Lean six sigma principles

Lean Six Sigma Principles: An Overview

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Are lean Six Sigma principles different from those of the “original” Six Sigma and lean methodologies? In this post we’ll find out the answer.

Lean Six Sigma Principles: An Overview 

Lean Six Sigma principles are unsurprisingly derived from both lean and Six Sigma.


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These principles include the lean principles:

  • Define value. You can’t create value unless you first define it. In the lean methodology, value is equal to what a customer will pay for. Maximizing value therefore means maximizing the quality of the products and services customers will pay for.
  • Map value stream. Value stream mapping is a type of business process mapping that analyzes the steps involved in creating value. Much like a supply chain, this amount will help managers and practitioners understand all the steps and resources involved in creating value for the end customer.
  • Create flow. Flow refers to reconfiguring business processes and maximizing throughput. Business process mapping, a tool discussed below, is one way to do this.
  • Establish pull. Reducing inventory is one way to create a pull-based system. These are systems that maximize throughput, follow just-in-time work methods, and reduce inventory, which is considered waste.
  • Pursue perfection. Pursue perfection is the idea that continual improvement should be essential in any business process. This is discussed in more detail below.

They also focus on the core concepts of Six Sigma, such as reducing variation and defects. 

Below we will identify an explore a few more of these principles in detail.

Waste Reduction

Reducing waste is one of the core principles of lean.

Waste can come in several forms and it can be measured.

According to the lean methodology, waste can include:

  • Irrelevant labor
  • Unnecessary transportation
  • Excessive inventory
  • Overproduction
  • Overprocessing
  • Defects

By reducing these types of waste, lean practitioners hope to minimize investments, improve employee productivity, enhance quality, and improve outcomes.

Minimizing Process Variation

According to Six Sigma, reduction in process variation will reduce defects and drive the other improvements covered above, such as performance improvements and increased efficiency.

In order to reduce variation, and therefore waste and errors, Six Sigma practitioners will use tools such as DMAIC and DMADV. These two data-driven techniques are intended to improve existing processes and create new ones.

The ultimate goal is to reach the Six Sigma level, or 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO).

Minimizing Defects

Minimizing defects is, as mentioned, one of the key aims of the Six Sigma system. Although it is not typically discussed in lean, Lean Six Sigma often recognizes that minimizing defects also minimizes waste.

By minimizing variation as mentioned above, defects can also be reduced, which can result in improvements to:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Product and process quality
  • Return on investment
  • Efficiency
  • Process turnaround time

The tools mentioned above, DM, AIC and DMA DVR both used to minimize variations and defects. There are, however, quite a few other methods and techniques that are taught in Six Sigma training programs.

Lean Six Sigma will also introduce other tools, such as those that emphasize waste reduction.

Statistical Measurement and Analysis

Statistics is an integral part of Six Sigma.

Although it does have its place in lean, data science and statistical methods may find their way into Lean Six Sigma systems more frequently.

Using tools such as business process mapping, Lean Six Sigma practitioners can perform techniques that revolve around:

  • Collecting data
  • Measuring that data against benchmarks
  • Analyzing that information
  • Redesigning business processes

An important point to know, as we will see below, is that Lean Six Sigma systems vary. Their emphasis on statistics and data driven methods will therefore also vary.

Continual Improvement

Continual improvement is a critical piece of both lean and Six Sigma.

The Japanese term, kaizen, refers to the idea that process improvement should be embedded as a permanent part of the organization.

Lean Six Sigma will use tools such as the ones already mentioned, DMAIC and DMADV, as well as other techniques designed to be repeatedly implemented. Through the continual application of these techniques, Lean Six Sigma practitioners can enhance quality and performance across a number of dimensions.

Importantly, Lean Six Sigma emphasizes different areas than the original methodologies. For instance, lean will focus on the continual reduction of waste. Six Sigma, on the other hand, will continually attempt to minimize variation and defects. Lean Six Sigma may attempt to focus on both.

Raising Customer Satisfaction

An emphasis on customer satisfaction is a priority for both systems. 

This is understandable since customer satisfaction drives business revenue.

The difference between lean, Six Sigma, and Lean Six Sigma is that they will take different approaches to improving customer satisfaction.

Differences Between Lean and Six Sigma

Some organizations claim that there is very little difference between lean and Six Sigma training programs. 

They suggest that the ideas behind lean are already incorporated into Six Sigma. 

According to this school of thought, there is no need to focus on Lean Six Sigma unless you are in a certain industry such as the armed forces or the public sector.

Others, however, suggest that the core principles and emphases do differ, as we have outlined above. 

When evaluating training programs, it is important to examine that program in detail to determine the content of the program and whether it aligns with your own goals.

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