Six Sigma vs Lean: Everything You Need to Know

six sigma vs lean

Lean and Six Sigma are two of the most popular optimization approaches that businesses the world over use to deliver greater value to their customers while also increasing their net profits. However, too many people confuse Six Sigma vs Lean, which is understandable considering how much these approaches have in common. That said, there are significant differences between them both, so let’s take a quick look at both and see where they change paths.

We’ll also see the best way to approach the problem, which is to combine the approaches and use a Lean Six Sigma (LSS) paradigm, which has universal principles for business optimization.

What Lean and Six Sigma Have in Common

Lean and Six Sigma have much in common, which is, in part, responsible for the associated confusion. Both Lean and SIx Sigma are methodological approaches to eliminate unnecessary processes and challenges, wastes, from the processes, to create a resilient and efficient system, free as much as possible from defects.

Lean calls anything that doesn’t contribute value a “waste”, while Six Sigma calls anything that creates challenges a “defect”, which needs to be systematically removed.

Differences Between Six Sigma and Lean

First things first: while Lean is an overarching philosophy, Six Sigma is a well-defined and structured program for businesses to implement. Lean has a particular focus on manufacturing, but has been adapted to most modern business contexts, including non-manufacturing. 

There are also differences in how Lean and Six Sigma identify problems. While Six Sigma looks for variations in processes that cause quality issues, Lean looks for unnecessary processes that don’t contribute value to the end product. 

Lean creates a cultural change in the organization while Six Sigma only targets the removal of defects without instituting a change in business culture. Lean is often considered a mindset, a set of holistic principles that can transform a business from the ground up. Lean encourages a culture of several lean thinkers who can propose innovative ways to solve the most pressing business challenges. Six Sigma, on the other hand, is a rigorous approach with a heavy reliance on data to identify problems and solve them in a methodological way.

There are also significant differences in how the approaches are implemented. While Six Sigma has specially instituted teams that implement the improvement processes, Lean has no special teams but rather requires people from across business departments and hierarchies to incorporate a lean culture.

The Best of Both Worlds: LSS Instead of Six Sigma vs Lean

The ultimate approach is to combine both Lean and Six Sigma and use a Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodology to cut down on wastes (unnecessary steps) and defects (process variations that contribute wastes) to improve business efficiency, reduce costs, bolster productivity, and improve customer satisfaction. Lean Six Sigma tackles wastes including overproduction, waiting, rework, motion, and over processing, to name just a few.

Together, Lean and Six Sigma overcome each other’s shortcomings and take business optimization to new heights. offers both Live Virtual classes as well as Online Self-Paced training. Most option includes access to the same great Master Black Belt instructors that teach our World Class in-person sessions. Sign-up today!

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