What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is the scientific study of a process, through the capture and analysis of data, with the desire to accurately control the process to achieve a more consistent output.

Both Lean and Six Sigma approaches have their own strengths and both have several overlapping principles. Sometimes the terms Lean and Six Sigma are used separately, sometimes interchangeably, and sometimes they are combined such as Lean Six Sigma.

The most common overlapping principle is the holistic continuous improvement mindset. Both methodologies teach the necessity of having a vision and goals to improve business systems and then a trust in the methodology to deliver the savings. Most importantly, management must invest time, resources and trust in its people to allow them to learn the methodology, do the analysis, and implement the improvements. Only after this cycle is complete will the pay-offs begin to flow.

The Lean and Six Sigma streams also require the fundamental skill of the voice of the customer and to recognise that any process that does not add value to the customer is considered waste.

Traditionally, Lean training is less structured. For example,  a person working in a Lean organisation such as Toyota would be surrounded by systems, people and a culture of Lean. Just like being in a foreign country and having to adopt a new language, Lean becomes a language that each person learns and continues to develop as they implement it on a daily basis. In contrast, the complexity inherent with the focus on data and statistics, Six Sigma practitioners are given formal training, assessed, and progress through more structured levels (Green, Black, or Master Black Belt).

One advantage to Lean is its ease and speed of implementation. This means paybacks are often seen sooner than Six Sigma projects. This also means that in the same period that one Six Sigma project can be completed, several Lean projects can be completed to achieve many smaller improvements.

One advantage of Six Sigma when applied to problems and defects is its root cause analysis capability and robust conclusions due to its use of statistical methods and real data.

Six Sigma was developed by Motorola and historically Vative has been a Motorola University certifying body. As such, Vative’s material and certification standards were developed with the help of Motorola Australia. Vative continues to work closely with both Motorola and the international certifying body of the Lean Six Sigma Society of Professionals (LSSSP) on defining Lean and Six-Sigma standards.


Lean is a principle of efficient manufacturing/operations that grew out of the Toyota Production System in the middle of the 20th century. It is based on the philosophy of defining value from the customer’s viewpoint and continually improving the way in which value is delivered. This is accomplished by identifying and removing the 8 forms of waste from any process, improving quality, flow and delivering value to the customer. Lean is centered on preserving value with less work. The ultimate goal is providing value to the customer through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste. This is done by empowering every individual worker to achieve his or her full potential and thus make the greatest possible contribution. Lean leaders facilitate this goal through problem-solving training. They help workers grow professionally and personally, allowing them to take pride in their work.

The goal of empowerment is achieved by showing respect for people and respect for process. Respect for people includes not only workers, but suppliers and society as well. Respecting people and process means Lean leaders must go to where value is created – commonly known as the “gemba”, a Japanese term meaning “Go-look-see”. At gemba, they often spend their time coaching and developing their people. They encourage workers to actively identify problems and look for opportunities for improvement.

Six Sigma

Developed by Motorola in the 1980s, Six Sigma has proven itself to be a practical, robust and scientific approach to process quality improvement and control. Through their internal Green Belt and Black Belt training, Motorola reported savings of $2.2 billion dollars in a four-year time frame after implementation. Motorola subsequently released the methodology openly, resulting in many corporations such as Texas Instruments and General Electric becoming champions of the process. Six Sigma has continued to grow becoming one of the most widely adopted quality methodologies in all types of businesses worldwide.

Six Sigma follows the DMAIC process, which provides a step-by-step problem-solving framework. The problem is first Defined, then Measured, the data is then Analysed, and Improvements are devised and implemented.

The new process is then Controlled to ensure the improvements are standardised. The most effective implementation of Six Sigma is to processes that are:

  • Highly repetitive;
  • Standardised;
  • Relatively stable or have the need to become stable, and;
  • Have measurable inputs and outputs.

As well as a highly effective problem-solving methodology, the Six Sigma DMAIC steps emphasis control of processes. Statistical Process Control (SPC) is a tool within the Six Sigma toolkit which allows processes that have been brought into control to be monitored. This helps to ensure that when an abnormal change is detected, an appropriate reaction is taken early enough to prevent the creation of a defective product.

The Six Sigma process is very powerful, requiring training and experience to ensure that the tools are used correctly. Every project and every process has a different set of requirements for the application of the Six Sigma toolkit, thus the Six Sigma professional continues to improve their skills through every project they are involved in.

A formally recognized “belt” framework exists (Yellow, Green, Black, Master Black) to define levels of Six Sigma understanding and experience.

The most successful examples of Six Sigma implementation are from organisations that have a controlled structure of professionals within each belt and have a culture of support for the Six Sigma methodology at all levels of management. Six Sigma projects are continually assessed, monitored and reported and individuals are supported to build their skills, while delivering cost savings for the business.

Yellow Belt

Yellow Belt training is a 1 day introduction to Six Sigma. (Yellow Belts are not expected to lead projects, but rather participate).

Green Belt

The Green Belt level is where the Six Sigma journey really begins. Green Belt training is facilitated over 4 days, by an experienced (Master) Black Belt facilitator. Face-to-face training coupled with participation in a simulation allows participants to practice the skills immediately for better understanding and retention. Green Belts usually lead smaller improvement projects with support from Black Belts.

Black Belt

Black Belt level is where the true power of the Six Sigma methodology is unleashed. Black Belt training is facilitated over 12 days which must be provided face-to-face by an experienced Master Black Belt. The coaching provided by a Master Black Belt through a simulation exercise during the training is invaluable as it allows the translation of theory into real action and provides the student with a steppingstone to build their confidence to tackle issues outside the classroom.

Black Belts are usually dedicated full time to the training and mentoring of Green Belts and their projects in addition to leading 4-6 Black Belt projects per year.

Master Black Belts are usually dedicated full-time to the training and mentoring of Green and Black Belts and the management of Six Sigma projects within an organisation.