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What are the differences between lean and six sigma?

Even the most proven business tools and approaches must adapt as time goes on, morphing to suit the state of the market and today’s companies. Six Sigma is no exception, with multiple branches, disciplines, and schools of thought having grown from the original concept over the years to fit new needs.



In one case, two different schools of thought have merged into a single, cohesive methodology that can address multiple goals. This is Lean Six Sigma, a combination of management methods that builds on the principles of Six Sigma with a focus on efficiency. Both approaches aim to achieve the same thing: more effective processes that yield a bigger bottom line. The difference is seen in the way they go about reaching that goal.


Six Sigma


Six Sigma was developed with a very specific goal: reduce variation and defect rates in production processes through statistical analysis. To do this, Six Sigma uses one of two, 5-step approaches – either the DMAIC or the DMADV method.


Both methods have their distinct uses. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. This process involves identifying the problem you’re trying to solve, taking stock of your current processes, identifying and implementing a solution, and maintaining that solution in the future. This is perfectly suited for supply chain performance issues or when only adjustments to the process are needed, not an entirely new function.


That’s where DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify) comes in. The first phases of the project are the same, but the Design phase allows for the creation of an entirely new tool to solve the problem. The Verify phase then focuses on ensuring that the new solution does, in fact, continue to solve the problem.


Six Sigma, then, is all about monitoring the supply chain for defects, identifying issues, and solving them as effectively as possible.


The Lean Method


Six Sigma was developed with a very specific goal: reduce variation and defect rates in production processes through statistical analysis. To do this, Six Sigma uses one of two, 5-step approaches – either the DMAIC or the DMADV method.


Both methods have their distinct uses. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. This process involves identifying the problem you’re trying to solve, taking stock of your current processes, identifying and implementing a solution, and maintaining that solution in the future. This is perfectly suited for supply chain performance issues or when only adjustments to the process are needed, not an entirely new function.


That’s where DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify) comes in. The first phases of the project are the same, but the Design phase allows for the creation of an entirely new tool to solve the problem. The Verify phase then focuses on ensuring that the new solution does, in fact, continue to solve the problem.


Six Sigma, then, is all about monitoring the supply chain for defects, identifying issues, and solving them as effectively as possible.


  • Defects – Products that don’t meet quality standards

  • Overproduction – Exceeding demand or producing more than was ordered

  • Waiting – Process bottle-necks and downtime

  • Non-Utilized Talent – Ineffectively using or misallocating human resources

  • Transportation – Inefficient shipping methods

  • Inventory – Holding on to a surplus of product or raw material

  • Motion – Unnecessary moving of product, material, or people

  • Extra Processing – Doing more work than is needed


What are the Differences?


Lean Six Sigma is a perfect fit for companies looking to streamline their processes and offer as much value to the customer as possible. The phased thinking and clear roadmap provided by the DMAIC method can be a valuable tool when applied to any business case, not just defect prevention as in traditional Six Sigma methodology.


As the line between Lean and Six Sigma continues to blur, entirely new methods and unique philosophies are bound to emerge. Experts that can help companies manage these intricate refinements will define the next great innovation in Six Sigma thinking.

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