How do we integrate Six Sigma and Lean?

What is Lean? One of the common questions we have been asked by leadership from the hundreds of companies/organization we work with is “How do we integrate Six Sigma and Lean?” or “We have implemented Six Sigma, how will lean fit in or vice versa?” The first thing we must establish is what is Lean and what is Six Sigma and of course depending on who you talk to the definitions may vary. So, let’s look at the purest definitions and then try to establish the best way to approach both of these concepts.

Lean is a way of thinking about how you should run your business – it is not a tool. The lean perspective focuses on the customer and what the customer feels is ‘value’ (not what the company supplying the service or product feels is value). Once this is done and the value and non-value have been identified throughout the entire ‘system’ then the next step is to understand how to remove the non-value properly to make your service or production activities flow to the client or customer. Properly is the key. You need a detailed implementation plan which will move you toward a future state and identifies the tools required, where they are required, when they are required and who is responsible to applying these tools and making the transformation from current state to future state. Without this plan, companies will end up making ‘point’ improvements and likely creating what we call ‘exciting chaos’. The ultimate goal is to improve your bottom line and customer satisfaction by increasing responsiveness to the client/customer, while at the same time, reducing cost and increasing quality.
What Is Six Sigma? Six Sigma is a very effective tool for eliminating or reducing variation throughout the value stream. Without reduced variation, it is impossible to have flow. In order to effectively utilize Six Sigma, there must be a well-defined implementation plan. Without this plan, you will not have a clear idea what the overall plan or direction is or know what impact the efforts will have on the ‘system’. Most activities within a value stream can be classified as ‘non-value’. When you assign a Six Sigma expert to ‘fix’ a problem and reduce the variation, you are asking them to work on an area that may be replaced or altered in the new Future State. The ideal way to optimize the efforts of your Lean and Six Sigma experts is to have them work together for the improvement of the entire ‘system’.

Here is the simple solution
Use the thinking of Lean and establish a future state implementation plan. Once you have this plan, determined the tools you need and where you need to them, you can then focus the Six Sigma experts in the right areas. The Six Sigma pros are now part of the strategy/direction of the company and will gain a sense of pride by being part of the overall transformation and success of the organization. The Six Sigma professionals are no longer working in isolation or in areas that can only demonstrate ‘point’ improvements.