QI Methodologies: Determining the Best Approach for Incorporating QI Into Your Agency’s Practice

What’s in a Method?
Kaizen, Lean, Six Sigma, and Lean Six Sigma methods are often used by health departments to make measurable improvements in their business processes. Some health departments simply use a Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) cycle. All of these methods are interrelated and understanding the similarities can help distinguish the differences.

As a starting point, it’s helpful to think of PDSA as a summary of the steps involved in the other four methods. Kaizen, Lean, Six Sigma, and Lean Six Sigma were created initially for the manufacturing industry, and PDSA is a more generic framework that captures the progression of thoroughly examining a current process and its problems, followed by developing solutions, then testing the solutions and measuring the results, and ending by institutionalizing a new process. The steps in the other four methods conceptually are quite similar and many differences largely are a matter of semantics.
Furthermore, all four methods focus on improving processes and require participation from all employees involved in the process in order to achieve maximum effectiveness. They rely on data to understand the problem and whether changes result in improvement. Moreover, the methods essentially all use the same tools and often combine approaches. Finally, all are grounded in a philosophy of continual improvement; therefore, QI is not merely a series of discrete improvement efforts but rather is part of an organization’s culture.

However, there are some useful distinctions to understand, related to philosophy and specific objectives.  Click here to download a comparison framework highlighting these differences so that you can determine the best approach for incorporating quality improvement into your agency’s practice.