Lean vs. Six Sigma: Which Methodology is Better?
If you’re in manufacturing, you’ve certainly heard of two process methodologies, Lean and Six Sigma. Lean, which has been around forever and has recently migrated from the manufacturing floor into other industries (they’re even talking about Lean HR methods) and Six Sigma, a newer technique. Two sides of the same coin, Lean looks at making processes more efficient and reducing lead times, while Six Sigma focuses on cutting down on defects. Both are useful goals when aiming to optimize your processes, throughput and ultimately, your bottom line.
Lean vs Six Sigma, which is better? Which should you be investing in if you’re coming up against inefficiencies in your production, and can they be used together?
Let’s take a closer look at both methodologies to see who comes out on top in this operational improvement matchup.
The whole concept of Lean started with identifying and eliminating waste in manufacturing operations. Pioneered back in the day by Toyota… or by Henry Ford even earlier, depending on who you ask, Lean manufacturing is about cutting costs, eliminating waste in both processes and products, and generally becoming as “lean and mean” as possible to reach optimal efficiency. The heart of the process is identifying and eliminating what Toyota called the “seven deadly wastes.” (We happen to think it’s eight.)
- Overproduction. Making too much leaves you with unused product.
- Waiting. This includes waiting on the shop floor between steps on the line, or waiting on supply or even equipment.
- Transporting. This covers excessive movement of inventory, causing the possibility of damage, or even excessive movement within the manufacturing process itself.
- Processing. Do you have extra, unnecessary steps in the manufacturing process? Are you doing in two or three steps what you can do in one?
- Inventory. Too much stock on hand. During the pandemic, many companies combatted supply chain delays by stocking up on inventory. We think that’s a mistake.
- Excess motion. This means getting from Point A to Point B on the floor, extra walking, lifting, reaching. Can things be configured more efficiently?
- Defects. Defects in product happen to the best of us.
- People. This is the eighth waste, which Toyota didn’t identify. Are you using your people to their fullest potential? Or is there untapped potential for a great manager or supervisor you haven’t noticed?
Examining all of these areas of “wastes” in your operation will help you become more efficient and ultimately more profitable. In other words, lean and mean.
Six Sigma, at its most basic level, is about quality control. Minimizing flaws and defects. But it’s much deeper than that. Six Sigma is data driven, statistical and aims to improve cycle time while eliminating or reducing defects in manufacturing. It’s about using stats, data analysis and also project management techniques to improve the whole process.
The Six Sigma process is defined by an acronym: DMAIC. Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. First, you define the problem that you want to improve. Then, the team measures the process and analyzes it by using data analytics to get to the root of the problem. From there, it’s about creating improvements and fixes, and setting up controls to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Six Sigma requires rigorous training to get the process right, so rigorous that practitioners need a certification in the process. The certifications are ranked with a belt system similar to martial arts, with white belts being familiar with the basic process, up to black belts who become masters of the process and are certified to take on complex problems and projects, and to train others in it.
Lean Six Sigma: Better together?
Should it really be Lean vs Six Sigma? Or rather Lean AND Six Sigma? Can these two powerful methods be used together? Yes indeed. In fact, they’ve joined to become one methodology in some circles: Lean Six Sigma, or LSS, which aims to cut defects and shorten lead times.
But, here’s the tricky part.
Ironically, Lean and Six Sigma can clash if not deployed correctly. Defects can be reduced by slowing processes down — reducing speed. On the other hand, you can increase the defect rate by speeding up processes.
Getting it right, striking that perfect balance is imperative. That’s why it requires training and certification in the techniques. At USCCG, Dr. Frank Esposto is our Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and Senior Director of Quality. He is also a certified LSS instructor.
Dr. Esposto states, “When we employ the Lean Six Sigma methodology to help our clients’ operations, we don’t simply come in and do it for them. We train clients in these techniques so they can employ them long after we leave.”
The training course Frank teaches is rigorous and hands-on. When participants complete the course, they are certified. Being certified in Lean Six Sigma is a highly sought-after skill.
To summarize, it is not Lean vs Six Sigma, but rather Lean Six Sigma – two complimentary methodologies that when balanced properly reduce operating costs, increase throughput, and achieve overall improvement to your bottom line.
Are you interested in learning more about how these powerful methodologies can work to optimize your processes? Give us a call today. In the meantime, read much more about LSS in our eBook: “Lean Six Sigma: Do You Really Know These Methodologies?”