Integrating Lean and Six Sigma

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Lean-Six Sigma is a fact-based, data-driven philosophy of improvement that values defect prevention over defect detection. It drives customer satisfaction and bottom-line results by reducing variation, waste, and cycle time, while promoting the use of work standardization and flow, thereby creating a competitive advantage. It applies anywhere variation and waste exist, and every employee should be involved.

The demarcation between Six Sigma and Lean has blurred. We are hearing about terms such as “Lean-Six Sigma” with greater frequency because process improvement requires aspects of both approaches to attain positive results.

Six Sigma focuses on reducing process variation and enhancing process control, whereas lean drives out waste (non-value-added) and promotes work standardization and flow. Six Sigma practitioners should be well versed in both.

Lean and Six Sigma have the same general purpose of providing the customer with the best possible quality, cost, delivery, and a newer attribute, nimbleness. There is a great deal of overlap, and disciples of both disagree as to which techniques belong where.

The two initiatives approach their common purpose from slightly different angles:

• Lean focuses on waste reduction, whereas Six Sigma emphasizes variation reduction

• Lean achieves its goals by using less technical tools such as kaizen, workplace organization, and visual controls, whereas Six Sigma tends to use statistical data analysis, design of experiments, and hypothesis tests

For ASQ members: Webcast series on Lean Six Sigma Tools

The most successful users of implementations have begun with the lean approach, making the workplace as efficient and effective as possible, reducing waste, and using value stream maps to improve understanding and throughput.

When process problems remain, the more technical Six Sigma statistical tools may be applied. One thing they have in common is that both require strong management support to make them the standard way of doing business.

Some organizations have responded to this dichotomy of approaches by forming a Lean-Six Sigma problem-solving team with specialists in the various aspects of each discipline but with each member cognizant of others’ fields. Task forces from this team are formed and reshaped depending on the problem at hand.

Excerpted from T. M. Kubiak and Donald W. Benbow, The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook, 2nd edition, ASQ Quality Press, 2009, pages 6-7.

Learn More About Combining Lean and Six Sigma

Lean and Six Sigma—A One-Two Punch (PDF, open access)

Using the Six Sigma/kaizen team-based approach, results are implemented faster with the participation of employees from the shop floor to the executive suite.
Better Together (PDF, open access) A simple group demonstration allows participants to gain an understanding of the advantages offered by lean and Six Sigma when they work together
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