What Is the Difference Between Kaizen, Six Sigma, and Lean?

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Difference Between Kaizen, Six Sigma, and Lean

We all hear these words tossed around, especially in presentations about strategy and key initiatives for the next quarter. Too often we use them interchangeably and incorrectly, sometimes implying that they require cuts to the workforce. They all relate to productivity but have very different meanings.

Lean manufacturing is a philosophy pioneered by the Japanese, specifically the Toyota Motor Company, that calls for rigorous elimination of waste. Waste comes from overburden and from the unevenness of workloads. It’s readily identified by the “Eight Deadly Sins of Waste”: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, defects and unused employee ideas. By attacking these sins, we make our processes more efficient. The key to successful lean manufacturing is employee engagement. When each operator contributes to the process of waste identification and reduction, the organization levers the power of many and the pace of improvement accelerates exponentially.

Kaizen is the Japanese word for continuous improvement. Kaizen is the foundation of the Toyota Production System and lean manufacturing. It’s the idea that every day, everyone in the work place should seek to improve his or her work processes. Generally speaking, there are two basic types of Kaizen: flow and process. Flow refers to how product moves through a facility, and is used when re-designing an entire production area. Process means the improvement of individual work stations and activities.

Some organizations use Kaizen events to engage their employees in a team activity to improve a process. Others prefer ongoing continuous improvement efforts. Kaizen is a critical tenet of lean.

Six Sigma is a set of tools and techniques for improving a process. The goal of six sigma is reducing defects by removing variability in a process. A six-sigma process is one in which 99.99966% (six standard deviations) of all operations are statistically expected to be free of defects. General Electric under Jack Welch made it famous by making it a key component of corporate strategy. Lean Six Sigma combines both methodologies to attack waste and reduce variability.

Nowhere in any of these terms is there a mention of cutting jobs. This is an important distinction because no company could expect the operator buy-in needed to improve if operators thought they would lose their jobs as a result. Successful manufacturers use these methods to reduce non-value added or low-value added work. Any operator freed up from improvement efforts is then repurposed to greater value adding activities.

Author: Anthony Diebold

Position: President

Company: Strong Hold Products

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