What Is Lean Six Sigma?

According to the American Society for Quality (ASQ), Lean Six Sigma is an evidence-based, data-driven improvement methodology that recognizes a higher priority on fault prevention than defect discovery. By lowering variance, waste, and cycle time and encouraging the adoption of work standardization and flow, the method boosts customer satisfaction and bottom-line results while giving businesses a competitive edge. Every employee should take part in it, and the application happens whenever there is variance and waste. It integrates the tools, techniques, and guiding concepts of Lean and Six Sigma into a well-liked and effective methodology for enhancing your company’s operations. The collaborative nature of the Lean Six Sigma methodology showcases an increase in productivity and profit margins for companies all around the world. Process wastes can be decreased or eliminated using lean concepts. Six Sigma places a strong emphasis on process variation reduction. There is further improvement in the efficiency and quality of the process using the Lean Six Sigma concepts. To put it simply, Lean Six Sigma advocates eliminating any resource consumption that doesn’t add value for the end user because it is wasteful.

According to ASQ Six Sigma Business Solutions, an estimated 82 percent of Fortune 100 companies use the Six Sigma methodology. As Six Sigma is a method many companies use, some companies pursue the Lean Six Sigma approach to reduce waste while increasing productivity to achieve overall customer satisfaction.

Principles of Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma has been effective in many industries and organizations, including agriculture, banking, electronics, financial services, government, hospitals, manufacturing, retail, telecommunication, and transportation. It is also successful in various departments of an organization, with call centers, customer service, finance, human resources, IT, legal, maintenance, marketing, quality, and sales, using the method to run its operations. For a business to achieve a successful Lean Six Sigma program, there are different principles to mark the path to success.

Addressing real-world problems: Lean Six Sigma is a top-down and bottom-up approach, with the top-down method linked with problem selection. Lean Six Sigma focuses on real-world issues that impact present customers and processes. Through realizing real-world problems, there is a sense of project urgency and significance. It is difficult for an organization to realize the importance of recognizing real-world problems for organizational success. The buy-in process from stakeholders, management, and teams leads to a better understanding and identification of problems. The root cause analysis from teams helps determine the solution to the problems.Team analysis: Lean Six Sigma projects have cross-functional teams for data analysis and root cause analysis to prevent any sub-optimization of processes and methods throughout a project. Improving a step in the process does not result in wastage or variations, rather, it becomes a different step. Project leaders that understand the process can find processes and procedures to fix a problem. However, if there are large cross-functional functions and projects, project leaders and managers require knowledge and background to find viable solutions without stalling or delaying. Through cross-functional teams, all sections and areas of the project are subject to problem analysis and solution development.Process-focused analysis: Lean Six Sigma is best for analyzing processes, effective for procedures and methods focusing on product design and building rather than just the final product itself. Lean Six Sigma analysis is for investigating and improving actions, leading to more defined steps in a process, and these actions will have less impact on preceding and succeeding actions. Organizations can utilize the Lean value stream map or the Six Sigma process map for visualization. Data-based analysis: Lean Six Sigma heavily relies on data instead of guesses. Data collection happens through the Lean value stream map. The data from the process determines the actual state of happenings. The analysis aims to verify the underlying causes of the actual state of action to correct a particular issue. After identifying and determining a viable solution to a problem, data analysis further classifies if a solution can fix the problem, ensuring that the solution holds its place without the problem returning. One challenge that continuous improvement and problem-solving initiatives face over the years points to the acceptance of current conditions. Many businesses are often in denial when having problems and issues that can lead to unforgiving consequences in the future. Through data presentation, these organizations can recognize the problem’s origins and find effective solutions for implementation.Impact of Sigma process: This principle focuses on Six Sigma analysis, representing the normal variation happening that corresponds to a specific parameter or characteristic. Similar product and process attributes have no variations and will never change, no matter the frequency of occurrence. Meanwhile, other attributes have variations through an average value but uncertainty in its instance measured by the Sigma. Sigma represents variation and not acceptability. An attribute can well be within an average measurement, but if a customer sees it beyond their standards, it is defective from their perspective. The purpose of Lean Six Sigma is to prevent the cost of extra time and money and to minimize defects and waste. Lowering the Sigma simplifies the streamlining of the entire business or project process.Root causes: Lean Six Sigma is an excellent tool for problem-solving and continuous improvement strategies as it seeks to identify a problem’s characteristics. Some procedures start with identifying problems as unique, and if the root causes are eliminated or controlled, it goes away. Others identify issues as common occurrences in a specific process. Lean Six Sigma uses tools to differentiate and specify whether a problem is a special or common cause. By determining the root causes, teams can develop a solution strategy to suitably address the situation. If the problem is a common cause, teams can redesign the procedure.Control systems: Teams set up control systems to guarantee that all support systems have updates, reflecting any implemented changes while providing coaching and training programs for operators and managers using the solution. Project teams do not declare success because they perfectly demonstrate and show a process works in solving an issue. Instead, they observe it through a significant number of occurrences, which shows that solution works and that managers and operators can address the issue.

How To Perform Lean Six Sigma for Businesses

Lean Six Sigma projects follow structured techniques and methodologies in five phases. These phases are known as the DMAIC acronym representing the steps that stand for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. Each phase addresses a premise before it proceeds to the next stage of the process, and the duration stems from collected data. After each phase, there is a review from stakeholders and Lean Six Sigma experts before proceeding.

1. Define Phase

This phase is the first project phase that must answer whether the team recognizes the issue or problem from a business perspective. A project leader provides a high-level definition of the problem and must get insights and information from customers and stakeholders to understand their perspectives. After acknowledging the stakeholder and customer feedback, the next step is to determine the product or service the team provides. Determining the boundaries for each proposed solution and its processes requires the expertise of subject matter professionals. The Define phase ends with developing a project charter to pinpoint the problem, processes requiring analysis, and performance improvement objectives.

2. Measure Phase

The second phase establishes the project’s current status by measuring the performance of processes, products, or services according to quality attributes from the first phase. It must answer whether people understand the workflow for the process and if there is a measurement for each step. The process must be well-defined, with each step measuring time, quality, and other attributes linked to customer satisfaction. The team must develop and verify a suitable measurement system for accurate and complete data collection. Subject matter professionals identify the necessary processes to construct and apply performance measurements. At the end of the phase, the team possesses quantified data to constitute consumer problems with accurate assessments of the current situation.

3. Analyze Phase

In the Analyze phase, process and product data undergo root cause analysis to identify the problem’s origins, answering whether the team properly identified the problem and determined its root causes. The project leader uses Lean tools and Six Sigma hypothetical testing to determine the root cause through mathematical procedures. Despite implementing vigorous analytical and statistical procedures, the math must be straightforward. In case the data from the Measure phase is insufficient, further research study and data collection are necessary. The team must produce a detailed problem statement after gathering all information based on facts and statistics. At the end of the Analyze phase, everyone must agree on understanding and clarity of the problem.

4. Improve Phase

During the fourth stage, the team develops improvements to address the symptoms of the problem and to create a solution to the problem to eliminate or control it. It must have an answer for the viability of solutions and if it’s ready for implementation. During the Improve phase, solutions go through development and testing, and depending on the nature of the solution, is the most expensive stage. New procedures require businesses to change or provide new equipment, software, or materials. All solutions must go through tests with training and implementation materials ready for deployment, and at the end of the phase, a solution is set.

5. Control Phase

The final phase of Lean Six Sigma is the Control phase, wherein the team implements the solution. The stage continues until the solution stabilizes and the various aspects of the organization and its functions stabilize. The phase must answer whether the team establishes a new process to eliminate or control consumer problems. All team members must implement and observe any changes in processes for full implementation and continues until everything stabilizes. There must be a control plan to monitor a process, product, or service, including a measurement threshold for acceptable performance or action. The entire phase ends when managers and leaders no longer need help from the project team.


What is the difference between Lean Six Sigma and Six Sigma?

The most apparent difference between Lean Six Sigma and Six Sigma is that the goal of Lean Six Sigma is to streamline processes to offer the best value to customers through phased thinking using DMAIC instead of just prevention in Six Sigma.

Why is Six Sigma called Six Sigma?

The term Six Sigma comes from the bell curve structure in statistics wherein a curve represents a mean deviation, with six Sigmas above and below the mean representing an extremely low defect possibility.

What is the primary goal of Lean Six Sigma?

The primary goal of Lean Six Sigma is to achieve customer satisfaction, add value to products or services, eliminate or lessen waste for continuous flow, and focus on value-generating opportunities.

Lean Six Sigma is a method different industries and departments use to apply necessary changes for a project or organization to change processes, products, and services to consumers or stakeholders. Lean Six Sigma eliminates and lessens waste for continuous improvement to run a successful business while satisfying customer needs and providing solutions to problems. The process aims to eliminate root causes and associated costs of time and money for non-value-generating activities. Construct a Lean Six Sigma document for the organization to convert solutions into value by addressing customer concerns and improving their satisfaction through conducting the DMAIC method. Use the sample templates of the Lean Six Sigma document above for reference.