Lean six sigma is a business improvement methodology which combines (as the name implies) tools from both lean enterprise (manufacturing) and six sigma

Lean Six Sigma is a business improvement methodology which combines (as the name implies) tools from both Lean Enterprise (Manufacturing) and Six Sigma.  Lean eliminates the waste in your processes, while Six Sigma ensures quality through the elimination of variation in your processes and also provides a structured data driven structure to solve problems and implement sustainable change into your business. 

100% Effective Training believe therefore that the best approach for any business is to use Lean Six Sigma rather than one or the other.  The benefits from taking this approach are proven to out way taking only one approach at a time.   To understand Lean Six Sigma let us first explain the two methodologies. 

 Six Sigma is a set of practices originally developed by Motorola to systematically improve processes by eliminating defects.  A defect is defined as nonconformity of a product or service to its specifications.  In other words every time you do an activity you get exactly the same outcome (result), the same quality.  For example if I fill in a form or take an order or solve a customer issue or make a part no matter who does it the output is the same.

Top companies all over the world including Motorola have made Six Sigma a way of life for their business. This however requires commitment to the approach from top management down.  If this is achieve then implementation and acceptance is easier and leads to massive savings.  Motorola have made $17b savings up to 2006 using the approach.  It ensures that everyone focuses on reducing variation in every aspect of the business from filling in forms to making a part.  All activities in a business of any kind can be measured, analyzed, improved and controlled and thus using some simple tools can give a reduction in variation leading to improved quality and costs. 

Why do we want a reduction in the variation we obtain from any activity in our business?  When we have the same output from a process or activity we know what we are going to get which makes the next step in the process easier and quicker to complete.  It reduces the amount of time wasted completing a task and it means that the quality of a part or process step is higher reducing the need to rework or redo the activity.  The simplest analogy is to think of golf and putting into the hole.  If every time you took a putt you got the ball into the hole think how good that process would be, now think how good your putting is.  In business if every time a part was made it was identical in every way to how it was meant to be – shape, form, look, feel etc that would mean we would have no quality issues.  If we were completing a form and every time every field was correct, easy to read, all data correct, all numbers correct and it was the right form think how quickly things would be done.  Well that is what Six Sigma is all about reducing the variation in everything you do. 

The term “Six Sigma” refers to the ability of activities or processes to produce output within specification. In particular, processes that operate with six sigma quality produce at defect levels below 3.4 defects per (one) million opportunities (DMO).  Six Sigma’s implicit goal is to improve all processes to that level of quality or better.  That would mean that every time you did something one million times you would only make a mistake 3.4 times. 

To achieve these improvements in variation and therefore quality improvements and cost reduction Six Sigma uses an approach to solve problems (sources of variation) which is a standard methodology which everyone must use when solving problems regardless of size.   DMAIC which was inspired by Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is a sequence which if followed will ensure that not only will the root causes be identified but the best solution will be found then implemented into the organisation permanently rather than for a short period before it goes back to how it was.  If you are designing a new process or product then the methodology used would be DMADV.


Basic methodology consists of the following five steps:

  • Define the process improvement goal or problem to be solved this should be consistent with customer requirements and the business strategy.
  • easure the current process and collect relevant data for future comparison.
  • Analyze to verify relationship between factors and to identify the real root causes ensuring that all factors have been reviewed. 
  • Improve or optimize the process based upon various analysis tools to identify a number of solutions and then using data determine the most optimum for the problem.
  • Control to ensure that the solutions is implemented into the organisation and embedded so that it is does not return.  This uses a series of tools and techniques to continuously measure the process and institute control mechanisms.


Basic methodology consists of the following five steps:

  • Define the goals of the design activity that are consistent with customer requirements and business strategy.
  • Measure and identify CTQs (critical to qualities), product capabilities, production process capability, and risk assessments.
  • Analyze to develop and design alternatives, create high-level design and evaluate design capability to select the best design.
  • Design details, optimize the design, and plan for design verification.
  • Verify the design, set up pilot runs, implement production process and handover to process owners. 

Many people get confused by Six Sigma and believe that it is simply a case of applying a number of tools.  This has lead to many failed implantations of the methodologies.  Other people are put off Six Sigma by the amount of data collection and analysis which is used.  Simply put Six Sigma is all about data, if you have not got data you are just another person with an opinion.  One of the reasons Six Sigma has been so successful in companies such as Motorola is that it is all data driven the methodology makes you use the data, analyse the data and then come up with solutions.  To do this you must use statistics and tools which use stats to investigate and solve problems.  As such typical tools used in Six Sigma include:-

They can seam daunting and put off many people but the simple truth is that you don’t have to know them all.  You don’t even need to use them all.  It is good ideas to have one or two people in your organisation who have detailed knowledge of them all you have to do is to know when they should be used then call in the experts. 

When used properly Six Sigma can dramatically reduce variation in your processes and lead to massive savings.  However when coupled with Lean it becomes even more powerful. 

Lean as the name suggest is the production of products or services using the least of everything – human effort, investment in inventory, machines, space, tools, time, development, transport / movement.  The term is called Lean, Lean Manufacturing and Lean Enterprise all meaning the same thing and deriving from the Toyota Production system and some other sources.  It is however very simply the reduction of waste from your processes it has enabled Toyota to become one of the biggest and most reliable car companies in the world.  

Lean is therefore the identification and steady elimination of waste through the implementation of perfect first time quality approaches to work, standardisation of processes, smoothing of flow, flexibility of work, long term relationships with customers and supplies and reduction in time leading to cost reduction and business improvement.  To achieve this, a number of tools have been developed which facilitate the removal of waste from processes and a number of methodologies to implement the principles.   

In organisations where the principles of Lean are fully understood the people use the tools and techniques with out thought as eliminating waste and improving flow become the norm.  Lean in its many guises has been around since the 1940’s and has developed and adapted over the years to become one of the key business improvement methodologies used in many of the worlds leading companies.  At its heart lean is effectively simple and easy to understand.  Lean implementation is therefore focused on getting the right things, to the right place, at the right time, in the right quantity to achieve perfect work flow while minimizing waste and inventor while being flexible and able to change if the customer requirements change. 

However, no matter how simple, at the heart of any lean implementation is the cultural and managerial aspects of Lean which are just as, and possibly more, important than the actual tools or methodologies of lean itself. There are many examples of Lean tool implementation without sustained benefit and these are often blamed on weak understanding of Lean in the organisation.

The first concept which must be understood is that waste is bad.  This has been the ethos for successful companies from Henry Ford onwards.  So what is waste?

Waste or non value added work is anything which doesn’t add value to your product or service.  When you examine your processes in real detail you discover that the vast majority of what we do is non value added.   To illustrate this Shigeo Shingo (a deep lean thinker) observed ‘that it’s only the last turn of a bolt that tightens it – the rest is just movement’.  If we review everything we do to this extent we see that most of our activities are waste.  To eliminate waste we must examine three aspects – the design and planning of our activities, the fluctuation at our operations such as quality and volume and thirdly the waste in our processes themselves in the movement of people and materials and the machines they use.  

When you examine your processes in this way you can be said to be ‘learning to see’ and can start to eliminate the waste and improve the processes.  To make things easier there are 7 ways to think about waste. 

The original seven wastes are:

  • Overproduction (production ahead of demand) – making things ahead of when the customer actually wants them.  We do this because our processes are not reliable, or we like to manufacture or do task in big batches (traditionally accountants tell us this is the most efficient way).
  • Transportation – moving parts, materials or work in progress around a factory or paper around an office.
  • Waiting – for parts or information so you can perform at task. 
  • Inventory (all materials, work-in-progress and finished product) – Items produced which can’t be used or sold straight away go into inventory tying up money, space and causing multiple management issues.
  • Motion -people or equipment moving or walking more than is required to perform the processing.
  • Over Processing – making more than is needed or doing more work than is needed because you can’t guarantee what the outcome will be ie I need 20 but I will make 25 just in case something goes wrong.
  • Defects / Rework – the effort involved in inspecting for and fixing defects, reworking items or having to scrap them.

There has now been identified an 8th Waste

  • Human talent – the waste of people’s talent – training, enthusiasms and brain power.

By identifying waste and non value added activities in our processes we can then start to use the lean tools to eliminate them.  Typical Lean tools include – 5S, visual management, TPM, SMED, Pokie Yokie, Standardised work, pull systems, takt time, single piece flow, Kanban, cellular manufacturing, design for manufacture, kaizen etc

Lean thinking and the tools associated with it have been used for decades all over the world by every type of business.  There is a standard approach to implementation of lean thinking.

  • Step 1: Specify Value
    Define value from the perspective of the final customer. What does your customer actually want, what will they pay for and when do they want it.  
  • Step 2: Map
    Identify the value stream, all the actions required to bring a specific product through the physical flow of the company.  This includes all the information flow and management flow steps to make things happen.  Create a map of how it is today and how you want it to look like. Identify and categorize waste in the Current State, and eliminate it! 
  • Step 3: Flow
    Make the remaining steps in the value stream flow. Eliminate functional barriers and develop a product-focussed organization that dramatically improves lead-time. 
  • Step 4: Pull
    Let the customer pull products as needed, eliminating the need for a sales forecast.
  • Step 5: Perfection
    There is no end to the process of reducing effort, time, space, cost, and mistakes. Return to the first step and begin the next lean transformation, offering a product which is ever more nearly what the customer wants. 

If you have a top management team who understand the concepts and a workforce who embrace the culture then Lean will transform your business.

  So what is Lean Six Sigma?

As stated above Lean and Six Sigma when used together will provide a business improvement methodology which combines tools from both Lean Enterprise (Manufacturing) and Six Sigma.  Lean eliminates the waste in your processes, while Six Sigma ensures quality through the elimination of variation in your processes and also provides a structured data driven structure to solve problems and implement sustainable change into your business. 

Why is there even a debate about which one you should use?

For some reason two camps have emerged one supporting Lean and the other Six Sigma.  Lots of it is childish my way is better than yours and some of is lack of knowledge.  Either way what you find is that both approaches use each others tools any way.  So the whole thing is stupid.  As with any business improvement you should use the best tool for the job no matter what it is or where it has come from.  You should be constantly seeking out new tools, methods, applications and methodologies to satisfy your customer and business needs by eliminating waste and improving quality.  That is why we always train, consult and coach in Lean Six Sigma but bring in anything else we know.  That is why we don’t mind you calling your improvement initiate what ever you like and that is why we get results. 

www.100pceffectivetraining.com      0845 070 2987

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