Lean vs. Six Sigma: Definitions, Similarities and Differences

The primary difference between Lean and Six Sigma is that Lean is less focused entirely on manufacturing, but often shapes every facet of a business. Lean Six Sigma combines these two approaches, which creates a powerful toolkit for addressing waste reduction.

What is the Difference Between Lean and Six Sigma

What is Six Sigma?

A collection of standards and methods known as Six Sigma can help businesses enhance their internal procedures and business operations. Six Sigma was originally used by the manufacturing sector, much like the Lean system, but today a wider range of businesses and fields can profit from its techniques. Six Sigma classifies professionals into belts, which are one of five designations that highlight their level of proficiency with the principles and methods of Six Sigma.

Six Sigma’s main objectives are to reduce errors and boost consistency in a production process. Through two main strategies, this approach focuses on developing new business processes and improving current processes:

What is Lean?

Lean is a set of ideas and methods that businesses can use to increase the effectiveness of their operations. Lean systems were initially created and implemented by manufacturing companies, but today a wide range of businesses can use lean techniques.

The goal of the Lean methodology is to reduce waste across all channels, processes, departments, and assets in a business. Business leaders who adhere to lean principles work to reduce waste using a number of key strategies:

Lean vs. Six Sigma Strategies

Here’s how Lean and Six Sigma strategies compare and contrast:

1. Benefits to companies

Both Lean and Six Sigma can provide businesses with similar advantages when properly implemented. Businesses that apply the principles and techniques of either Lean or Six Sigma can:

However, depending on the organization utilizing those principles, the advantages provided to a company by Lean or Six Sigma may vary. One of these techniques may be more effective for maximizing the efficiency of different professionals, businesses, or industries than the other.

2. Understanding of waste

Both Lean and Six Sigma practitioners aim to minimize waste in an organization to maximize efficiency throughout all business processes. However, Lean and Six Sigma define waste differently within an organization: Lean principles define waste as practices that offer little to no benefit to an organization’s clients. While waste is defined by Six Sigma as errors or deviations from business processes.

The main objectives and strategies of both Lean and Six Sigma are impacted by these various perspectives on waste. Companies that employ Six Sigma techniques concentrate on minimizing variations within business procedures and developments, whereas businesses that employ Lean strategies place a greater emphasis on optimizing their processes.

3. Types of business factors evaluated

When deciding how to maximize process efficiency, Lean and Six Sigma both take into account specific aspects of a business.

Lean approaches prioritize enhancing communication between staff members, teams, departments, and managers. The Lean methodology also emphasizes the significance of staff members comprehending and conversing with one another about pertinent efforts at process improvement. According to the Lean philosophy, companies that prioritize employee open communication are more likely to benefit from the highest levels of productivity and efficiency.

However, Six Sigma rarely takes into account human factors when analyzing or improving a business’s processes. Instead, Six Sigma focuses on analyzing data and statistical models. This data-driven strategy’s overarching objective is to significantly lower a business’s defects.

Six Sigma typically only takes into account workers in relation to a company’s output of goods. For instance, Six Sigma strategies might only look at factors like employee productivity rates if some employees work on a production aspect of a product line.

4. Structure and expertise

Although there are Lean methodologies certifications available, Lean professionals hardly ever receive formal training or rankings based on their understanding of the Lean system. Instead, experts frequently view Lean as a way of thinking that encourages everyone in an organization to think about ways to minimize waste, maximize process efficiency, and improve value to customers. All positions and levels of experience within a company are covered by lean professionals. Organizational structures used by Lean businesses frequently permit greater flexibility and experimentation.

Six Sigma, meanwhile, is a formalized program with hierarchal rankings. A belt or certificate demonstrating a professional’s level of expertise is frequently worn by someone with Six Sigma experience:

Employing a certified individual or team to assist in identifying potential problems and formulating strategies for process improvement is a common practice for businesses interested in implementing Six Sigma principles.

Combining Lean and Six Sigma

Combining Lean and Six Sigma strategies can be challenging. Although Six Sigma and Lean both aim to maximize a company’s effectiveness and value, they take different approaches to cutting down on business waste. However, organizations can easily incorporate the advantages of both systems into their daily operations and improve their productivity, quality, and efficiency by figuring out how to combine the principles of Lean and Six Sigma.

Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma or Lean in Six Sigma are common names for the combination of Lean and Six Sigma strategies in business. Lean Six Sigma typically combines Six Sigma methodologies with Lean principles and definitions.

Typically, a company that employs Lean Six Sigma techniques defines waste according to Lean standards. Additionally, Lean Six Sigma businesses frequently promote the non-hierarchical approach of the Lean methodology. This entails requesting active participation from every employee in discussions about the enhancement and efficiency of their procedures, the importance of customer experiences, and the caliber of their goods or services. Then, organizations frequently employ the Six Sigma methodologies DMAIC and DMADV to methodically develop new processes and enhance current practices.

Lean vs. Six Sigma vs. Lean Six Sigma

It’s crucial to recognize that each method has specific benefits when choosing between Lean, Six Sigma, or Lean Six Sigma for your company. Numerous factors, including your company’s size and organizational structure, determine the best system for your business. Finding the system or systems that will increase your process efficiency the most may take some time.

When deciding whether to implement Lean, Six Sigma, or Lean Six Sigma strategies in your company, keep the following things in mind:

Major source of labor

The first step in choosing the best strategy for your company is to take into account how it operates. Six Sigma may be the best option for your business if the majority of the day-to-day operations rely on machinery, equipment, or robotics. Six Sigma can be the best methodology for businesses looking to optimize mechanical or electronic processes because it places a greater emphasis on data than people.

Lean, however, might be a better option if your normal operations depend primarily on people and teams. Lean strategies by nature place more of an emphasis on characteristics of a human workforce. If the daily operations of your company depend on both employees and machinery, you might want to think about using Lean Six Sigma to improve both your mechanical and employee-driven processes.

Collaboration between individuals or teams

Some organizations promote collaboration between employees, teams, departments and supervisors. The non-hierarchical structure of Lean may be advantageous if your business depends on this teamwork to function or if you want to promote more collaboration there. Lean methodologies emphasize the value of people and teams regularly discussing their issues, queries, and suggestions for improvement.

Other organizations, however, are more rigid in their structuring. In these kinds of businesses, workers frequently concentrate on their own obligations while managers oversee operations and develop long-term strategies. Structured organizations frequently need more complex tasks or more specialized knowledge from particular people or departments. Six Sigma may be more helpful for these companies.

A combined Lean Six Sigma approach may offer both the open communication channels of Lean and the orderly structure of Six Sigma if your teams are a mix of independent and collaborative teams.

Industry type

Lean or Six Sigma can help a variety of industries. However, the Lean methodology’s adaptability may make it easier to implement across a wider range of industries. The data-driven Six Sigma approach, however, frequently works best for businesses that produce goods rather than provide services.

Please note that Indeed is not affiliated with any of the businesses mentioned in this article.


What is the difference between Six Sigma and Lean?

Six Sigma is a set of techniques that aims to significantly lower the rate of defects, whereas Lean manufacturing is a systematic way of doing away with waste and generating flow in the production process. Every company can use some improvement, but sometimes it’s difficult to know where to begin.

Is Six Sigma or Lean better?

Six Sigma aims at a process performance of 3. Lean methodology emphasizes speed improvements with a 4 Defects per Million opportunity. Both Lean and Six Sigma have a flair for reducing operating costs and the cost of poor quality, respectively. Lean has a smaller learning curve than Six Sigma and vice versa.

Which comes first Lean or Six Sigma?

Using Lean tools to remove non-value-added steps first, and Six Sigma to reduce variation in the remaining value-added steps, is a sensible strategy.

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