Over the past 20 years, Lean and Six Sigma business methodology have become the go-to strategies for many of today’s most successful businesses. By employing these strategies, organizations and businesses have been able to achieve significant leaps in terms of quality, cost-efficiency, and better production numbers.

There have been many discussions about which business process, Lean, or Six Sigma is better. This can be difficult since both methods have their share of unique advantages. Others contest that the best strategy is to incorporate both Lean and Six Sigma into their business.

It comes as no surprise that this constant debate into which process is better has led to the development of a different school of thought that aims to merge Lean and Six Sigma into a single methodology. Lean Six Sigma is a management method that is built on the principles of Six Sigma and Lean. By combining these approaches, it is the objective of Lean Sigma to create a more effective process that promises better results.

The Basics of Lean and Six Sigma

Before we explore further into the difference between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma, let us first take a look into Lean and Six Sigma. Six Sigma focuses on reducing process fluctuations and improving output by implementing a problem-solving approach. Lean, on the other hand, is mainly concerned with eliminating wastes and improving business processes within the organization.

The Lean Method

Lean manufacturing is not a new idea. The concepts of Lean manufacturing can be traced to those initially employed by Henry Ford in his production line. However, today’s Lean methodology is largely attributed to Toyota, which developed the Toyota Production System, which is widely accepted as one of the most efficient production systems in the world.

The Lean method focuses on eliminating waste while providing customers high-quality products and using the least amount of resources. To achieve efficiency in every department of the organization must be thoroughly involved in the process and not only those directly connected with manufacturing.

Lean focuses on eliminating waste in the production process. In Lean, any method that does not add value to the quality of the product or services provided is regarded as waste. Lean is focused on eliminating wastes in these areas:

  • Overproduction
  • Waiting times in between operations
  • Wasteful actions by operators or machine
  • Extra production steps that do not add value to the product
  • Excess inventory
  • Unnecessary transportation costs
  • Defects in the production process
  • Non-utilization of talent (untapped workforce potential)

The Lean method was primarily designed for manufacturing. However, the benefits of this system go beyond the production line and can be used in different areas of operations across all industries. In the case of Toyota, Lean has become synonymous with company culture. It has created a highly efficient organization that focuses on providing the best products for their customers while cutting down on unnecessary costs, hence improving profits.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology that focuses on a disciplined, process-centric, and data-driven processes for improving business operations. It was first used by Motorola in its manufacturing process. Since its introduction, it has been used to almost every industry as a tool for improving their business processes.

Six Sigma aims to reduce variance and errors in the production process. This is because inconsistencies in the manufacturing processes often result in defective products.  The objective of Six Sigma is to six reduce defects to 3.4 per one million opportunities. This is the standard of Six Sigma methodology.

Six Sigma aims to help businesses remain profitable by improving customer and vendor satisfaction. It helps organizations achieve this by:

  • Standardizing and streamlining operations
  • Improving and maintaining the standards of quality
  • Getting rid of waste and defects in all aspects of business operations

Six Sigma provides different belt qualifications. This is according to the depth of knowledge; White Belt, Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt, and Master Black Belt. Six Sigma uses two primary methods for improving processes, both of which are fact-based and data-driven approaches. DMAIC is used to make corrections on existing processes, while DMADV is used for creating new processes.


DMAIC stands for define, measure, analysis, improvement, and control. This method is used for making corrections on existing processes.

  • Define – during this step, you will define the problem and determine how it affects current processes
  • Measure – this step involves examining existing processes and identifying what isn’t working. It also involves measuring current data which will serve as a baseline for future measurements
  • Analysis – after gathering all related data, the next step is to analyze the information to get to the cause of the problem
  • Improvement – this is where you formulate and test solutions to make the necessary improvements as needed
  • Control – Six Sigma does not stop with implementing the new process. You must also continue to make changes over time as the need arises. Changes will only be effective if everybody in the organization continues to refine and maintain the process.



Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma combines Lean and Six Sigma to create a methodology that incorporates the best of what each process has to offer. Lean Six Sigma aims to eliminate waste (Lean methodology) while making improving processes by using DMAIC and DMADV (Six Sigma methodology). This new methodology was developed because, although they had basic differences, combining both can produce better results. The differences also ensure that organizations were basing their research on several analytical tools and solutions. More data makes it easier to make more informed decisions.

What are the Similarities Between Lean and Six Sigma?

  • Both are end-user, customer-orientated
  • Lean and Six Sigma use a process-based approach when creating solutions
  • Both methodologies heavily rely on data making it easier for managers to create solutions that are based on facts and evidence
  • Lean and Six Sigma helps reduce waste and variations
  • Both methodologies are now being employed not only in manufacturing but for almost all areas of business operations.

Whatever the similarities, Lean and Six Sigma methodology still have a basic difference in their approaches. But rather than merely conflicting each other, these could provide multiple solutions to a single objective. A Lean Six Sigma should let you determine the nature of the defect, based on customer value, and the current manufacturing processes, product, or service provided. By using Lean and Six Sigma methodology, businesses could deliver a more comprehensive solution.

Six Sigma is geared towards solving immediate customer needs. But it alone does not provide the best solution for improving business processes or maximize return on investment. Six Sigma and Lean methodology have their uses and, when combined, work very well with each other. Lean Six Sigma works to utilize the advantage of both methodologies and minimize the disadvantages of both. The Lean Six Sigma methodology is used to determine and remove waste and non-value adding activities while applying Six Sigma methodologies to create better processes.

Lean Six Sigma Principles

Customer Targeted Solutions

Lean Six Sigma, just like many of today’s methodologies, are designed to answer a customer’s need. By improving business processes and eliminating waste, businesses can lower the cost of production. This, in turn, leads to more affordable products for the customer without sacrificing product quality.

Develop your Value Stream

Before making improvements to your business processes, you must first determine the current state of your processes. Identifying your value stream is what makes Lean Six Sigma effective. It enables businesses to visualize all the steps while identifying all areas of waste.

Eliminate Wasteful Activities and Processes

After determining your current value system and problems with your workflow, it is now time to remove this non-value adding processes and defects. Lean Six Sigma focuses on finding problems, fixing this, and preventing them from happening in the future.

Implement Changes

Even the best plans are bound to fail if this is not implemented. This also holds true for your organization. Things will never change or improve unless the change is enacted. Employees will still do the same tasks until management tells them to do otherwise.

Institutionalizing a Culture of Change

Implementing Lean Six Sigma requires you as an organization to be constantly on the lookout for change. To be successful, you and your employees should always be ready to implement changes and eliminate waste. The goal of Lean Six Sigma is to utilize the positive changes that Lean and Six Sigma bring. By following the principles of Lean Six Sigma, you could make this change part of your company culture.

Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma

If you’re selecting which of the two methodologies is the best, then the answer depends on the needs of your company. Even with their differences, each method does help the company improve its competitiveness. And an organization that is familiar with Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma is in the best position to take advantage of these opportunities. By implementing both methodologies, companies can increase productivity by eliminating waste and improving business operations.

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