What is Lean Six Sigma?
Lean Six Sigma is a combination of two popular Process Improvement methods—Lean and Six Sigma—that pave the way for operational excellence. These time-tested approaches provide organizations with a clear path to achieving their missions as fast and efficiently as possible.
Before diving into details, it’s important to clarify the concept of process improvement. Since Lean Six Sigma is a system for analyzing and improving processes we’ll break down those terms first.
What is a Process?
A process is a series of steps involved in building a product or delivering a service. Almost everything we do is a process—tying our shoes, baking a cake, treating a cancer patient, or manufacturing a cell phone.
What is Process Improvement?
Process improvement requires employees to better understand the current state of how a process functions in order to remove the barriers to serving customers. Since each product or service is the result of a process, gaining the skills required to remove waste, rework or inefficiency is critical for the growth of an organization.
Working On a Process vs In a Process
Employees are hired based on their expertise in a given field. Bakers are good at baking and surgeons are good at performing surgery. Professionals are experts at working in a process, but they are not necessarily experts at working on a process. Learning to work on and improve processes requires experience and education in Continuous Improvement. That’s where Lean Six Sigma comes in.
What is Lean?
Lean methodology has been labelled a process improvement toolkit, a philosophy and a mindset. It originated in the 1940s. At its core, Lean is a popular approach to streamlining both manufacturing and transactional processes by eliminating waste and optimizing flow while continuing to deliver value to customers.
What is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a process improvement strategy that improves Output quality by reducing Defects. It originated in the 1980s. Six Sigma is named after a statistical concept where a process only produces 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO). Six Sigma can therefore be also thought of as a goal, where processes not only encounter less defects, but do so consistently (low variability).
Combining Lean and Six Sigma Into Lean Six Sigma
Although Lean and Six Sigma have been taught as separate methods for many years, the line has blurred and it’s now common to see Lean and Six Sigma teachings combined together as Lean Six Sigma in order to reap the best of both worlds.
Lean Six Sigma provides a systematic approach and a combined toolkit to help employees build their problem-solving muscles. Both Lean and Six Sigma are based on the Scientific Method and together they support organizations looking to build a problem-solving culture. This means that “finding a better way” becomes a daily habit.
Understanding both approaches and accompanying toolkits is extremely valuable when solving problems. It doesn’t matter where a tool comes from—Lean or Six Sigma—as long as it does the job. By combining these methods you have the best shot at applying the right mindset, tactics and tools to solve the problem.
The Steps of Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma uses a 5-step method to improve processes and solve problems called DMAIC.