Lean Management, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and my approach – what are the differences?

Lean Management, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and my approach – what are the differences?

Recently, during one of my webinars I got this question: What are the differences between LEAN (Lean management, Lean Manufacturing), Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and HerkuLess® – the way I apply Lean Six Sigma?

First about the similarities

Before I go into explaining the differences, let’s talk about the relation between these methods.

They have all one major purpose: to change YOU.

Yes, you! To change how you think, how you work, how you work with others, how you detect problems, how you solve problems, how you set goals and how you achieve them, how you try out new approaches and fail and what you do then.

Changing you and your colleagues on a big scale – like company-wide – causes the company culture to change. To achieve this transformation, there are several factors which play an important role; such as leadership commitment and involvement, focus, communication, tool- or culture-focused implementation, short-term vs long-term orientation in decision-making, just to name a few.

Where is the method left from this list? The choice of the method plays a secondary role to the above-mentioned factors. So why bother?

Because company culture does not change if YOU do not change. Change begins with you. And that is my personal mission to inspire and to help you make that change.

LEAN, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, HerkuLess® and many other methods are providing lots of help, structure, tools, insights to help you make the change. So let’s start with these methods.

The Differences

This short analysis is giving you only the most obvious differences and it is not a comprehensive analysis. The definitions I describe are my own words, the way I explain it during my training and webinars are based on my own experiences.

By giving you this short comparison I hope you will be able to decide what to apply in your situation.


Definition: A method to remove waste (non-value-added steps and activities) from all processes, to concentrate on what the customer values. The non-value-added steps are steps that when you remove them, the customer would not even notice it.

Example: Think about overproduction, overprocessing, waiting time, defects, movements, transportation, etc. At the end it comes down to reducing process lead times, saving time and, of course, money.

Pro’s: easy tools to use with lots of visualisation. Achieve quick wins because solution is obvious: “in your face”.

Cons: use of data is not always encouraged, solving complex problems with many factors and their interactions is not easy with LEAN tools.

Conclusion: a great way to improve any business.

Six Sigma

Definition: Much less known compared to LEAN but it is a method to improve the quality of the process output by reducing variation, therefore enabling you to better match customer’s expectations and moving the average to the desired direction.

Example: scrap rate (products outside specification divided by total produced) may vary by day, by shift, by product group, by supplier, etc. This gives unpredictability of the output, eg. “are we going to produce enough good items to fulfil the order?”

Pros: Strong data-driven and structured approach going through the same phases with every project (called DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control). Able to solve complex problems proving mathematical correlations between factors and their interactions.

Cons: Heavily loaded with statistics, therefore creating distance between practitioners (Black Belts and Green Belts) and project team members (Yellow Belts) and the work floor. Projects tend to have longer lead times compared to LEAN. Often combined with hierarchy among practitioners (including Master Black Belt and Deployment Manager) and lengthy training periods (I had 5 weeks of full-time Black Belt training), which requires significant investments only big companies can afford.

Conclusion: great tools and excellent project structure. It is worth the investment.

Lean Six Sigma

Definition: it combines the best of both worlds by being able to reduce both lead times (LEAN) and improving quality (Six Sigma).

Example: scrap rate needs to be controlled and reduced (Six Sigma) and by doing so, we reduce the time we need to produce the required amount (LEAN). We do not have to “re-process” or produce in excess and store, because we are able to do it right first time.

Pros: Powerful combination of both concepts because business challenges almost always deal with both elements: Lead-time is affected by quality and vice versa (see our scrap rate example). It can deliver quick results with a LEAN approach, but can also solve complex issues when more data-driven tools are needed.

Cons: It still requires a lot of knowledge of tools and statistics. After my 5 weeks of full-time training I had no idea where to start with my project. I did not know for sure whether I needed to use SIPOC, a Value-stream-map or just a flow chart. I also had difficulties with explaining statistics and Design-of-experiment results to my team from the shop-floor. The duration of projects due to this “search in the toolbox” did not match the magnitude of the project results either.

Conclusion: I think you know by now that I would rather use Lean Six Sigma to be able to identify and solve both time and quality related challenges.

My approach using Lean Six Sigma

Definition: I use only 20% of the most effective tools and techniques from Lean Six Sigma solving 80% of your problems and challenges.

I have selected no more than 10 tools from the 100+ of the Lean Six Sigma arsenal (so actually it is not 80/20 but 90/10 rule) that are effective and powerful, yet easy to use by anybody in the company.

Example: I choose to draw the current process on a white-board together with the project team, discussing the bottle-neck and the risks at each step instead of using SIPOC or VSM. Let the team together decide where the biggest problem is and explain it why. Using data for the baseline will still visualise the performance and show improvement later in the project.

Other example: I do not spend time on calculating DPMO (defects per million opportunities) and Sigma-level because by calculating % of defects (= number of off-spec items/total produced) I will get the same information and people are more familiar with % then Sigma-levels or Z-scores.

Pros: I use the structure of Six Sigma DMAIC, so you always know where you are in your project and what to do next. The tools at each phase are easy to use, enabling your whole team to fully understand them and support the work. Whether it is a lead-time issue or a quality problem, you solve both with the same tools, following the same steps in the project. You can easily see the progress on the project and compare it with other projects.

I use HerkuLess® to run Lean Six Sigma projects.

Cons: more focus on low-hanging fruits, the quick wins instead of on big, radical changes. In HerkuLess® you have run charts with control limits and spec limits, Pareto-analysis, Scatter plots and regression analysis, but you may need to upload your other Minitab statistics (ANOVA, DOE results, MSA, etc).

Conclusion: If you want faster project execution with standardised documentation of the project, hand-picked tools that are easy to use so that you can spend more time on the HUMAN part of the business challenge instead of the tool/technical side, then why don’t you give HerkuLess® a try?