My response to such either/or questions is “both”. The question is flawed because it fails to recognize their shared and common history and influence on each other. Also, people who ask this question are often in the “tools” mindset and fail to consider the principles behind the tools used in each of these powerful business improvement methodologies.
Let me know briefly share some history and fundamental concepts of both Lean and Six Sigma.
Brief History on Lean Thinking
Lean was born of the Toyota Production System (TPS), and is often associated with front line improvement and concepts originally for manufacturing. But, Lean has been widely applied to areas outside of manufacturing for many years.
Notable companies that actively apply Lean are Amazon.com, Apple, Google, Patagonia, many Hospitals and Healthcare organizations, various e-commerce companies, and many more.
The central ideas of Lean Management include Just-in-Time and Jidoka, or autonomation: the concept of taking the efficiency of machines and equipping them with the human intelligence to prevent, predict or detect errors. Tools such as 5S, Kanban, standard work and visual control, are favored by practitioners of Lean who are driven by the desire to remove waste and the principle of the continual search for the “better way” to add value for customers. Kaizen events (a way to implement big improvements quickly by focusing on a specific part of a process) are quite often chosen as the vehicle to implement these concepts and tools.
Brief History of Six Sigma
Speaking generally, Six Sigma is statistically based, with defined execution process and robust analytical tools for identifying and reducing variation in a process. Engineers and scientifically-grounded people who identify with the mathematical precision and logic of its approach often favor it. Six Sigma is trademarked by Motorola, where it was developed.
This approach was pioneered at Motorola and then crafted into the management infrastructure at General Electric where this management methodology became an engine for widespread improvement.
The three key elements of Six Sigma are its statistical tools, the Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC) process and the certification (using a system of colored belts derived from the martial arts) of individuals.
In the next post in this series of Lean and Six Sigma, I’ll share the following:
- Common History of Lean and Six Sigma
- Introduce the Six Sigma Framework: Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control (DMAIC)
- Introduce the Lean Framework: Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA)
- Show how PDCA of Lean can be practically applied with the Six Sigma DMAIC framework
- Explain Plan-Do-Check-Act and A3 Report
- Elements of Define
- Elements of Measure
- Elements of Analyze
- Elements of Improve
- Elements of Control
- Lean and Six Sigma: A Summary