Alex Pejak's picture
In the modern business world, in an age of increasing and rampant globalisation, rising above your competition is a daily struggle. To stay ahead of the pack, many businesses have invested in a number of different strategies to streamline their business processes, reduce waste, and improve overall product quality. Two of the most popular methodologies are known as Lean and Six Sigma, and although both methodologies produce significant improvements when used in isolation, it’s only when they are integrated and used together that they can truly take your business to the next level.
What is Lean?
Lean is a systematic approach to management that was refined during the latter half of the 20th century by the Toyota Production System in Japan – although it has even older roots stemming from the time of the Industrial Revolution and Fordism in the United States. The lean methodology is a management philosophy that seeks to eliminate as much waste as possible throughout all aspects of a business – from product design, production and distribution – whilst still ensuring optimum quality and efficiency. By eliminating waste throughout the entire business model, companies are able to implement processes that require less human effort, less time, less space and less capital, whilst at the same time creating products that cost less to produce and have fewer defects. Applying lean concepts to any business will also provide faster feedback loops and production time.
What is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools that seek to improve overall product or service quality by minimising the defects in its products or services. As every error or defect encountered in a business has some cost (e.g., lost time, losing customers, replacing a part, wasted material, etc.), the goal of Six Sigma is to identify and remove the cause of these defects, thereby resulting in less waste, less product variation and improved overall quality. Six Sigma can also reduce production costs by as much as 50 per cent. This methodology was developed by Motorola in the mid 1980s, and in order to achieve Six Sigma status, a company cannot produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities – a near perfect score that is often difficult to obtain.
Why is Lean Six Sigma the best move forward?
To recap, the Lean approach is focused on improving the overall efficiency of a business, whilst minimising its overall waste. Six Sigma, on the other hand, is focused on minimising defects and variation, and improving overall quality. So what happens when you combine both of these approaches into the one overarching system? Although both approaches can be used to great effect individually, integrating the Lean and Six Sigma methodologies together can amplify the strengths of both whilst minimising their weaknesses. 
Lean tools increase the speed of your production process, and strip the design, production and distribution processes to their absolute core, resulting in improved efficiency and less waste. Six Sigma principles then work to improve overall product quality and consistency. By eliminating all unnecessary steps and materials in the production process, and fine tuning those remaining steps to function as optimally as possible, we are left with a business chain that is both lean and quality assured.
Why do some Lean Six Sigma projects fail, and what can be done to prevent it?
It’s important to realise that implementing Lean Six Sigma in your business is not a sure recipe for success. There are a number of factors that can derail any Lean Six Sigma project. For example, insufficient support from the top levels of management can render any Lean Six Sigma efforts useless. Everyone needs to be onboard, especially those at the top who make the big decisions. Staff without enough training can also lead to the failure of a Lean Six Sigma project. Everyone in the company – through all levels of production – should be adequately trained to improve overall efficiency and quality. Lastly, some projects fail because the scope was far too broad, resulting in a scattered and defocused undertaking. Lean Six Sigma deployments should always err on the small side.
Implementing the Lean Six Sigma methodology throughout your business can dramatically improve the efficiency and quality of your business. It’s a powerful, flexible, and effective way to improve nearly every aspect of a business, and it can be continually adjusted and fine tuned to create even better results over the long term.
Tags: six sigma