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Learning how to implement Lean Six Sigma

Where should you start with Lean Six Sigma? This guide is built to help you build the processes and team needed to begin your journey and much more. 


Lean Six Sigma, the dynamic duo of process improvement methodologies, is not just a concept; it's a transformative journey. 

For business professionals looking to make their mark in continuous improvement, understanding how to implement Lean Six Sigma in a business is the key to unlocking enhanced efficiency and quality. 

In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through the essentials and provide you with the knowledge to embark on this exciting path.


The essence of Lean Six Sigma

Before getting into the how let's grasp the what and why of Lean Six Sigma.

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a powerful approach that combines Lean principles and Six Sigma methodologies.

It aims to eliminate waste, reduce defects, and enhance overall process performance.

Why Lean Six Sigma?

The benefits are clear—improved efficiency, reduced costs, and satisfied customers.

By implementing Lean Six Sigma, businesses can streamline operations and deliver products or services of the highest quality.


The Road to implementation

Now that you understand what's at stake, it's time to explore how to implement Lean Six Sigma in your business effectively.

1. Define your goals

Begin with a clear definition of your project goals. What do you aim to achieve? Identify specific problem areas or processes that need improvement.

2. Assemble your team

Implementing Lean Six Sigma is a team effort. Assemble a dedicated team with the correct skill set, including Lean Six Sigma Green Belts and Black Belts trained in Lean Six Sigma methodologies.

3. Training and certification

Invest in training and certification for your team. Equipped with the knowledge and tools, they can lead improvement projects effectively.

Green Belts and Black Belts need the knowledge and skills to drive improvement projects effectively. 

Proper training equips them to navigate the DMAIC methodology successfully.

4. Select the right projects

Choose projects that align with your business objectives and have the potential for significant impact. Prioritize them based on factors like customer impact and return on investment.

5. Define and measure

In the Define phase, clearly define the project scope and objectives. Measure the current state of the process using relevant data and metrics.

6. Analyze and improve

In the Analyze phase, identify the root causes of issues and bottlenecks. Then, implement improvements to optimize the process.

7. Control and sustain

In the Control phase, establish control mechanisms to ensure improvements are sustained over time. Develop standard operating procedures (SOPs) and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs).

8. Continuous improvement

Lean Six Sigma is a continuous journey. Encourage a culture of continuous improvement within your organization.

Encourage employees at all levels to participate in the process and contribute their insights. 

A culture of continuous improvement promotes innovation and ensures that Lean Six Sigma principles are embedded in the organizational DNA.


The steps for successful Lean Six Sigma goals and execution in more detail

  1. Define objectives
    The team must start by clearly defining the objectives they aim to achieve. These objectives should align with the organization's strategic goals and be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

  2. Identify key metrics
    Select key performance metrics or indicators (KPIs) relevant to the objectives. These metrics will be used to measure progress and success.

  3. Current state analysis
    Before setting goals, the team needs to understand the current state of the processes they are working on. This involves data collection and analysis to identify areas for improvement.

  4. Gap analysis
    Compare the current state to the desired future state, as defined by the objectives. Identify the gaps or areas where improvements are needed.

  5. Set improvement targets
    Based on the gap analysis, the team can set specific improvement targets. These targets should be based on data and should be challenging yet achievable.

  6. Define projects
    Determine the specific projects and initiatives that will help achieve the improvement targets. Each project should have a clear scope, timeline, and team responsible for its execution.

  7. Data-driven approach
    Lean Six Sigma relies on data and facts. Goals should be set based on data analysis and historical performance to ensure that the improvement efforts are data-driven.

  8. Regular monitoring
    Once goals are set, the team must establish a regular monitoring and reporting system. This includes tracking progress toward goals, analyzing data, and adjusting as needed.

  9. Review and alignment
    Goals should be periodically reviewed to ensure they remain aligned with the organization's strategic direction. Adjustments may be necessary as conditions change.

  10. Continuous improvement
    Lean Six Sigma is an iterative process. Goals are not static but evolve as the organization improves. Continuous improvement is a fundamental principle.

Following this structured process, a Lean Six Sigma team can set clear, data-driven goals that drive improvement efforts and contribute to the organization's overall success.


Lean Six Sigma Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Now, let's address some FAQs that often arise when implementing Lean Six Sigma:

What are the core principles of Lean Six Sigma, and how do they guide improvement efforts?

Lean Six Sigma's core principles focus on eliminating waste, reducing defects, and enhancing overall process performance. 

These principles guide improvement efforts by providing a structured framework for identifying and addressing issues. 

They emphasize data-driven decision-making, continuous improvement, and customer-centric approaches.

Is Lean Six Sigma suitable for small businesses?

Yes, Lean Six Sigma is not exclusive to large corporations and can be adapted to meet the requirements of small businesses.

How can small businesses benefit from Lean Six Sigma?

Small businesses can benefit from Lean Six Sigma by improving efficiency and enhancing product or service quality. This often results in cost savings and increased customer satisfaction.

How do Lean Six Sigma projects impact customer satisfaction and business growth?

Lean Six Sigma projects can significantly impact customer satisfaction and business growth. 

The quality of products or services is enhanced by reducing defects and improving process efficiency.

This leads to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, which, in turn, drives business growth through positive word-of-mouth, repeat business, and a competitive edge in the market.

What tools and techniques are commonly used in Lean Six Sigma, and how do they aid improvement efforts?

Lean Six Sigma employs various tools and techniques, including Value Stream Mapping, 5 Whys, Control Charts, Process Capability Analysis, and more. 

These tools help in problem identification, data analysis, process improvement, and quality control. 

They provide a structured approach to achieving Lean Six Sigma goals.

What are the key differences between Lean Six Sigma and traditional project management approaches?

Lean Six Sigma focuses on improving processes and product/service quality, while conventional project management often emphasizes project completion on time and within budget. 

Lean Six Sigma uses data-driven methods for continuous improvement, while traditional project management relies on principles and practices.

How can data and metrics be effectively utilized in Lean Six Sigma projects?

Data and metrics are at the core of Lean Six Sigma. 

They are used to measure the current state of processes, track improvements, and make data-driven decisions. 

Data helps identify the root causes of issues and provides a basis for monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) to ensure project success.

What are the common challenges and obstacles encountered during Lean Six Sigma implementation, and how can they be addressed?

Common challenges include resistance to change, lack of top leadership support, and difficulties aligning projects with strategic goals. 

Investing in change management is crucial to address these challenges, gaining leadership buy-in and ensuring that projects align with organizational objectives.


Can Lean Six Sigma be integrated with an organization's management systems or quality initiatives?

Lean Six Sigma can be integrated with existing management systems and quality initiatives. 

It can complement other methodologies and enhance their effectiveness.

Integration should be strategic and should consider the unique needs of the organization.


What is the relationship between Lean Six Sigma and Hoshin Kanri?

Lean Six Sigma and Hoshin Kanri are both methodologies aimed at improving organizational performance, but they serve different purposes and operate at different levels of the organization.

  • Lean Six Sigma
    Lean Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology that reduces defects, minimizes process variations, and enhances product or service quality.

    It uses tools and techniques to identify and eliminate waste, making processes more efficient. Lean Six Sigma primarily operates at the operational and project level, aiming to improve specific processes.`


  • Hoshin Kanri
    Hoshin Kanri, on the other hand, is a strategic planning and deployment framework that aligns an organization's strategic goals with its day-to-day operations.

    It focuses on setting long-term objectives and then cascading them down through the organization, ensuring that every level is aligned with the overall strategy.

    Hoshin Kanri operates at the strategic and policy level, aiming to achieve the organization's vision and mission.


While they have distinct focuses and levels of operation, there can be a complementary relationship between Lean Six Sigma and Hoshin Kanri.

Hoshin Kanri can be used to set the strategic direction and goals for the organization, while Lean Six Sigma can be employed to achieve those goals through continuous process improvement. 

In this way, Hoshin Kanri provides the "what" regarding strategic objectives, and Lean Six Sigma provides the "how" to achieve those objectives. 

This synergy allows organizations to drive strategic and operational improvement, enhancing performance and competitiveness.


What is the cost associated with Lean Six Sigma implementation, and what is the return on investment (ROI)?

Lean Six Sigma implementation costs include training, resources, and project-related expenses. 

The ROI is often significant, leading to cost savings, increased quality, and improved customer satisfaction. 

The specific ROI varies depending on the organization and the projects undertaken.


Are there any industries or sectors where Lean Six Sigma is particularly well-suited and where it may not be as effective?

Lean Six Sigma is versatile and can be applied to various industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, and services.

Its effectiveness depends on how well it suits the specific industry's needs. 

While it's well-suited for most sectors, its impact may vary depending on the industry's complexity and characteristics.


Where can I find resources and training programs to start with Lean Six Sigma?

Resources and training programs for Lean Six Sigma can be found in various places, including accredited training providers, online courses, books, and professional organizations. 

Choosing reputable sources and programs is essential to ensure quality training and certification.

Good providers include:

  1. ASQ (American Society for Quality)
    ASQ offers globally recognized Six Sigma certifications, including Certified Six Sigma Green Belt (CSSGB) and Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB). They provide a comprehensive body of knowledge and extensive resources.

  2. IASSC (International Association for Six Sigma Certification)
    IASSC offers certification exams focusing on Lean Six Sigma as a methodology rather than specific tools or techniques. Their certifications include Certified Lean Six Sigma Green Belt (CLSSGB) and Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt (CLSSBB).

  3. Villanova University
    Villanova's online Lean Six Sigma programs are highly regarded and provide training for Green Belt and Black Belt certifications. They offer a flexible and comprehensive curriculum.

  4. ASU (Arizona State University)
    ASU offers a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification program that covers both Lean and Six Sigma methodologies. Their program is accessible online.

  5. GoLeanSixSigma
    GoLeanSixSigma's online platform offers a range of Lean Six Sigma training and certification options, including Yellow Belt, Green Belt, and Black Belt. They provide practical, user-friendly training and templates.

  6. University of Michigan
    The University of Michigan's College of Engineering provides Lean Six Sigma Green Belt and Black Belt certification programs. They combine academic rigor with real-world application.

  7. BMGI (Breakthrough Management Group International)
    BMGI offers Lean Six Sigma training and certification programs. They focus on strategy and innovation in addition to process improvement.

  8. Pyzdek Institute
    The Pyzdek Institute offers Lean Six Sigma training and certification courses. Their programs are designed to be engaging and interactive.

  9. SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers)
    SME provides Lean Bronze Certification and Lean Silver Certification for individuals interested in pursuing Lean methodologies in manufacturing and other industries.


When selecting a Lean Six Sigma provider, consider factors such as your budget, preferred learning style (online or in-person), the depth of training, and the specific certification level you're targeting (Green Belt, Black Belt, etc.). 

It's also advisable to check reviews and seek recommendations from professionals who have completed Lean Six Sigma training to find the best fit for your needs.


Setting course for Lean Six Sigma

With this guide, you have the roadmap to implement Lean Six Sigma in your business successfully. 

The benefits of increased efficiency, cost reduction, and improved quality await those who embrace this transformative journey. It's time to seize the opportunities and make a lasting impact.

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About the author

James Milsom is Head of Marketing at i-nexus. As Head of Marketing, his drive is to raise awareness and understanding of the challenges facing enterprises in delivering strategic objectives and transformation amidst changing markets and the obstacles traditional tools and methods present leaders.

If you’d like to talk more about strategy, reach out to James on james.milsom@i-nexus.com or connect with him on LinkedIn for the latest insights.