Lean, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma - How Do They Work Together?


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One of the common questions we have been asked by leadership from the hundreds of companies/organization we work with is:

"How do we integrate Six Sigma and Lean?" or “We have implemented Six Sigma, how will lean fit in or vice versa?"

The first thing we must establish is what is Lean and what is Six Sigma and of course depending on who you talk to the definitions may vary. So, let's look at the purest definitions and then try to establish the best way to approach both of these concepts.

What is Lean?
Lean is a way of thinking about how you should run your business - it is not a tool. The lean perspective focuses on the customer and what the customer feels is ‘value’ (not what the company supplying the service or product feels is value). Once this is done and the value and non-value have been identified throughout the entire ‘system’ then the next step is to understand how to remove the non-value properly to make your service or production activities flow to the client or customer. Properly is the key. You need a detailed implementation plan which will move you toward a future state and identifies the tools required, where they are required, when they are required and who is responsible to applying these tools and making the transformation from current state to future state. Without this plan, companies will end up making ‘point’ improvements and likely creating what we call ‘exciting chaos’. The ultimate goal is to improve your bottom line and customer satisfaction by increasing responsiveness to the client/customer, while at the same time, reducing cost and increasing quality.

What is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a very effective analytical tool for eliminating or reducing variation throughout the value stream. And without reducing variation, it is impossible to have flow. In order to effectively utilize this skill and tool, there must be a well-defined future state implementation plan. Without this plan, the six sigma experts will not have a clear idea what the overall plan or direction is for their organization and they won't know what impact their efforts will have on the ‘system’ - they will only be limited to knowing they reduced the variation in that ‘point’ which someone identified needed to be fixed.

Keep in mind that most activities, within a value stream (both service, administration and production environments), can be classified as ‘non-value’. So chances are, that when you assign a Six Sigma expert to ‘fix’ a problem and reduce the variation, you are putting them onto a problem area that is either going to be replaced or altered in order to establish the new Future State with more flow and less ‘waste’.

The ideal way to optimize the efforts of your experts in both the Lean field and the Six Sigma field, and to not ‘waste’ time, energy and money, is to have them work together for the improvement of the flow of the entire ‘system’.

Here is the simple solution
Use the thinking of Lean and the primary tools of Lean such as Enterprise Value Stream Mapping TM to establish the future state implementation plan. Once you have this plan and have determined the tools you need to utilize throughout the plan and where you need to utilize them, then you can focus the Six Sigma experts in the right places.

The result is, the Six Sigma pros now are part of the strategy and direction of your company. They will naturally gain a sense of pride from the fact they are part of the overall transformation and that they are a contributor to the overall success of the organization. The results to the bottom line and to customer satisfaction indicators from their efforts are now maximized for organization. No longer are the Six Sigma professionals working in isolation or in areas that can only demonstrate ‘point’ improvements - they are an integral part of the future success of the company.

Larry Coté is well known for his penetrating analysis and creative energy. He was with the Lean Enterprise Institute in Boston for almost two years as C. O. O. /E. V. P. He was the Founder and President of the Lean Enterprise Institute Canada.

Over the years, Larry has worked with 100's of companies at various stages of their Lean journey in many different business sectors. Larry has expertise in Toyota Production System concepts, diagnostics and assessment of Lean readiness. He works with the corporate leaders to develop effective plans for transforming organizations using Lean and adapting it to their particular culture.

Larry Cote
Lean Advisors Inc .

Lean Advisors Inc. (LEAD) provides Lean Training And Lean Implementation support to organizations of all sizes and sectors including healthcare, office, service, manufacturing, mining, aerospace, food processing, high tech.


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