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Lean vs Six Sigma: What's the Difference?


Lately there's been a great deal of talk around Lean execution. But, some people speak of Lean, some speak of Six Sigma and some use a combination of the two. But, what's the difference? How do you know what's right for your organization?

Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that combines process speed with quality. To become a truly more efficient and effective organization in terms of operations and business processes, you must have both Lean and Six Sigma methodologies; having one without the other ultimately results in process destruction.

Lean, itself, focuses on speed. It emphasizes reducing the amount of time between activities, events, and cycles.  The shorter the cycle time, the more cycles you can complete in a given amount of time. Lean also identifies areas where process waste and bottlenecks can be eliminated. There are 8 types of waste that can be removed from business processes to reduce costs and time:

  • Waiting- whether it is for the next activity, process step, or information, process wait time can be 90% or more of the processing cycle.
  • Overproduction- over producing products or services ahead of the need can result in product expiration or excess inventory
  • Rework- correcting defects, mistakes and errors
  • Motion- excessive movement/transfer of people, supplies, materials, and documents
  • Over Processing- of information, data, and testing
  • Inventory- maintaining excessive amount of supplies that could potentially expire
  • Intellect- failing to use the talents and knowledge of the organization
  • Unnecessary Transporting- equipment, people, etc.
While lean promotes rapid business processes the problem that arises from it is a lack of quality. It doesn't matter how many forms are completed or calls are taken if the data and information captured is not up to par. Simply completing activities rapidly, without check marks fosters an environment prone to errors and often requires rework. This is where Six Sigma becomes essential to business process management
BPM Software enables efficiency

The Six Sigma methodology is a quality tool that emphasizes reducing the number of errors in a process. It focuses on identifying variation in the types of data inputs, and looks at Root Cause Analysis to determine the source of errors. After all, what good is it to complete a process quickly if the information is incorrectly entered?

To ensure process and organizational success a combination of both lean and six sigma are needed. Together lean and six sigma work through process mapping to model and automate the most efficient, quality workflows possible, allowing your company to maximize productivity, while eliminating waste and reducing costs. Having a Lean Six Sigma approach to your business processes is essential for any company to achieve operational excellence.

You'll also hear from certain people that software is not necessary for Lean Six Sigma execution. Sure, it's not necessary if you only want to receive a fraction of the possible results; but, why only go through process of making your manual tasks lean? If you automate your tasks with a Lean Six Sigma approach you are likely to receive an infinitely higher return on your efforts.

Is your company implementing both lean and six sigma thinking into operations? Have you considered a process automation solution to help with your Lean Six Sigma Initiatives?


Read the "Ultimus & Lean Six Si

Relevant Links:

Controlling Process "Rework" with Lean Six Sigma Practices
Visibility Into Your Processes Helps You Control Your Costs
Getting Started with Process Modeling
Lean Healthcare?

Mary Katherine Strupe
Marketing Coordinator


I liked this comparison article. We produce info like this on our website, but this one is something worth exploring, because it helps to fully understand how these two concepts need each other, and why they are truly different. 
Posted @ Friday, June 15, 2012 12:18 PM by Mike Wilson
very well explained. My CFO told me doesnt like six sigma vs Lean, and now I understand he meant Speed. But then, he also misunderstood the concept of six sigma (GIGO) as explained here. Thanks!
Posted @ Wednesday, January 16, 2013 3:27 AM by JohnM
Lean is based off Toyota's highly successful production system. The genius behind the system is how inventory control and stopping the line can bring out real problems (including quality related) in a process. In my experience, lean stands on it's own without six sigma. The reverse is not true. Six sigma can't exist purely without lean influence. Lean strives to bring out quality issues through inventory control rather than control charts. It's absolutely wrong to say that lean emphasizes speed and not quality. Six sigma has it's place and I fully support it's use as a means for quality improvement. On the other side of the same coin, I want all my employees involved in solving real problems. I can't do that with six sigma alone.
Posted @ Wednesday, January 15, 2014 10:19 AM by Rob
I have to agree with Rob on this one. When one of the wastes in Lean is rework, it doesn't make sense to say that it doesn't focus on quality
Posted @ Sunday, September 07, 2014 6:33 PM by Phil
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