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What is Lean Six Sigma?

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a combination of two popular Process Improvement methods—Lean and Six Sigma—that pave the way for operational excellence. These time-tested approaches provide organizations with a clear path to achieving their missions as fast and efficiently as possible.

Before diving into details, it’s important to clarify the concept of process improvement. Since Lean Six Sigma is a system for analyzing and improving processes we’ll break down those terms first.

What is a Process?

A process is a series of steps involved in building a product or delivering a service. Almost everything we do is a process—tying our shoes, baking a cake, treating a cancer patient, or manufacturing a cell phone.

What is Process Improvement?

Process improvement requires employees to better understand the current state of how a process functions in order to remove the barriers to serving customers. Since each product or service is the result of a process, gaining the skills required to remove waste, rework or inefficiency is critical for the growth of an organization.


Working On a Process vs In a Process

Employees are hired based on their expertise in a given field. Bakers are good at baking and surgeons are good at performing surgery. Professionals are experts at working in a process, but they are not necessarily experts at working on a process. Learning to work on and improve processes requires experience and education in Continuous Improvement. That’s where Lean Six Sigma comes in.

Combining Lean & Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma provides a systematic approach and a combined toolkit to help employees build their problem-solving muscles. Both Lean and Six Sigma are based on the Scientific Method and together they support organizations looking to build a problem-solving culture. This means that “finding a better way” becomes a daily habit.

The Origins of Lean Six Sigma

Lean originated at Toyota in the 40’s and Six Sigma originated at Motorola in the 80’s. Although they’ve been taught as separate methods for many years, the line has blurred and it’s now common to see Lean & Six Sigma teachings combined in order to reap the best of both worlds.

Understanding both approaches and accompanying toolkits is extremely valuable when solving problems. It doesn’t matter where a tool comes from—Lean or Six Sigma—as long as it does the job. By combining these methods you have the best shot at applying the right mindset, tactics and tools to solve the problem.

The Steps of Lean Six Sigma


Lean Six Sigma uses a 5-step method to improve processes and solve problems called DMAIC.

Define Phase

Define is the first phase of the DMAIC method, and involves defining the problem or opportunity, determining the voice of the customer/customer requirements, and outlining the project purpose/scope. This foundational phase paves the way for an improvement team to narrow and describe exactly what is being targeted for improvement. The goal(s) set during this phase define when a project can be considered successful.

Measure Phase

The Measure Phase is the second phase of the DMAIC process. During this phase the effort is to determine key ways to measure the process, define each of the key measures and then form a plan to detail who will collect the data, in what quantity and where. This data used as a baseline of for the process and is then displayed and studied in the Analyze Phase.

Analyze Phase

The Analyze Phase is the third phase of the DMAIC process, and focuses on identifying the root cause (or causes) of a process problem. The Analyze Phase requires data and knowledge gleaned from the previous Define and Measure phases of DMAIC. This phase focuses on analysis of the data and the process. In terms of the data focus, statistical analysis is a cornerstone of Analyze, ensuring that potential root causes are not only validated but significant enough to merit attention. Methods and tools used include Process Maps, Charts and Graphs, Hypothesis Testing, and Value-Added Analysis.

Improve Phase

The Improve Phase is the fourth phase of the DMAIC process and focuses on identifying opportunities for improvement based on the discoveries uncovered in the data and the process in the Analyze Phase. Once potential solutions are identified, they are evaluated and selected for implementation. Risk assessment, piloting and verification that the changes had the desired impact take place prior to moving on to the Control Phase.

Control Phase

The Control Phase is the last phase of DMAIC, and ensures that improved processes continue to work predictably and meet the customers’ expectations. In short, Control ensures any gains are maintained. During this phase the documentation is finalized, monitoring plans are put into place and response plans are designed in the case that process performance falls below acceptable levels.

What Are the Benefits of Using Lean Six Sigma?

Organizations face rising costs and new challenges every day. Lean Six Sigma provides a competitive advantage in the following ways:

  • Streamlining processes results in Improved customer experience and increased loyalty
  • Developing more efficient process flows drives higher bottom-line results
  • Switching from defect detection to defect prevention reduces costs and removes waste
  • Standardizing processes leads to organizational “nimbleness” and the ability to pivot to everyday challenges
  • Decreasing lead times increases capacity and profitability
  • Engaging employees in the effort improves morale and accelerates people development

Who Benefits From Using It?

The Business & Their Customers

Lean Six Sigma works for any size organization. The same success achieved by large businesses can be attained by small and medium businesses. Smaller organizations may actually be more nimble with fewer people and lower levels of red tape to navigate.

This method works for businesses looking for a roadmap to effectively meet their strategic goals. Applying it helps to increase revenue and reduce costs, while freeing up resources to add value where the organization needs them most. The ultimate winners are the customers of the business who receive consistent, reliable products and services.

The Employees

Lean Six Sigma not only improves profit margins, it positively affects employees by engaging them in the work of improving their own processes. Since employees are closest to the actual work of an organization—the delivery of products and services—their intimate knowledge makes them the best resources to analyze and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of those processes.

By participating in successful Lean Six Sigma efforts, employees build confidence and become increasingly valuable assets to the business. Studies show that employees who feel they’re able to positively impact an organization will perform better, be more accountable and live happier lives. By quickly mastering basic Lean Six Sigma skills, they will continually standardize work, root out problems and remove waste in an organization.

Infographic - Lean or Six Sigma -

Lean and Six Sigma are two great toolkits and together they provide all the support you need to delight customers, reduce costs and build strong teams!

What are the Belt Levels?

Belt Levels of Lean Six Sigma -

Our Online Training was developed to meet today’s changing business environments by deeply experienced, highly successful experts. With over 25 years of experience saving organizations in virtually every industry hundreds of millions of dollars, our Online Training draws on what our Experts practice every day in the field to provide you with the most effective way to learn and implement it.

  • Yellow Belt Training Duration: ~10 hours (1 day, 1 CEU / 10 PDUs)
  • Yellow Belt Training Cost: FREE
  • Yellow Belt Certification Cost: $299 – learn more about Certification

For in-depth Training & Certification, check out our Green Belt course: Compare Yellow Belt and Green Belt Training.

Ready To Start Your Lean Six Sigma Journey?

You’ve got an exciting road ahead of you, and an easy way to begin your adventure is by signing up for the highest-rated course available—our free Yellow Belt Training. The examples takes place at a tropical restaurant called Bahama Bistro. You learn every concept by watching the team apply tools in order to satisfy their customers. Come join us at the bistro by signing up on the right!

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