Lean Manufacturing?   Six Sigma?   Or Both?

Lean Manufacturing?   Six Sigma?   Or Both?

Is Six Sigma Right For Your Company?   Lean Manufacturing?

Six Sigma Is An Extremely Powerful Tool.   But, Like Any Tool, It Must Be Correctly Applied.


WHAT IS YOUR OBJECTIVE?     Do you have specific difficult quality issues that must be resolved?   Do you have a pressing need for general overall company operating improvements?    Or, are you just looking for a means to force improvement into the organization?

Alternatives:   Six Sigma is a powerful tool, specifically designed to resolve complex quality problems.    It is NOT, however, designed to address overall operating performance issues.
Lean Manufacturing, on the other hand, is an all-encompassing philosophy designed to address overall process improvement.    Lean attempts to optimize the entire corporation.    It is a comprehensive philosophy and process with a cadre of underlying techniques.

SPEED OF RESULTS NEEDED?    How urgent is your requirement?    Is this initiative a leisurely “Nice to have” or is there a pressing need for quick, substantial results?

Alternatives:     Six Sigma is a thorough, rigorous process.    It entails a considerable amount of front-end training before any meaningful work can begin.    Lean Manufacturing, when correctly applied, can begin generating large results almost immediately.

LEVEL OF EMPLOYEE INVOLVEMENT?     Are you looking to develop a small elite cadre of internal gurus?    Or, are you looking for a process that involves the entire workforce in the continuous improvement process?

Alternatives:     Due to its technical nature and the length of time required to become proficient, a six sigma initiative typically focuses resources on building expertise in a small group of highly trained individuals (black belts).    Shop floor operators are primarily bystanders in the change process.
Contrarily, a Lean transition involves the entire workforce, and generally results in the formation of “natural work teams.”    It is in these work teams that process improvement ideas are identified and acted upon, often with minimal outside “expert” involvement.    A significant portion of the innovation and implementation of Lean improvements are a direct outcome of the involvement of the general workforce.

CAN WE DO BOTH?     Can we effectively transition to both Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma simultaneously?

Discussion:     To transition to a Lean environment requires a huge commitment, and focus, from the top. Lean is, in most companies, initially a foreign philosophy.    The transition typically requires a culture change and a substantial commitment.    This is also true of a full blown Six Sigma implementation.    Attempting to do both, simultaneously, will almost always result in neither philosophy being done very well.    In addition, the underlying philosophies can cause some conflict if attempted simultaneously.    An effective Lean transition has an element of “Just Do It” i.e. reduce the inventory and fix the problems that arise.    Conversely, the classical Six Sigma implementation is rigid and rigorous.

Lean and Six Sigma

WHICH TO DO FIRST?     If it doesn’t make sense to attempt to do both simultaneously, is there a reason why one should be done before another?

Alternatives:     Lean is an overall operating philosophy that drives the waste out of the system.    The Lean process will expose problems of all sorts.    The Lean manufacturing “tool kit” contains a host of lean tools and techniques that are utilized to resolve the exposed problems.    One such technique is Six Sigma.    The Lean tool kit also contains other lean quality improvement techniques such as Sequential Inspection, Failsafe, Source Inspection, etc.

BOTTOM LINE:     If your process is already operating Lean, and you are now facing isolated difficult quality and/or process control issues, then a Six Sigma implementation would likely be appropriate and beneficial.
If, however, your company is still operating in a traditional mode, doing Lean first will almost always generate much more meaningful and timely results.


Six Sigma is a powerful tool when applied to appropriate quality and process control issues.    It is NOT, however, an overall enterprise improvement methodology.    The Lean Manufacturing transition process can be used to generate cash and overall global process improvements.    Six Sigma methods should be then utilized, where it is appropriate, to resolve specific process quality / reliability issues.

NOTE:    If you are dissatisfied with your Lean Manufacturing results to date, you might want to check out our “Lean Bench Marking” article.     This is what you SHOULD EXPECT in the first 9-12 months!

We’ve got a track record of continuing dramatic bottom-line successes since 1988!    Drop us a note, or give us a call.
There is no charge for a discussion and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

Jack B. Harrison
Senior Partner
The Hands-On Group

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