Lean and Six Sigma: Finding the Perfect Balance

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Finding the Balance

Lean and Six Sigma concepts are well understood in many business situations. Each concept  has found its place and proven their value. Lean does its part, focusing on improving the process and eliminating waste. Six Sigma performs its role by eliminating variable in the process. Organizations implement each strategy differently, based on their beliefs and the perceived priorities. Whichever approach they choose, what is important is to recognize that Lean and Six Sigma concepts work well together.

Lean and Six Sigma Together

There are many tools within the Lean practice that achieve both quality and improvement, such as the 5S system of workplace organization (standard work, one-piece flow, quick change-over, pull systems and total productive maintenance [TPM]). These tools allow an organization to use their Lean practice to eliminate the seven deadly wastes (defects, overproduction, waiting, non-value-added processing, transportation, inventory, motion and employee underutilization). By controlling and eliminating these wastes, an organization can achieve considerable improvement. Lean’s focus on reducing non value-added time leads to measurable service-level improvements and cost savings. However, these strategies and practices do not take into consideration value added time.  This is where form, fit and function of a product or service are actually created. There can be significant opportunity for improvement if the processes employed are not consistent or repeatable. This is where Six Sigma can augment lean.

By utilizing Six Sigma methodology and appropriate quality management tools, an organization can improve the processes where value is added. When you practice the Six Sigma DMAIC methodology (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) you take control of the process. The goal then is to establish a process in which the likelihood of defect-free outcomes is increased substantially. A Six Sigma process is one that produces no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities, a yield rate of 99.99966 percent. Deviations are then corrected before they result in defects. Quality management tools are then used to support Six Sigma initiatives.

Achieving the Perfect Harmony

Organizations can significantly benefit from the practices of Lean and Six Sigma blended together. Both practices are powerful tools, which generate significant results on their own. However, when both principles are properly blended together, then implemented, the results achieved can be tremendous. As with any other professional practice, Lean and Six Sigma require practitioners to have a clear understanding of their tools and the vision of implementation.

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