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by Stephen Gould
March 2, 2022

Stephen Gould uses a combination of Lean and Six Sigma management techniques in our production facilities to create greater efficiencies and continuously improve manufacturing processes. Discover the difference between Lean and Six Sigma.

There is an ongoing debate about whether Lean or Six Sigma is the better school of thought for improving manufacturing efficiency and eliminating waste. Both methodologies have their proponents and detractors that can influence whether a company chooses one system over the other.

Others argue that the two methodologies can actually be more powerful when used together, and thus the best approach is to implement what is often called the Lean Six Sigma principle.

Deciding on the right approach for your business requires context. That’s why we’ve created this guide to understanding how Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma overlap and differ from each other.

What is Lean Manufacturing?

Lean Manufacturing is used by businesses to streamline manufacturing and production processes. The main goal of Lean is to cut out any unnecessary and wasteful steps in the creation of products. Only steps that directly add value to the product are taken.

Lean manufacturing is not a new process. The ideas behind Lean were originally introduced by Henry Ford. Ford liked to keep the production standards high to keep each step flowing naturally into the next. Toyota followed in Ford’s footsteps to create the Toyota Production System, which quickly became one of the most efficient manufacturing systems in the world. The philosophy behind Lean is a direct descendant of this lineage.

One of the main differences between Lean and Six Sigma is that they view the cause of waste differently. Lean manufacturing seeks to reduce waste through the elimination of bottlenecks, allowing production to flow smoothly.

Lean defines waste as any type of inefficiency that adds no value for the consumer. Removing waste from the manufacturing process boosts a facility’s productivity and the return on investment for the firm.

In Lean terminology, there are “seven deadly wastes” that businesses should seek to eliminate.

  • 1. Overproduction

    The most obvious form of waste. When products are produced without adequate consumer demand for them, it creates a number of negative outcomes, including wasted raw materials, inefficient use of storage, environmental effects of disposal, and unnecessarily tying up capital in unsold goods.

  • 2. Inventory

    Untouched and waiting to be used has a number of negative outcomes. Capital that could be allocated elsewhere is unnecessarily tied up in excess stock. There are also additional costs for storage, transportation, and in the case of perishable goods, energy required to heat or refrigerate inventory.

  • 3. Defects

    Waste employee time by requiring them to identify, track, dispose of, and reproduce defective products. Defects also impact customer satisfaction and their perception of a brand.

  • 4. Motion

    Refers to the movements workers make during production. Eliminating unnecessary motions and steps allow workers to maximize their time and energy, which increases productivity.

  • 5. Over-Processing

    When too much production time is spent engineering and refining the product, to the extent that it delivers more value than the customer actually needs.

  • 6. Waiting

    When production lags in between steps, wasting workers’ time, incurring excessive labor costs, and in some cases, risking product spoilage.

  • 7. Transportation

    Should also be minimized as much as possible since it does not add any value to the end customer. Firms can avoid inefficient transportation by using plants located closer together and working to reduce other transport costs.

Implementing Lean techniques allows manufacturers to continuously improve the product during production. By handling quality issues that arise during the manufacturing process, companies are able to save time and resources while staying on schedule. The overall goal is to produce goods on-time and at a higher standard of quality, creating a reliably satisfying experience for customers.


The main goal of Six Sigma is to reduce variation and defect rates in production by using statistical analysis. Success is defined by improvements in quality and efficiency.

Even though Six Sigma was originally designed for manufacturing, it has since been implemented throughout a number of business activities, from management, to customer service, to delivery. In many organizations, Six Sigma plays a key role in leadership. Its wide-scale implementation can help a company achieve measurable, tangible results.

The Six Sigma methodology was introduced by an engineer for Motorola named Bill Smith. He believed that eliminating any unwanted variation from the customer experience would improve relationships and lead to significant cost savings.

He was right. Implementing Six Sigma helped Motorola save millions of dollars. Other companies like General Electric, Bank of America, Toshiba, and Intel have all achieved dramatic savings similar to Motorola.

Six Sigma is typically implemented by adopting one of two approaches: the DMAIC or the DMADV method. Both methods have their distinct uses.

DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. This process involves: 1) defining the problem you’re trying to solve, 2) measuring data on current processes, 3) analyzing it to identify the root of the problem, 4) designing potential solutions for improvement, and 5) implementing control processes so that improvements last over time. This is perfectly suited for supply chain performance issues or situations when existing processes only need adjustments rather than an entirely new approach.

DMADV stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, and Verify. The initial phases of the project are the same as DMAIC, but the Design phase allows for the creation of an entirely new solution. This is followed by the Verify phase, which focuses on ensuring that the new solution actually solves the problem.


Lean and Six Sigma both seek to eliminate waste in order to create the most efficient system possible. The main difference between these two systems is that they define the root cause of waste differently.

Those who practice Lean manufacturing believe that the waste comes from unnecessary steps in the production process that do not add value to the finished product. Six Sigma practitioners believe that waste results from variation within the process. Lean looks to increase workflow, whereas Six Sigma tries to achieve consistent results.

Both Lean and Six Sigma methods are successful in improving overall business performance in many fields. As a result, these two principles have proven to be successful when working together. This is the creation of Lean Six Sigma.

Lean Six Sigma is a data-driven philosophy of improvement that integrates Lean and Six Sigma approaches into a coherent system that strives to eliminate waste of physical resources, time, effort and talent while assuring quality in production and organizational processes. Lean Six Sigma values defect prevention over defect detection and promotes the use of work standardization and flow, which creates a competitive advantage.

Every business has areas that need to be improved. As the debate over Lean vs. Six Sigma continues in the business world, you may not be sure if sticking to a single method is right for your business. Lean Six Sigma may be the best option for you.


Smart companies recognize that implementing a new approach to streamlining production will have major implications throughout their business. It is not a decision to take lightly or implement half-heartedly.

The question is not which system is better, but rather what can your business learn and adopt from both methodologies in order to maximize value for your customers. Additionally, it is important to determine in advance if your company has the ability to sustain these changes over time. Roughly 60 percent of companies who initiate a Lean or Six Sigma project for the first time fail to achieve their desired results.

Whenever a new Six Sigma or Lean project is started, there is always an initial wave of momentum and excitement. Over time, more businesses don’t have the ability to sustain changes made from these systems. They often revert back to the former process that they found to be inefficient when they started.

The type of industry you’re in is a major factor in determining what kind of approach your company will take. Businesses that heavily depend on machinery tend to benefit more from Six Sigma, whereas a labor heavy manufacturing process benefits from Lean principles. Implementing a custom manufacturing evaluation system and designing unique processes for feedback are popular in large industries. New manufacturing facilities stand to benefit from implementing existing models immediately, while leaving options open to evaluate and adjust as needed.

Building flexibility is key for making quick changes to production and management. Since these processes are established and shown to work, they are ready for qualification and more intensive analysis and evaluation.

Streamline Your Production with Stephen Gould

Our team of manufacturing and production management experts have deep experience with Lean Six Sigma techniques. We’ve helped some of the world’s most successful companies identify and implement custom systems that ensure they are continuously improving their production processes and delivering a consistently high level of value to their customers.

By taking elements from Lean and Six Sigma, our team can help you identify problem areas in your organization and design custom processes that lead to greater efficiency and greater cost savings. We’ve seen clients achieve unprecedented growth thanks to the Lean Six Sigma hybrid methodologies and we’re confident that we can help your company tune up an existing manufacturing process or create a brand new program from scratch. Contact us today to learn more about our manufacturing and production management services.