Lean – Sigma, Equal?

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Many folks today are preaching lean-sigma, a blend of lean manufacturing and six sigma ideals.  One of the blogs I enjoy reading, The Lean Manufacturing Blog, recently had a post (here) talking about integrating the two.

The lean manufacturing process and six sigma should be used together in order to have the most effect in the bottom line of a business. By combining resources and integrating programs, more can be accomplished with less expenditure of time and money.

Micheal and many others seemed to have placed lean and six sigma as equals.

In my background, I was indoctrinated into six sigma first, but soon found it was not the salvation to manufacturing issues like my company was preaching.  I then discovered Lean and discovered what I found to be a complete philosophy that leads to bottom line improvement in all areas of the company.  As I continued to learn about Lean, I have concluded that Lean is the overall umbrella to drive your company and six sigma is just another tool to use in eliminating waste and moving towards your true north.  I consider six sigma to be the same as kanban, 5S, TPM, and others that need to be pulled out of the toolbox at the appropriate times.

What other views are out there?  Do you feel they are equals?  Anyone out there in Lean-Sigma programs that can educate me further on this blend?


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6 Responses

  1. I agree. I think lean is a philosophy and six sigma is a tool. Maybe a very powerful tool, but a tool just the same. There are limits to six sigma, beginning at the business case level down. Lean can be learned and used by everyone ans can truly focus the organization around the customer. I do not see that as a driver in six sigma programs.

  2. I think it is natural for someone to learn and commit to six sigma first to see everything through that lens. It becomes harder to “demote” it below another practice.

    However, Six Sigma is a tool or methodology for problem solving. And only for certain problems at that. It’s not good for every day problems. I see many organizations struggle with six sigma where they will literally say “we don’t have time to six sigma that problem, so just do whatever” because of a lack of options.

    Lean is how you run your business. When done properly, which unfortunately it often is not, it transforms how an organization thinks.

    What I hate is the “versus” focus in some companies. One company delayed their journey for over 1 year while they debated how to get started. That year obviously was a waste.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  3. I’m with Flinchbaugh on this. I think six sigma has a place in almost every organization –A VERY SMALL PLACE for very specific types of problems. Go ahead and crucify me at the altar of Jack Welch if you will but I want to roll my eyes when I hear “six sigma thinking”. However, “lean thining” has deep and profound denotative and connotative meanings to me. I think the whole idea of making BB certification a requirement for promotion as legend says it was in GE is silly.
    I am really uncomfortable with the anti-egalitarian aspects of six sigma. I am not cool with anything that is lead by an exclusive priestly class of certified “Belts”. Lean is much more democratic.
    All that being said, I have a near fetish like attraction towards industrial statistics. I get a charge out doing them, and I concede that six sigma is a well thought out, logical, and duly rigorous process for improving processes (especially when geared toward variation reduction – taguchi methods are way cool). It can be plugged in when needed in a lean enterprise.

  4. I agree in general principles with the thoughts above but I also believe that Lean has positioned itself well making it a much easier methodology to start with and grab the low-hanging fruit. But if you ask a systems thinker, 6sigma or TOC consultant they will all say that they are the umbrella and the others are the tools. It is what you feel comfortable with and can initiate.

    My personal belief is that you lead with lean, it has a wider appeal and/or broader implementation practices.
    That is why I think there are more failures attributed to Lean. The cost of entry is lower, so there is more people that try it.

    I think the standards set by the 6sigma thru GE and Motorola assisted the Lean movement. Always wondered if the cost of entry to 6sigma was 3sigma, would there have been a Lean movement? Lousy marketing job?

  5. Ahh the old “hammer in the hand, whole world looks like a nail” problem. Yea, if you came to Lean via Six Sigma then it might be easy to see them as equals. But that creates a rivalry that isn’t in anybody’s interest.

    In much the same way as you Bryan, I always describe Six Sigma as being a part of the Lean toolset (like a specialized toolkit within a “lean” toolbox…an analogy that is easy to digest for most on the shop floor).

  6. I agree. Good explanations. I always get a chuckle when I hear companies are using six sigma as their business system. It is not that. It misses the component about people and culture which true lean emphasizes. A system must be sustained and to do that in needs to be part of the fabric – common place thinking.

    Tim McMahon
    A Lean Journey

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