Lean vs. Six Sigma, Round 1, Fight!

Lorenzo Del Marmol

December 8, 2015


Lean vs. Six Sigma, Round 1, Fight!

The difference between Six Sigma and Lean lies primarily on what they can do for business processes that can translate to value for customers. Since clients are only concerned with the quality of the product, it’s up to the companies that produce them to make their processes as efficient and fast as possible to minimize ressources, maximize profit and deliver optimum value.

So how do you understand the difference between Six Sigma and Lean?

Let’s take a look at their definitions:

According to Michael L. George, founder of the George Group, now acquired by Accenture US, Lean focuses on eliminating elements from the production that doesn’t add value for the Customer (waste). Six Sigma, on the other hand, according to George, aims to achieve lasting business leadership by focusing on quality and delivering value. While you may think that both of these approaches are well and good for your business, implementation and proper understanding.

Basically, Lean focuses on making the processes faster by eliminating downtime, excesses and optimizing all levels of supply and demand. Six Sigma, on the other hand, focuses on what the customer wants and how to create good quality.

When you look at the difference between Six Sigma and Lean, you’ll see that the former deals with quality while Lean deals with delivery.

What businesses should really do?

But what companies and managers should understand is that the difference between Six Sigma and Lean is only for implementing and understanding their processes—businesses need both to become leaders in their fields.

It’s important that you give your customers the best quality products you can make—but you have to optimize your processes for low/No variance, fewer defects and almost no downtime or risks happen. How do you do this?

How to use the difference between Six Sigma and Lean?

Here are some tips for when you want to implement both Lean and Six Sigma in your production:

  •  Use Agile and go through these ‘toll gates’ during your quick meetings:
    • Question the team.
    • Determine whether the project is on track.
    • Assess the competence of the team.
    • Counsel the team.
    • Plan to run political and organizational interference to help the team.
    • Check progress against schedules.
  • Use the DMAIC cycle outlined by George:
    • “Define” – Spot an improvement opportunity and outline the project goals.
    • “Measure” – Find data that helps you measure the problem and track the progress of the project.
    • “Analyze” – Spend time understanding the data you have compiled and detecting connections between them.
    • “Improve” – Implement your solutions.
    • “Control” – Make sure your improvements will last.
  • Training Black Belts should happen before changing anything.  You need experts that can take your processes apart and optimize them. Even if you hire a Six Sigma Black Belt and a certified Lean consultant, these people are eventually going to leave. This is why you should have your own organic set of Black Belts that can learn from the experts and stay with your company.
  • The top management must fully commit to both approaches. Only with the support of all the executives and higher-ups can you even begin to implement any of the two business approaches. Changing processes, instruments and methods can be costly and have an acceptable amount of risk and errors. If the top level management isn’t prepared to support these and instead offer only half-hearted support, any new change is going to fail. Leaders should understand that Lean & Six Sigma can help them to develop breakthrough insights that will unify their strategic vision  and their execution of their organisation, thereby creating lasting shareholder value.  

Put together, Six Sigma and Lean can cut up to 80% from lead times and down times, reduce your costs by 20% and raise your delivery time by up to 99%. The benefits are solid, documented and guaranteed with the proper implementation and support.

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