Lean and Six Sigma (6σ) are process improvement methodologies that are used in many industrial and business sectors to improve and optimize their productivity. These two methodologies became well known in the 1990s when they were successfully used by Fortune 500 companies in Japan and North America.
Lean was made famous by Toyota by adopting lean principles into its Toyota Production System (TPS). Lean principles are focused at eliminating waste which are termed as Muda, Mura and Muri (3M). Other than the 3M, Lean looks at producing in small production batches and by a “pull system” which in layman’s term means producing products only when there are demand/orders for these products. This approach reduces inventory and “unwanted” production. The use of Lean concepts has spread into other types of industry even though its concepts were first used in improving manufacturing operations.
Six Sigma or 6σ was made famous by Motorola and General Electric (GE). Six Sigma principles are focused at reducing variations in processes and product which they measured using the statistical deviation of sigma. Six Sigma looks at improving a process or product quality by identifying the variations that exist when producing products. This variations are then quantified into statistical distribution data with a standard deviation (sigma) value. The approach is then to apply improvements using the DMAIC steps to reduce and control these variations to within a 6σ range. A 6σ compliant process/product is said to have less than 3.5 defects per million produced (3.5ppm). Like Lean, Six Sigma concepts has spread into other types of industry even though it was first used in improving manufacturing processes.
“You must have a clear mind and approach when embarking on any Six Sigma program…remembering its not about getting a certificate or how much statistics you use to interpret manufacturing data BUT how you can understand the processes and machines better and then reduce their variations and increase their efficiencies.”
At the turn of this century many companies in the manufacturing and services industry have adopted both Lean and Six Sigma to improve their business processes. Both these methodology have now merged to become a hybrid methodology called Lean Six Sigma; marrying their key concepts into one.
There are many books written on Lean and Six Sigma. The concepts and tools used in applying Lean and Six Sigma are practical and do bring improvements in productivity. It is best to do some reading on Lean and Six Sigma to have an understanding of these methodologies before committing to applying them at your workplace. Some of the techniques and tools, from reading these books on Lean and Six Sigma, are easy to implement and you should be able to do-it-yourself.
There are also training and certification programs that you could attend to learn both Lean and Six Sigma. You would be able to get these programs online or through local training providers. There are commonly two levels which are the Green Belt and Black Belt for practitioners. Master Black Belt is commonly for Six Sigma coaches and program certified trainers.