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Oct 31, 2010

Lean Tools and Six Sigma

The Lean approach is one of elimination of waste and improving the flow using Lean tools to bring about quick improvements in problem areas.

Need for Integrating Lean and Six Sigma

Both have been successfully used in different companies. Six Sigma helps in elimination of defects, but does not optimize the processes, and Lean does not use any statistical tools, which can be even more effective and are required for making the system perfectly lean.

The experts on the matter are of the opinion that the combination of Lean tools and principles with Six Sigma can make a major difference in bringing about sustained improvements in the business processes and profits. A structured approach to integrating Lean with the help of Lean tools and principles with Six Sigma can reap rich benefits for the organization.

The Lean Tools that can help integrating with Six Sigma are listed below.

Value Stream Mapping

The focus of the value stream mapping tool is to categorize activities and materials into value adding, non-value adding and value enabling.

If you utilize this tool in the DMAIC phase of Six Sigma, then the non-value adding activities can be segregated from the value adding ones, thus helping to reduce the wait time between two processes.

This means overall leaner processes. Value stream mapping can be combined with the analyze phase, as well as the improve phase.

Takt Time

Takt time is the time needed for a particular project to be completed to meet customer demand. Generally, the efforts would be to record the existing cycle time for the manufacturing processes in the Measure phase.

A comparison is done with the existing service level agreements to find out the mismatch of the actual with the SLAs exceeding tolerance levels can be measured. This helps in understanding the amount of improvement required to match the cycle time with the Takt time.

Ishikawa Diagram

In the Analyze phase, it becomes imperative to find the root causes of a problem area. In the absence of detailed statistical data, the 5 Whys can be used along with the Ishikawa (cause and effect) diagram to make the task easier and manageable. The 5 Whys tool can be useful in pointing out areas that need immediate improvement and that can be addressed easily.


Heijunka, which means load balancing, is a tool that helps the Lean team to provide a consistent flow of work by ensuring that the bottlenecks are removed in the Design phase of Six Sigma.

Load balancing can be useful in reducing inventory turnover by introducing a pull system rather than a push system, which is responsible for bottlenecks. The Takt time also supports the designing of the system, such that a level load balance is achieved.

Poka Yoke

Poka Yoke, which stands for mistake proofing is a great tool of Lean, which can be used to fine-tune the processes as such that the probability of error is reduced in the given areas.

Combined with Ishikawa diagram and the Pareto Analysis, it can be used in the Design and Improve phases to eliminate the major causes of errors.

The combination of Lean tools with the Six Sigma methodology can be very useful for any type of organization, may it be manufacturing or even the service industry. It can boost the benefits of the organization to a large extent.