Lean Manufacturing Versus Six Sigma: Understanding Key Differences

Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma are prominent keywords in the lean procurement world. Understanding the differences and similarities between these two concepts is crucial in the comprehension of lean procurement and the benefits it can have for your company.

Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma philosophies were developed by Toyota and Motorola, respectively, in an effort to minimize weaknesses in the production process and maximize efficiency and profits. Since its inception, Six Sigma has become a catchphrase labelling the process by which companies look to improve themselves through lean efforts, however, by definition, Six Sigma is very different from its competitor.

The most significant difference between these two philosophies lies in what each concept aims to eliminate. While lean manufacturing looks to eliminate waste, Six Sigma principles look to eliminate imperfections. A company utilizing a lean manufacturing influenced modification plan looks to eradicate anything excess, which is labeled as waste. Six Sigma, however, focuses not on identifying and eliminating waste, but on identifying and eliminating imperfections in the final product.

Another difference lies in the fact that lean manufacturing efforts focus on inward efforts in the production and manufacturing process while Six Sigma efforts focus instead on customer wants and need and subsequently toward tailoring the product to meet those wants and needs. While lean looks at the process of production and minimizing the resources necessary in the production process, Six Sigma looks at the manufacturing process in regards to the final output, its lack of defects, and how it will rank in terms of customer satisfaction.

The ultimate goal of Six Sigma strategies is to improve the final product and thus customer satisfaction, while that of lean efforts is the saving of money, increasing company profits and passing on the savings to the customer in the form of price decreases.

Through these two strategies, whether used independently or conjointly, businesses can morph their production methods into more efficient, leaner processes. For a simpler breakdown of Lean Manufacturing Vs. Six Sigma philosophies, please see the following breakdown below:

A Basic Overview of the Differences:

Lean Manufacturing:
• Developed by Toyota
• Looks to eliminate “waste” or excess
• Focuses on internal efforts in the production and manufacturing process
• Takes a very deep look at the total manufacturing process
• Ultimate Goal- save money, increase company profits, and pass on the savings to the customer in the form of price decreases

Six Sigma:
• Developed by Motorola
• Looks to eliminate “imperfections” in final product/ service
• Focuses on customer wants and needs
• Only looks at manufacturing process in regards to final output
• Ultimate Goal- improve final product or service, and subsequently, customer satisfaction