What Is Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma combines the quality improvements that come from using Six Sigma with the speed improvements that come from using Lean manufacturing principles . Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects in any process — from manufacturing to transactional and from product to service. Lean manufacturing focuses on improving the speed of a process and the elimination of waste primarily by eliminating non-value added steps. Lean Flow and Six Sigma are strongly compatible. Combining these two powerful process improvement methods are combining the contents of two toolboxes that can help your organization improve quality and efficiency.

Lean Six Sigma and Lean Flow initiatives go by many names, including Lean Enterprise, Lean Manufacturing, Lean Sigma, and Lean Service. These concepts are a natural complement to Six Sigma and can be applied to every type of business and process. Both Lean and Six Sigma have points of commonality in their strategies and methods. Both are built around the idea that businesses are composed of processes that serve customer needs. They share the goal to identify and eliminate sources of waste and activities that do not add value, in order to create flow with maximum productivity, capacity, and throughput. Both place great emphasis on training to bring members of an organization to a high level of understanding and expertise on the tools and processes of the methodology. Also, both lean and Six Sigma require and encourage the engagement of management and key mentors within the organization to assure that the prioritized projects are executed as part of a way of doing business.

Lean methods and data are used to reduce costs, shorten cycle times, expand capacity, and improve productivity. Lean concepts and the Lean Flow system quickly identify improvement opportunities through the use of value stream mapping. Lean emphasizes all-encompassing principles together with targeted recommendations to achieve improvements. However, Lean principles are oftentimes inadequate to solve some of the more complicated problems that require advanced analysis.

Because Six Sigma requires in-depth statistical metrics to analyze quality at all levels of the supply chain, eliminating defects it can improve all Lean methods. Six Sigma – when combined with Lean – allows for easier identification and quicker resolution of quality issues or problems, and reaps quick results while opening people’s eyes to new and better possibilities on plant floors. Six Sigma’s core implementation strategy of establishing dedicated Six Sigma champions and black belts who oversee and mentor process improvement projects provides crucial structure and guidance, thus greatly enhancing Lean initiatives. Therefore, Six Sigma is very valuable when introduced during the deployment of Lean principles to ensure that the improvement roadmap includes a generic problem-solving approach.

Lean Six Sigma creates greater understanding of the value of your work by defining it as something that your customers want to pay for. Lean Six Sigma helps build customer loyalty by driving improvement in areas most important to your customers. Its metrics generate clear targeting of customer needs, and drives real, tangible value creation.

Lean Six Sigma is a highly sustainable approach that becomes woven into the fabric of the organization and involving people at all levels – from the executive suite to the front line. Full deployment of Lean Six Sigma will f oster an environment of continuous improvement where the cultural norm of your organization becomes striving for the total elimination of waste through a succession of small, action-oriented ( kaizen ) events within the production process.

Lean Six Sigma fulfills your overall strategy and future success by significantly improving quality and reducing waste. It empowers every employee with new ways of thinking about your processes and helps make drastic improvements to the organization’s performance. Lean Six Sigma creates a powerful linkage from your strategic priorities to operational improvements and facilitates the transformation of a business.


About the author

Peter Peterka is the Principal Consultant in practice areas of DMAIC and DFSS. Peter has fifteen years of experience performing as a Master Black Belt, and has over 25 years experience in industry as an improvement specialist and engineer working with numerous companies, including 3M, Dell, Dow, GE, HP, Intel, Motorola, Seagate, Xerox and even the US Men’s Olympic Team. Peter is a certified a Master Black Belt and holds an MS degree in Statistics from Iowa State and a BS in Chemical Engineering from Purdue. Peter worked for 3M over 10 years where he gained extensive experience applying Sigma Methodologies to a variety of processes.

Peter has successfully developed Six Sigma deployment strategies and training for Product and Process Development, Manufacturing and Business Process Improvement. His broad experience across many technologies helped him gain insight on how to apply Six Sigma methods to Business Processes.

July 25, 2007