What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma (LSS) is a philosophy, a framework, and a set of tools used by an engaged team of people aimed at providing value to the customer.

LSS is a philosophy.

“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”

Henry Ford

A culture focused on optimized performance – through the lens of the customer –  will intuitively bring value to every transaction. This attitude can only happen when individuals and teams believe in bringing their best selves to each situation. My favorite part of bringing Quality into an organization is to spend time anchoring to the concept of Quality as a way of being.

LSS is a framework.

Quality includes continuous improvement, innovation, the never-ending search for perfection, and a willingness to solve problems with data and team engagement. Quality efforts focus on systematically improving efficiency, effectiveness, value to the customer, and adaptability in processes.  This can be done with a Lean approach, with a Six Sigma approach, or with a hybrid model referred to as Lean Six Sigma (LSS).

The Lean framework is one of structured plan, do, check, act (PDCA) steps that focus on eliminating waste with a Kaizen spirit. Kaizen translates to “change good” – the very essence of Lean.

“Progress is impossible without the ability to admit mistakes.”

Lean Leader Masaaki Imai

 A culture steeped in Lean has the search for perfection built into its core, where it is safe to make mistakes and learn from them.

Six Sigma, on the other hand, seeks to reduce variation through eliminating defects. Six Sigma uses a structured define, measure, analyze, improve, control (DMAIC) methodology to standardize process steps.

Lean Six Sigma (LSS), then, brings the best of both worlds, combining both structure and agility. Lean focuses on efficiency. Six Sigma focuses on effectiveness. And combined, they focus on both value and adaptability.

LSS is tools.

As with any profession, the better the tools, the better the performance. LSS has a few core tools that take a little bit of time to learn, but deliver a lifetime of benefit.

Whether a project takes place in a 3-day Kaizen Event or a 3-month DMAIC project, teams follow an Open -> Narrow -> Close path using a variety of tools. At the open stage, teams define the problem and document customer requirements using the equivalent of a charter document or an A3 template. During the narrow stage, teams use tools such as value-stream maps, fishbone diagrams, and pareto charts to analyze the process and find the root cause(s) of the problem. Finally, during the close stage, teams hone in on the most important cause(s) and drive toward resolution.

LSS is people.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford

Individuals perform at their best when their purpose is clear, their objectives are aligned with purpose, and they are fully engaged in smooth-running processes that bring out their best. Lean Six Sigma equips leaders and teams alike to drive toward finding this sweet spot.


This article is concurrently being posted on the Unleashing Leaders blog. Ask me how you can partner with both Opal Training Group and Unleashing Leaders to Optimize Performance and Accelerate the Changes You Seek.


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