Lean Six Sigma is a discipline of creating customer value efficiently with quality and consistency. It is a process improvement methodology that focuses on removing waste and controlling process variation to improve efficiency and provide high levels of customer value.

Lean Six Sigma combines the tools and techniques of Lean and Six Sigma. To better understand Lean Six Sigma, let’s discuss the Lean methodology and Six Sigma and how these two form a supercharged process improvement technique when combined.

What is Lean?

Key influencers and shapers of the Lean methodology include Frederick Taylor, Henry Ford, and Taiichi Ohno. Taylor’s study in the 1890s paved the way for the concepts of standardized work and time and motion studies. These became the foundation of organizational work and decision theory.

In 1910, Ford developed a manufacturing strategy that allowed them to manufacture cars in a continuous flow, a first in the American automobile manufacturing scene. Ford looked at his operations from a process point of view and eliminated wasteful practices to make it efficient. Ford’s methods became the inspiration of car manufacturing giant, Toyota, where Ohno and his team built upon Ford’s production strategy and they created the Toyota Production System.

They found a way to minimize cost while increasing efficiency and without sacrificing quality. Although much of what we know about Lean management today is largely shaped by the TPS, it was an accumulation of decades of studies and experimentation from these first movers.

Lean is a methodology that focuses on building process efficiency through the elimination of waste, variation, and overburdening. Its principles are centered on providing high levels of customer value by establishing a smooth flow through a pull-based system. This is done by continuously improving the business value stream. Today, the Lean methodology is not only used in the manufacturing industry but has propagated to other industries like healthcare, finance, marketing, and tech. To know more about it, check our resource page on Lean Thinking.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma’s development started in the late 1980s at Motorola spearheaded by Bill Smith and Bob Galvin. The primary focus of Smith and Galvin was to lessen defects and errors by improving quality and controlling variation. They used concepts of statistical quality control pioneered by Walter Shewhart in the 1920s and later on developed the pivotal framework of Six Sigma called DMAIC. DMAIC stands for the five phases of Six Sigma – Define, Measure, Analyze, Implement, and Control. This framework allowed Motorola to use qualitative and quantitative data to get to the root causes of problems and establish predictability and precision in their process.

In 1995, Jack Welch of General Electric decided to adopt Six Sigma to overhaul GE’s operations. Through this endeavor, GE reported billions in savings in the course of its 5-year implementation of Six Sigma. This helped spark the interest of other multinational companies in the US and the global arena on Six Sigma. Today, Six Sigma has become a staple business process improvement strategy for companies in various industries.

The five phases of Six Sigma

  • Define – This phase is where project goals and process scope are defined along with the desired customer deliverables.
  • Measure – This phase is where the current process performance is measured. This allows for baseline data to quantify the problem and determine appropriate improvement measures. This prepares the team for the Analyze phase and ensures any process change is based on data and not guesswork.
  • Analyze – This phase is where the data is analyzed and reviewed to determine the root causes of the defects. Both qualitative and quantitative tools are used during this phase.
  • Improve – This phase is where solutions are developed and tested for viability. Data is gathered when changes to the process are made to ensure the reliability of the solution.
  • Control – This phase is where the full implementation of the solution is made. The “to-be” process is formalized and the new state is made stable.

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma marries the efficiency and speed of Lean methodology with the quality control of Six Sigma. This allows teams to improve process performance based on the perspective of the customer. The American Society for Quality (ASQ) defines Lean Six Sigma as, “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.”

Lean Six Sigma Venn Diagram

Lean Six Sigma is used to improve business processes through the use of both Lean and Six Sigma tools. The goal is to switch from reactive problem solving to proactive problem prevention. Lean Six Sigma has become a pivotal strategy for companies to combat rising costs and increasing competition and helps them gain a competitive advantage.

Lean Six Sigma Principles

Successful implementations of Lean Six Sigma have been carried out through following these principles:

  • Focus on the customer
  • Understand how work is done
  • Identify the root cause of your problem and focus on solving it
  • Remove waste and non-value-adding steps
  • Reduce defects by removing variation
  • Communicate and collaborate with your team
  • Be Flexible and Use Data to Drive Change

Lean Six Sigma Belts

Lean Six Sigma roles are based on Six Sigma roles which were originally used by Motorola. The naming convention used for these roles were based on mastery levels within martial arts. In the same way, the names of these roles signify the level of mastery in Six Sigma.

  • Master Black Belt – Trains Black Belts and Green Belts. They function at a program level and develop key metrics, standards, and strategies for LSS programs within the organization.
  • Black Belt – Seen as a Subject Matter Expert on Lean Six Sigma. They lead larger cross-functional LSS projects and also train Green and Yellow Belts.  This is normally a full-time position.
  • Green Belt – Leads smaller projects that are focused on improving one function. Apart from being proficient in the structure of the methodology, tools, and techniques, they can implement solutions to their projects. Green Belts also often assist Black Belts on larger projects.
  • Yellow Belt – Participates in Lean Six Sigma projects led by Green Belts and Black Belts. They are expected to have familiarity with the methodology, tools, and techniques to be used. They may assist project leaders in data gathering and implementation of the solution.

Benefits of Lean Six Sigma

  • Faster Processes – Removes all forms of non-value-adding activities that incur waste
  • Realize Higher Quality – Reducing variation and eliminating defects result in increased process stability and capability
  • Increased Customer Satisfaction – Consistent product quality and fast delivery increases customer satisfaction
  • Reduction in Cost – Fewer resources are required with a streamlined process. Cost of poor quality is also reduced. Revenue is increased by doing more with less.
  • Improved Employee Morale and Skills – Training empowers employees to continue making an impact to make the business better. They are more engaged in their work and help business bottom line results appreciate.

Lean Six Sigma Tools and Techniques

Lean Six Sigma combines the tools and techniques used in both Lean and Six Sigma methodologies. We list the tools and where they should be used within the 5 Phases of the Lean Six Sigma

Phase Tools and Techniques Used
Define
  • Project Charter
  • CTQ Tree
  • Voice of Customer
  • Voice of Business
  • Kano Analysis
  • SIPOC
  • Value Stream Mapping
Measure
  • Data Collection Plan
  • Sample Size Calculator
  • Measurement System Analysis
  • Waste Analysis
  • Process Capability
  • Spaghetti Diagram
  • Process Mapping
Analyze
  • Histogram
  • Pareto Analysis
  • Run Chart
  • Fishbone Diagram
  • 5 Whys
  • Time Analysis
  • Scatter Diagram
  • Statistical Analysis
Improve
  • Design of Experiments
  • Design for Six Sigma
  • 5S
  • Brainstorming
  • FMEA
  • Pilot Testing
  • Simulation
  • Poka-yoke (Mistake Proofing)
  • Failure Modes and Effects Analysis
  • Kanban
Control
  • Control Charts
  • Statistical Process Control
  • Audits
  • Dashboards
  • Standard Operating Procedures

All About Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma is a data-driven structured approach to solving problems and improving processes. The framework guides teams and allows them to be thorough in addressing the root causes of the problem and developing solutions that effectively improve the process. Lean Six Sigma has specific roles for the implementation of projects and improvement initiatives. With a successful Lean Six Sigma implementation, companies can realize better product or service quality and increased value for its customers. This is the goal of Lean Six Sigma.

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