What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a quality control methodology that is utilized to improve processes through the elimination of defects. In practice, the methodology incorporates project management, analysis, and statistics to improve the functionality of a business by addressing defects in a process. The cornerstone of the Six Sigma method is the DMAIC process. This process has five phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. Six Sigma has its roots in manufacturing but is currently successful in a wide variety of industries.

The Benefits of Six Sigma

Utilizing the Six Sigma method comes with a slew of benefits. For one, it has an effect on customer satisfaction with your business since it aims to cut down on the potential for problems and eliminate undesired variation from your processes. This creates greater quality, consistency, and reliability; all things that a customer looks for in a company that it wants to do business with. Six Sigma also acts as a great identifier for where improvements can help a process. The method also serves as a great motivator for employees, since for it to be as successful as it can be, the entire staff needs to be on board with the strategy. Being able to participate in the change and see the benefits in real-time makes the members of the team feel personally invested in the outcome, which serves to increase productivity. The methodology also has a great effect on managing time effectively, which contributes to quality, better workplace morale, and productivity. This process improvement tool is also incredibly versatile and applies to nearly any issue in a company. Six Sigma projects also tend to create a snowball effect in the workplace. Once the benefits come from one project, the inclination is to apply the methodology to more and more projects throughout an organization.

How to Use Six Sigma

The primary tool for using Six Sigma is DMAIC. This acronym represents five phases of a process. In the Define phase, a problem is defined and it is determined how the current process is affected. Next is the Measure phase, in which the current data is measured. During the Analyze phase, you analyze the measured data in order to come up with the root cause of the issue. In the Improvement phase, you take what you have learned from the previous phases to work out solutions. These solutions are tested and the needed improvements are made. The Control phase is last. The Control phase is last. Here, you take steps to ensure that the improvements made can continue unabated over time.

What is Lean?

Lean is a methodology that puts an emphasis on eliminating waste in an organization, which it defines as any activity that does not provide value in the creation of a final product. Anything that does not contribute value in the eyes of the customer is waste and a nonessential process.

The Benefits of Lean

Lean also has a variety of benefits that can be useful to many organizations. One benefit is that it reduces waste in order to create optimal efficiency. It also serves to reduce bottlenecks in the production process. Utilization of the method is also cost-effective, in that it finds areas where financial waste can be eliminated. Lean is also highly adaptable, so it can adjust as your business changes. The method is also customer-centric in that it puts its focus on what adds value to your customers as opposed to the completion of specific tasks. Since it focuses on creating value for the customer, Lean is most often utilized in the creation of products.

How to Use Lean

Since Lean focuses on activities that provide value, one of the main tools in Lean is the creation of a value stream map. The tool is so integrated into the Lean method that it is also known as a Lean process map. With a value stream map, you create a flowchart in which every step of the process is accounted for. With this map, it can be determined which parts of the current system add value and which create waste. Some parts of the process may create waste simply by being redundant.

Six Sigma vs Lean: What’s the Difference?

Six Sigma and Lean are similar in that they both strive for the same thing: to improve the process by making it as efficient as it can be. Six Sigma aims to do this by minimizing variation and reducing defects. In fact, the name Six Sigma references the number of defects per million opportunities. Six Sigma means that an organization has reached a level where there are only 3.4 defects per million opportunities.

Lean works towards improving the process by eliminating waste and anything that does not add specific value to a product’s creation.

In essence, the main difference between Six Sigma and Lean is that Six Sigma comes from the standpoint that waste comes from process variation, while Lean focuses on non-value-added steps during the creation process.

Six Sigma vs Lean: Who would use Six Sigma and/or Lean?

Lean is most often used during the creation process, whereas Six Sigma is often applied to every aspect of an organization’s operations. Many companies find it useful to utilize both methods together in what is called Lean Six Sigma.

Choosing Between Six Sigma and Lean: Real World Scenarios

If your business has a product that is in the creation stage and your aim is to minimize your resources in order to save as much money as possible, Lean could be a good choice. Lean can increase profits by cutting down on waste without relying on having to actually make more sales. Six Sigma is very popular in the fields of manufacturing and health care, but it can be applied to virtually any industry. It is also versatile enough that it can be utilized for nearly any issue that you might be having in your organization.


Both Six Sigma and Lean are powerful methodologies that can do wonders for the quality of your business. With the strengths of both methods combined, you get the best of both approaches, providing you with the toolset of each to tackle virtually any issue in your organization at every stage of development and implementation. Either methodology will improve your processes. When used together, there is the potential for increasing quality even more.

About the Author