Is Lean better than Six Sigma?
I don’t think you’re going to like the answer to this question…but you need to know.
The truth is…it depends on the nature of your operations and what your biggest opportunities for improvement are. I’ll start by defining both sets of disciplines in my own words:
Lean is the systematic elimination of waste. It is a relentless culture of identifying and taking action on opportunities to consume less resources, yet providing an overall more effective service to your customers. In a perfectly lean world, the farmer would not grow a single potato until after the customer has placed an order for a french fry. And then the customer received that perfectly salted, piping hot french fry instantaneously. No inventory, no waiting, no waste – just to name a couple of the types of waste. Lean projects can produce savings anywhere from $75k well into the millions of dollars depending on the scope of your project. On the other hand, some Lean techniques are implemented just to “fertilize the soil” so to say. In other words, they don’t yield savings in themselves, but they help enable a continuous improvement culture. ie. standard work, performance metrics, 5S, etc…
Six Sigma is a relentless approach to improve quality. And in most applications of the discipline, quality is defined as producing the same thing with no observable variation. Think of McDonald’s cheeseburgers in this case. No matter where you get a cheeseburger from (in the US anyways), you can count on getting the exact same product every time. Six Sigma can also produce immediate savings of hundreds of thousands into the millions in savings, plus increase product and brand loyalty through improved quality.
So in a nutshell, Lean has more to do with time and resource consumption, and Six Sigma has to do primarily with consistency. However, the two disciplines do converge at the end of the road. They both tend toward providing the best customer/consumer experience possible. The ultimate form of marketing is a superior product with a superior fit. And a product has many dimensions: form, fit, function, price, accessibility, etc…
Now lets talk about your problems. If your biggest opportunity for improvement is to lower your production costs, you might consider Lean as your next big initiative. If you are shedding customers because of quality related issues, you might consider Six Sigma as your next big initiative. But…If you want to cut cost by reducing rework, improving first pass good, reducing lead times, reducing inventory, reducing changeover times, developing your workforce in root cause analysis, the use of data to solve problems…all while driving high employee engagement and setting the business up for sustainable long term growth. Then alas…you might consider your next big initiative as Lean Six Sigma (or LSS). Its true Lean and Six Sigma have met and fell in love and are now being seen as a predominant trend in manufacturing initiatives. Stay tuned for more news on this fascinating marriage to see how things develop.
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