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8 Powerful Lean Six Sigma Tools for Streamlined Manufacturing

02 Mar, 2018 | Business Tips

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Lean Six Sigma is the system preferred by businesses around the world to streamline, improve, and optimize any and every aspect of their organization.

What sets this system apart from everything else is its fusion of waste-reducing methods from Lean Manufacturing combined with the product defect-reducing methods of Six Sigma.

While you may know what Lean Six Sigma is, it’s sometimes hard to understand what it will look like once you implement it.

In today’s post, we’ll help you understand what Lean Six Sigma looks like in practice by describing 8 of its most powerful tools

But before we do that, we’ll give you some context for the system by walking you through Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma separately, and then define Lean Six Sigma itself.

What is Lean?

Lean Manufacturing is a system for maximizing product value for the customer while minimizing waste without sacrificing productivity.

Lean manufacturing as we know it today has its roots in the Toyota Production System (TPS), but before it was known as TPS, they simply called it just-in-time manufacturing.

There were 3 things the Toyota Production System attempted to prevent:

1. Muda –  Everything in your manufacturing process that creates waste or causes constraints on creating a valuable product.

2. Mura – Everything that creates inconsistent and inefficient work flows.

3. Muri – All tasks or loads that put too much stress on your employees or machines.

In Muda, there are 8 wastes you should work to eliminate:

1. Defects

2. Overproduction

3. Waiting

4. Not utilizing talent

5. Transportation

6. Inventory excess

7. Motion waste

8. Excess processing

There were also 5 principles that every Lean manufacturing system adhered to:

1. Value – A company delivers the most valuable product to the customer.

2. Value Stream – Map out the steps and processes required to manufacture those valuable products.

3. Flow – Undergo the process of ensuring all of your value-adding steps flow smoothly without interruptions, delays, or bottlenecks.

4. Pull – Products are built on a “just-in-time” basis so that materials aren’t stockpiled and customers receive their orders within weeks, instead of months.

5. Perfection – Make Lean thinking and process improvement a core part of your company culture.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a data-driven process that seeks to reduce product defects down to 3.4 defective parts per million, or 99.99966% defect-free products over the long-term.

In other words, the goal is to produce nearly perfect products for your customers.

By using statistical models, Six Sigma practitioners will methodically improve and enhance a company’s manufacturing process until they reach the level of Six Sigma.

In all Six Sigma projects, there are 2 main methods of achieving the same defect-free goals. Below, we detail these 2 methods.

The first and most-used method in Six Sigma is a 5-step process called DMAIC:

1. Define

2. Measure

3. Analyze

4. Improve

5. Control

The DMAIC process uses data and measured objectives to create a cycle of continuous improvement in your manufacturing methods.

While DMAIC is useful for improving your current processes, DMADV is used to develop a new process, product, or service.

DMADV stands for:

1. Define

2. Measure

3. Analyze

4. Design

5. Verify

The DMADV process uses data and thorough analyses to help you create an efficient process or develop a high-quality product or service.

At their core, Lean and Six Sigma both seek to optimize the manufacturing process in order to provide the highest quality products to their customers. They simply use different methods and focus on different activities.

These differences complement one another, which brings us to the merging of these two methods into Lean Six Sigma.

What Is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is the fusion of Lean Manufacturing with Six Sigma to create a complete system that removes waste and reduces process variation for streamlined manufacturing and optimal product output.

Lean Six Sigma primarily uses Six Sigma processes and methods as the backbone of the system – such as DMAIC and the <a” href=”http://www.sixsigmadigest.com/six-sigma-belts.shtml” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>belt system – to drive focused improvements in manufacturing while incorporating many techniques and tools from Lean to reduce wasteful steps and processes

To help you understand the specific processes and techniques Lean Six Sigma uses to improve your manufacturing, here are some of the main tools you’ll implement if your company adopts the Lean Six Sigma system.

What are the Tools of Lean Six Sigma?

The 5 Whys

The 5 Whys is a tool used to determine the root cause of problems within your organization. It’s often deployed as part of the Analyze phase in DMAIC.

The 5 Whys works like this:

– Write down the problem you’re having so everyone on your team can focus on it specifically.

– Ask why the problem occurred.

– If your first answer isn’t the root cause of the problem, ask why again.

– Repeat this step at least 5 times to find the true root cause of the problem.

You can ask why more than 5 times, but it seems that after 5 whys are asked, you will have clarity on the cause of your problem.

The 5S System

The 5S system is a method of organizing your workplace materials for quicker access and better maintenance. This system is essential for eliminating waste that is produced by poor workstations and tools in poor condition.

The 5 S’s are:

1. Seiri (Sort) – Remove all unnecessary items for your current production, leaving only what is necessary.

2. Seiton (Set In Order) – Organize remaining items and label them accordingly.

3. Seiso (Shine) – Clean and inspect your work area and everything in it every day.

4. Seiketsu (Standardize) – Write out your standards for the Sort, Set In Order, and Shine steps above.

5. Shitsuke (Sustain) – Apply the standards you’ve set for your company and make them habits for everyone in your organization.

Value Stream Mapping

Another tool used in the Analyze phase of DMAIC as well as in Lean Manufacturing – making it perfect for Lean Six Sigma – is value stream mapping.

A value stream map shows the flow of materials and information in one of your processes and was developed to help you improve and optimize flow throughout your organization.

There are 3 things value stream mapping helps you identify:

1. Value-enabling activities

2. Value-adding activities

3. Non-value adding activities

The whole purpose of this map is to eliminate all of your non-value adding activities and eliminate wait times between consecutive steps in your processes so that your processes become more compact, precise, and swift.

Regression Analysis

A regression analysis is a statistical process for estimating and understanding the relationship between variables.

You would use it to define the mathematical relationship between an output variable (y) and any number of input variables (x1, x2, etc.)

Graphing these inputs and outputs helps you visualize patterns or deviance from desired patterns in your workflow.

Be cautious when performing a regression analysis, though, if you want to avoid statistical illusions. Here are a few things to remember when performing a regression analysis:

  • When two variables are found to be correlated, it is tempting to assume that this shows that one variable causes the other, resulting in the logical fallacy known as correlation does not imply causation.
  • Two or more variables in your regression model could be highly correlated, making it difficult to isolate their individual effects on the dependent variable, referred to as Multicollinearity.
  • When the error term in one time period is positively correlated with the error term in the previous time period, you’ll encounter the problem of (positive first-order) autocorrelation.

Pareto Chart

The Pareto chart graphically displays the differences between groups of data, allowing Lean Six Sigma teams to identify the largest issues facing the process.

The y-axis represents a cumulative percentage and a defect frequency, while the x-axis represents the groups of response variables displayed as bars, such as machine design or machine parts.

This chart is often lauded as one of the most important tools in the Lean Six Sigma toolbox for helping teams uncover the 20% of sources that cause 80% of problems in their processes.


Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) helps businesses identify and eliminate weak points in the early stages of any product or process.

Developed in the 1950s, FMEA is used to review components, assemblies, and subsystems to identify failure modes and their causes and effects.

Lean Six Sigma practitioners use FMEA to improve the quality of their processes, services, and products by detecting and fixing problems before they occur.

Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)

Kaizen is the practice of continually observing, identifying, and implementing incremental improvements in the manufacturing process.

It encourages all managers and employees to be involved in the process of manufacturing improvements.

Kaizen ensures that waste will be gradually reduced through the collective talents and knowledge of everyone in the company working together to change the smallest inefficiencies daily.

Poka-yoke (Mistake Proofing)

Poka-yoke is a Japanese term that means mistake proofing. It’s a process by which employees work to identify and eliminate the causes of human errors throughout the manufacture and production processes.

For example, a poka-yoke could be changing the phrasing on machine buttons to eliminate worker confusion or it could be adding a safety brake to mobile equipment to prevent accidents.

How Do You Implement Lean Six Sigma?

If Lean Six Sigma sounds like the right fit for your organization, we suggest checking out these resources to learn more about the methodology and how you can get trained and certified to use it.

If you want to start improving areas of your business outside of manufacturing or production, you can check out our posts on creating a successful stocktaking process, reducing your costs of inventory, and optimizing your rate of inventory turnover.

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