, because that is what their competition is doing—and it is what their customers expect. They can achieve such innovation by cultivating a culture based on mutual trust, as well as by training and empowering employees to take advantage of synergies between lean, Six Sigma and RFID.

Kurt Hozak is an assistant professor of operations management at Coastal Carolina University's E. Craig Wall Sr. College of Business Administration, and an operations and technology management consultant.

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