Lean Six Sigma

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    Liz Vieira

    I’ve read  a bit about Lean Six Sigma, but am not clear on the main distinctions between “Lean” and regular Six Sigma.  Any input?  Thanks.  Liz


    Smita Skrivanek

    “Regular” Six Sigma is based on improving process capability through variability reduction, with a focus on customer needs. Lean tools strive to minimize waste and only work when the process is capable. You can find useful information here:


    Phil Kaczmarski

    LEAN Six Sigma is an approach that combines two different process improvement methods, Six Sigma and LEAN.  LEAN thinking derives from the Toyota Production System and the focus of LEAN is improving flow of materials, people and information through the process to reduce lead or cycle time and minimize or eliminate waste.  Six Sigma focuses on defect reduction either through shifting the average, reducing variation or both.  To improve and control a process, Six Sigma strives to establish a statistical relationship between the outputs of a process and the process variables whereas LEAN identifies steps in the process as either adding value or not adding value (waste).  
    Combining the two approaches will provide some synergistic benefits.  Six Sigma focuses very explicitly on customer needs whereas LEAN is sometimes criticized for not maintaining a customer focus because the main focus of LEAN is reducing lead or cycle time.  Six Sigma has been criticized for independently improving processes (or sub optimizing a piece of the process) where LEAN will evaluate flow of material and information between processes and optimizes the whole.  Six Sigma is far more rigorous with the statistics than LEAN; LEAN is more focused on understanding the flow of a process and breaking the process down into a series of operations (activities or tasks).  LEAN techniques are able to identify which activities add value for the customer and which activities do not add value and may inhibit “flow”.   Within the LEAN approach, defective outputs of the process may result (one of the 7 forms of waste) and Six Sigma provides a statistically rigorous method for identifying, quantifying and controlling the sources of variation that lead to defective outputs.  Combining the two approaches brings the best of both techniques and LEAN helps to address some of the “deficiencies” of Six Sigma as a stand-alone process improvement methodology.
    You may receive different opinions on the following comments about the use of LEAN and Six Sigma tools.  Some LEAN tools, like value stream mapping and the 5S’s can be used on processes to help standardize them.  The more advanced LEAN concepts like one piece flow and Kanban require a highly predictable and “stable” process to be successfully implemented.  The statistics of Six Sigma may cause misleading results if the process to be analyzed is not standardized and the appropriate statistical tools are incorrectly.
    This is a high level overview of LEAN Six Sigma.  If you’d like to discuss the differences and synergies in more detail, please send me an Email at [email protected] with the best way to contact you.


    Matt Traver

    Thank you for the fantastic overview of the differences between lean and six sigma. I for one am much clearer on the interactions and more appropriate times to use them. My hospital (various areas) has also been wrestling with this same question, so I’m going to print your post and hand it out at our next meeting. Thanks again!

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