Two hot terms in process improvement these days are Lean and Six Sigma. You might have heard of them, but what exactly do they mean and why should you care?
We asked Ric Van Der Linden, MAOM, and instructor of the Lean Six Sigma program, to explain the differences and evolution of the two.
"Both terms were originally born in the manufacturing industry. Lean was founded in the auto industry about 30 years ago and was primarily focused on the removal of waste and reduction of lead time. Lean was originally focused entirely on manufacturing, but it did not take long for other support functions in an organization like design, marketing, legal, and human resources to catch on and adopt lean practices. From there, Lean spread to other industries such as healthcare, biotech and other services. In my Lean classes I only have three or four students out of 18 who work in manufacturing. Ten years ago it would have been all 18."
"Six Sigma was developed by Motorola back in the mid eighties with the goal of improving quality by reducing variation or the number of errors in a process. Six Sigma is much more statically based, using software to analyze large amounts of data in order to identify variation."
So which makes more sense for you to do, lean or six sigma? Ric goes on to explain,
"Ideally you would want both together; it’s a logical fit. However, if you want to have more people doing more things, go with Lean since it is easier to understand than Six Sigma. Lean is about removing waste. You are taking away non-value adding steps and improving flow to achieve better speed with the overall result of getting things done sooner. In a nut shell: reduce lead time and speed will be better."
"Six Sigma applies additional steps after Lean methodologies have been implemented—now it’s time to reduce the variation."
"For example, if your company gets orders and this week you have 10 things to do, then next week you have nothing to do, and the following week orders roll in and there are 150 things to do, this is the kind of variation that’s hard for businesses to manage."
"In my class I teach how to measure variation. We are exploring control charts and doing Cpk analysis. In a couple of weeks we will be designing experiments. Six Sigma also requires special software skills because there are more calculations and the approach is very application based."
"Ultimately, the best choice for a process improvement course depends on the individual and the overall goals of a company."
To learn more about the Lean Enterprise or Lean Six Sigma Black Belt programs, attend an upcoming information session:
Both information sessions will be held at UC San Diego Extension University City Center, 6256 Greenwich Dr., San Diego. Parking is free. Program instructors, Ric Van Der Linden and Jerry Wright, will lead the sessions and answer questions.