Which Business Improvement Tool Should One Use – Six Sigma, Lean or Kaizen?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could find a tool existed that could fix every issue that comes up? That would actually be an appropriate response when asked the age-old question: what is the difference between Six Sigma, Lean, and Kaizen?

First let’s define each business process improvement term separately:

  • Kaizen is more of a continuous improvement philosophy. Many have the mindset that nothing is perfect and everything can be improved, including efficiency and performance. First you must identify the issue. The issue could be something that affects one person, and that person could quickly fix that issue or it could be a larger issue and a group of people.

A Kaizen event pools groups of people and resources together to make specific improvements. This group of people would collectively build on the Kaizen mindset with a specific issue in mind.

  • Lean is specifically for reducing waste. The mindset is if the process is not adding value to your product or service, it is waste. Waste comes in all forms: wasting energy, money, and time — basically any step that isn’t necessary is cut out.

Lean is actually a set of tools; each is designed to help in the reduction of process waste. An example of a Lean tool would be the 5 Whys — you keep asking why, until the true cause of the issue is identified.

  • Six Sigma is a methodology that is data-driven, where all processes used deliver a constant as close to error free as possible product or service. It utilizes the DMAIC method:

DMAIC Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control

Define: Identify the specific issue or problem
Measure: Get a baseline of the current performance of the process; this will help you get to the root cause later on.
Analyze: Identify the cause of the problem or issue
Improve: Bring about and verify a solution
Control: Maintain the newly established solution

To figure out which tool to use, you must establish the specific problem or issue. Want to dig a little deeper into these terms? Enroll in one of our Six Sigma training classes today!

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