LEAN is Art; Six Sigma is Science – Lean Six Sigma Training Courses in Melbourne, Canberra

What is the difference between LEAN and Six Sigma? 

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According to Wikipedia, LEAN is:

“Lean manufacturing, lean enterprise, or lean production, often simply, “Lean,” is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a product or service, “value” is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for.

Essentially, lean is centred on preserving value with less work. Lean manufacturing is a management philosophy derived mostly from the Toyota Production System (TPS) (hence the term Toyotism is also prevalent) and identified as “Lean” only in the 1990s.[1][2] TPS is renowned for its focus on reduction of the original Toyota seven wastes to improve overall customer value, but there are varying perspectives on how this is best achieved. The steady growth of Toyota, from a small company to the world’s largest automaker,[3] has focused attention on how it has achieved this success.

Lean manufacturing is a variation on the theme of efficiency based on optimizing flow; it is a present-day instance of the recurring theme in human history toward increasing efficiency, decreasing waste, and using empirical methods to decide what matters, rather than uncritically accepting pre-existing ideas. As such, it is a chapter in the larger narrative that also includes such ideas as the folk wisdom of thrift, time and motion study, Taylorism, the Efficiency Movement, and Fordism. Lean manufacturing is often seen as a more refined version of earlier efficiency efforts, building upon the work of earlier leaders such as Taylor or Ford, and learning from their mistakes.”

According to Wikipedia, Six Sigma is:

“Six Sigma is a set of tools and strategies for process improvement originally developed by Motorola in 1985.[1][2] Six Sigma became well known after Jack Welch made it a central focus of his business strategy at General Electric in 1995,[3] and today it is used in different sectors of industry.[4]

Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes.[5] It uses a set of quality management methods, including statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization (“Champions”, “Black Belts“, “Green Belts“, “Orange Belts”, etc.) who are experts in these very complex methods.[5] Each Six Sigma project carried out within an organization follows a defined sequence of steps and has quantified financial targets (cost reduction and/or profit increase).[5]

The term Six Sigma originated from terminology associated with manufacturing, specifically terms associated with statistical modelling of manufacturing processes.”

If you notice the first sentence in each definition, Lean is a “managerial concept” while Six Sigma is a “set of tools and strategies”.

So by default, Lean is conceptual in nature while Six Sigma is a set of tools with strategic outcomes.

Another quote we found helpful is “Lean focuses on waste while SIX SIGMA focuses on minimising the variation after waste has been reduced. Both concern improvements.”

There seems to be an underlying assumption that Lean is more “simple” and that it was primarily for the worker on the line while Six Sigma was more “complicated” and for the professional engineering ranks.  But most consultants who understand both express the opinion that each can be very complicated and one is not “preferred” over the other.

In fact a combination of the two (LEAN Six Sigma) seems to be a preferred methodology implemented by many companies around the world including Toyota.

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