Lean and six sigma

I am sometimes asked the differences between Lean and Six Sigma. The “toolboxes” for operational improvement represented by these two approaches contain substantial overlap, particularly at the relatively basic level where most improvement initiatives start. 

Lean seeks to maximise the value of a process to an end customer by elimination of waste in the process, waste being defined as anything that does not add value to the consumer,  whereas Six Sigma seeks to achieve stability in a process by the elimination of variation through  the process by the use of statistical improvement tools.

The overlap occurs because a wasteful process always suffers from variation.

It can also be argued that the Lean approach is a more macro approach that includes the management of human resources as very important to the improvement, whereas Six Sigma focuses on a more micro, quantitative approach to improvement.

The final irony in any discussion about lean, 6 sigma, and the TPS, is that it all comes from Henry Ford, who evolved a management system using the principals espoused in all three approaches, subsequently lost when he died, and his various writings ignored until the Japanese, post WW11 looking to rebuild their shattered economy came across them.  If you did not click the hyperlink above, I suggest you do now for a brief history.

About strategyaudit

StrategyAudit is a boutique strategy and marketing consultancy concentrating on the challenges of the medium sized manufacturing businesses that make up the backbone of our economy. The particular focus is on their strategic and marketing development. as well as the business and operational efficiency improvements necessary for day to day commercial survival. We not only give advice, we go down "into the weeds" to ensure and enable implementation.
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4 Responses to Lean and six sigma

  1. Pingback: Lean and 6 sigma revisited « Strategyaudit's Blog

  2. ron says:

    Dear StrategyAudit

    Didnt time management come from Taylor and his study of the Westinghous e plant that led to that great institution the morning tea break. Didnt the Japanese adoption of better management technique come from US management experts who went to Japan as part of the post war reconstruction effort using ideas that were being ignored in the US?
    Isnt the current Lions tour of SA producing the best rugby seen for long time?

    • strategyaudit says:

      Yes to Taylor, But it was Henry who actually used it rather than theorising, and Ford took it way past Taylors “time and motion” to a supply chain that was integrated from end to end, nowadays we would call it vertically integrated, but the TPS type systems are indelpendently owned, unlike Fords systems, and collaborate because the individual firms best interests are best served by the best interests of the whole chain.
      The US expert was originally W. Edwards Deeming, whose writings on the topic and work during the war for a US government office whose name I have forgotten, was seen by the Japs, who recognised the value and invited him over. The Americans did not recognise the value until well after their consumer supply was greater than their demand, leading to waste reduction by necessity, by then 20 years behind Japan.
      Who cares about the Poms in South Africa, we belted les Bleus on Saturday (or at least matt did). Bring on the Blacks.

    • strategyaudit says:

      originally yes. My understanding is that Taylor conceived the relation between time and activity, and Westinghouse implemented much of his work within their existing plants, just doing some adjusting. Henry Ford turned the world upside down by redesigning the whole process, and Deeming put the numbers around the effort, originating Statistical process Control.
      SPC was used by the US during the war, Deeming and others were in a group under the department responsible for war production, (forgotten the name)and worked wonders, but it was all forgotten in the post war conversion from war production to consumer production. The Japanese met Deeming when he went to Japan to assist the effort of putting their industrial base back together, ironically funded by the US government, and the Japs saw the value in the ideas. Taiichi Ohno was one who applied it, in hios case to Toyota where it evolved into TPS

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