What is 'Lean Six Sigma'

Lean Six Sigma is a team-focused managerial approach that seeks to improve performance by eliminating waste and defects. It combines Six Sigma methods and tools and the lean manufacturing/lean enterprise philosophy, striving to eliminate waste of physical resources, time, effort and talent, while assuring quality in production and organizational processes. Simply put, under the tenets of Lean Six Sigma any use of resources that doesn't create value for the end customer is considered a waste and should be eliminated.

Breaking Down 'Lean Six Sigma'

Lean Six Sigma can see its origins in the United States in the 1980s as a combination of management principles and processes that originated in Japan. In an effort to compete with Japan's better products, U.S. managers adopted some Japanese manufacturing principles that focused on reducing waste in the form of non value-adding actions. In the 1990s, such principles were adopted by large U.S. manufacturers. Lean Six Sigma was introduced by Michael George and Robert Lawrence Jr. in their 2002 book Lean Six Sigma: Combining Six Sigma with Lean Speed as a combination and refinement of lean enterprise and Six Sigma tenets.

Lean Six Sigma Tenets

The "lean" concept of management lends its focus on the reduction and elimination of eight kinds of waste known as "DOWNTIME," which is an abbreviation of defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion and extra-processing. "Lean" refers to any method, measure or tool that helps in the identification and elimination of waste.

The term Six Sigma refers to tools and techniques that are used to improve manufacturing processes. It was introduced by an engineer at Motorola in 1986 and inspired by Japan's Kaizen model. It was trademarked by the company in 1993. Its intent is to improve processes by identifying and eliminating the causes of defects and variations in business and manufacturing processes. Six Sigma's DMAIC phases are utilized in Lean Six Sigma. The acronym stands for define, measure, analyze, improve and control and refers to a data-driven method for improving, optimizing and stabilizing business and manufacturing processes.

The combination of lean management concepts and Six Sigma's tools and techniques makes clear what processes are prone to variation and then reduces those variations as a way to ensure continued improvement.

Lean Six Sigma Levels

Lean Six Sigma training uses "Belt" levels to denote expertise similar to Six Sigma.

  • Yellow Belt: Awareness of Lean Six Sigma
  • Green Belt: A focus on the use of tools and the application of DMAIC and lean principles
  • Black Belt: Full-time project leader
  • Master Black Belt: A Black Belt with a minimum of two years of experience. Able to teach Lean Six Sigma.
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