What is Lean Six Sigma
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What is Lean Six Sigma is page 6 in my free six sigma online training course Define Six Sigma.

What is Lean Six Sigma

What is lean six sigma? Lean six sigma is actually the combination of both lean operations management and the six sigma methodology! So which one should we use and when?

what is lean six sigma

What is Lean Six Sigma - Two Philosophies with a Common Aim

Lean operations management and the six sigma methodology are two similar, but also distinctly different approaches taken to achieve similar results. And there is both lean six sigma for service industries and lean manufacturing six sigma.

They are often mentioned or seen being implemented together because lean operations management and the six sigma methodology both aim to achieve cheaper, lower cost of production with efficient processes and minimal waste.

They both aim to produce the same or a larger number of products output, but at a lower price to have a more profitable business.

Lean and six sigma have the same goal to continually add value to the business by continually increasing the focus on internal and external customer requirements, and on improving the production processes and quality.

For these reasons we commonly encounter lean manufacturing and six sigma together. Because they have similar business improvement goals.

The Similarities of What is Lean Six Sigma

Lean operations management is focused on waste minimisation and value. The six sigma methodology is focused on defects minimisation and value. Ultimately both are focused on increasing customer satisfaction and return on investment.

Lean operations management and six sigma methodology are philosophies both focused on the quality of production and service. Implementing either approach requires reviewing business process flows in detail to eliminate variances in processes that lead to problems and defects.

As the product of service moves through its production processes, both six sigma and lean look into the customer and supplier relationships aspect of the process. They both attempt to determine better ways to meet these requirements as efficiently and as streamlined as possible.

In Six Sigma the 'Analysis' and 'Improve' parts of the DMAIC model are focused on problem identification and solving the problem. And in lean operations management problem solving and solution identification are also major components.

The Differences between Lean Operations Management and Six Sigma

I define six sigma on page one (1) in this series so I won't go over it again here, but to demonstrate the differences between lean operations management and six sigma I re-cap briefly that six sigma is a structured approach towards continuous business improvement. The six sigma methodology focuses on eliminating defects and or variations in processes that can lead to defects and that therefore reduce value for the customer.

The distinguishing difference between them is that lean aims to eliminate processes and resource usage that does not add end value to the client.

Six sigma uses a statistical and mathematical approach to solving business problems.

Lean uses a visual approach to time, production, inventory and waste elimination problems. It is a way of thinking focused on minimising and eliminating, as much as possible, the use of any type of resource, whether people or human resources in production

Lean Six Sigma Tools

If your reviewing the what is lean six sigma concept a key difference between them to note is the tools that they use.

In the six sigma methodology there are many different six sigma tools and general change management tools that are used throughout each step in the DMAIC process. Six sigma relies heavily on the use of many problem solving tools, such as fishbone diagrams, and pareto diagrams and analysis.

But quite differently in lean manufacturing it is not so much about tools. Lean operations management is based on developing a way of thinking about continual improvement and the elimination of resources and time wasted, and making that way of thinking visual.

Lean implementation, communication strategies and problem solving techniques rely heavily on visualisation. Lean tools include clearly visible project management dashboards with pictures that emphasize the elimination of waste, standardisation and dashboard metrics displaying the key performance indicators.

Lean Operations Management Example

For example, one of the key lean manufacturing principles is that goods are pulled through the production line as required so the opportunity for wasted production is eliminated. This lean process management principle allows for goods to be sent to customers faster, further helping the business to be more profitable.

i.e. We would not produce a batch of goods at point A and then deliver to put B for use there when required. We would structure the business for B to pull from A as required. To eliminate the potential for aging stock, waste, etc.

There are seven areas that the lean manufacturing principles focus in regards to over production and excess inventory. For more benefits of lean manufacturing see my detailed review about lean operations management (will be added soon).

This example can be compared against the six sigma process.

When to Use What Approach - Lean vs. Six Sigma

So when should we use either of these approaches and in what circumstances?

Understanding what is lean six sigma is important. But so is the type of business improvement approach to implement in the various situations and circumstances that exist in different types of companies. This is important to understand, to ensure we get the result we seek and that we are not wasting our time, money and effort.

Because the aim of six sigma is to reduce defect's, and to do this through a statistical approach using the defect per million opportunities (DPMO) metric, it is resource and time intensive.

So Six Sigma is best used in complex specialised manufacturing and service environments where the volume of production is high enough to justify the effort. This may be in standardised environment but volume of throughput is the critical factor to justify its use.

Because the aim of lean is usage minimisation (waste elimination) of time and physical resources, by focusing on measuring improvements in cycle time and reductions in inventory and so on, it is simpler and cheaper to implement. The flow of production can be improved with the same or less resources.

So lean is best used is an environment where there are lots of different product types. It may be simple or complex production, but produced volume is generally not high volume. It is ideal in made to order or small batch process environments or in high volume process environments that are less complex such as mining maintenance, load and haul and processing operations.

An important aspect of understanding what is lean six sigma and all the other continuous improvement methodologies is understanding that they each have there own unique qualities. Implementing the steps in six sigma methodology can be overkill in the wrong environment and lean operations management processes may not be enough in other more complex high volume environments.

To assist in making initial what is lean six sigma project decisions, generally about which approach to use, I recommend to start by doing a simple value ease analysis. This quick analysis will provide an early indication about which approach will return the greatest benefit for the least time and money.

Six Sigma Online Training

One of the best free six sigma training courses of its kind available online. If you liked this page what is lean six sigma, you may like to complete this free six sigma online training course.

Page 1 - Define six sigma. What is six sigma?
Page 2 - Overview of six sigma. Why do firms like it, the requirements for success, when to use it and when not to?
Page 3 - Six sigma history and Motorola six sigma.
Page 4 - The steps in six sigma methodology.
Page 5 - The six sigma process and six sigma basics for process improvement jobs.
Page 6 - What is Lean Six Sigma, lean six sigma online training, lean six sigma tools and the lean six sigma methodology.

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