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Lean vs. Six Sigma – What’s the Difference?

  • What’s the difference between Lean vs. Six Sigma?
  • Six Sigma eliminates defects and waste while improving quality and efficiency inevitably improving business processes.
  • Lean streamlines manufacturing and production processes by cutting out unnecessary and wasteful steps in production, ensuring only essential steps are taken.

In the manufacturing world, there is much debate on the differences between Lean vs. Six Sigma and which one is more effective. Most people have very strong opinions regarding Lean vs. Six Sigma, especially concerning implementation and which methodology is truly better.

But, the two terms have started to blur in meaning, and there may be a good reason for that. Both are relatively similar. The only difference is the steps needed to get to the end goal, but ironically enough, the end goal of reducing waste is the same. So, to elaborate, follow along as we explain the differences and similarities.

What are the Main Differences Between Lean vs. Six Sigma?

While we mentioned the two differences above, we’ll go into further detail in this section.

Lean originated from the ideas of Henry Ford and later, the implementation of the Toyota production system. The system developed by Toyota incorporated a set of procedures that reduced the time required for setup and changeovers, and in the 1980s, Lean was widely adopted by countries around the globe, including the United States.

Six Sigma was developed around the same time Lean was introduced by Toyota to the United States. Bill Smith at Motorola designed Six Sigma to measure defects and improve overall quality. The original idea was further developed by the manufacturing conglomerate, GE. Their use of Six Sigma prompted others to follow.

The history is an important part of the discussion of Lean vs. Six Sigma because it tells a clear picture of why and how the methodologies can be used to increase efficiencies in manufacturing. Lean was and is still used today to ensure a manufacturing process is “lean” and without waste. Six Sigma, named after a statistical bell curve, looks at the entire company, both production, and nonproduction, to reduce waste.

The essential goal of Six Sigma is to eliminate defects and waste while improving quality and efficiency thus improving business processes. The theory is applicable in all areas of business in the company from the plant floor to accounting.

Similarly, Lean is used to streamline manufacturing and production processes. The focus of Lean is cutting out unnecessary and wasteful steps in production, ensuring only essential steps are taken.

Both have the same goal, but a different approach in identifying the root cause of waste. With Six Sigma, waste comes from variation within the process, but in Lean, waste comes from unnecessary steps.

Lean identifies the seven wastes that can be eliminated, or reduced, to increase efficiency.

  1. Overproduction
  2. Waiting
  3. Transport
  4. Motion
  5. Over-processing
  6. Inventory
  7. Defects

To reiterate, the goal of Lean is to reduce the seven causes of waste, whereas Six Sigma is used to reduce errors in production as well as nonproduction environments to reduce waste. The two, however, can work in tandem and increase efficiency and productivity on the factory floor.

So, how to the two methodologies fit together?

What Does Lean Mean in Six Sigma? How is Lean and Six Sigma integrated?

Basically, Lean in Six Sigma concentrates on a “team-focused managerial approach that seeks to improve performance by eliminating waste and defects” that combines the tools and philosophies into one, super-efficient theory.

The two work together to eliminate any resources that don’t create value for the organization and are considered a waste. Sounds simple, right?

The problem that arises is the confusion between how the two theories work together thus creating an issue of how to best utilize the systems. With the right amount of research and education, an organization can seamlessly implement the two systems, reducing waste by whatever works best for that organization, and create a more efficient environment.

Is Six Sigma Still Relevant?

The answer is unequivocally, yes, but we say this, because in the end, any organization method, including Six Sigma and Lean, is beneficial when used to streamline a process, a factory floor, or a manufacturer.

As we’ve mentioned before, both Lean and Six Sigma can be used to create a more efficient process, and together, they can concentrate on that goal even more.

What is the Better Method to Implement?

Adding on to our answer from above, the best thing a manufacturer can do is implement any organizational method that will streamline production. It’s better to start today and make changes along the way than wait for the absolute perfect solution because, in the end, there is probably no one solution that will perfectly fit with your company.

The goal of both Lean and Six Sigma is to increase efficiency, and a manufacturer can only benefit from that.

How Does Mingo Employ Lean vs. Six Sigma?

Take Mingo for example. With our platform, we employ both Lean and Six Sigma methodologies. The goal is to gather data and analyze that data to make decisions. We help customers reduce cycle time and reduce waste, subsequently reducing costs and increasing satisfaction with the manufacturing process.

Through the power of manufacturing analytics, Mingo can identify those causes which give the manufacturer the ability to take action to correct issues.

“The core idea is to maximize customer value while minimizing waste.”

The methodologies allow a manufacturer to find waste in processes. By understanding how long, for example, it takes to turnover from one job or part to another, you are better able to make a decision on how to improve that turnover. You can measure the turnover, how long it takes, and prove it from the data.

Historically, people track turnover with stopwatches. So, you have a guy watching someone do a change with a stopwatch and manually measure that data. It’s definitely not following the principles of Lean or Six Sigma.

The same idea applies to quality, maintenance, and cycle time perspective. All of the information needed to track those metrics is quickly and easily brought to the forefront so people can prioritize and understand where the issues are through Mingo.

Prioritization is key. Understanding can help to determine where the biggest issues are and when and how to fix those issues. Rather than be equipped with antidotal information or what you think is the problem, Mingo uncovers things you didn’t realize or know which will help you focus.

The other interesting thing to consider is that most production reporting is not very Lean because there is a lot of waste in that particular process, as illustrated in the stopwatch example. If you don’t have automated production reporting, you, or one of your employees, is writing down information on paper, entering that data into Excel, and summarizing it into actionable insights for different people. Not only is it a very tedious and lengthy process, but it is prone to error.

The biggest takeaway? Make production reporting easier and more simplistic. You’re manufacturing process may incorporate Lean or Six Sigma, but we can almost guarantee your reporting process is not if you’re not using automated software. 

By and large, the goal of Mingo is to gather data and analyze that data to make decisions. With our product, we help customers reduce cycle time and reduce waste subsequently reducing costs and increasing satisfaction with the manufacturing process.

Picture of Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.