how to simply explain six sigma with a- story

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma in simplest terms is a methodology to improve business processes from the scale of an entire organization to the scale of an individual process. Lean Six Sigma is a methodology with a defined structure, roadmap, and tools to discover the root causes of process problems.

Lean Six Sigma is a combination of two powerful methodologies: LEAN and Six Sigma. Let’s break down these two methodologies:

What is LEAN?

  • LEAN leverages the understanding of what steps in the process add value to the customer and maximizing that value by reducing the steps that do not add value (otherwise known as “waste’)
what is lean

What is the goal of LEAN?

  • The goal of LEAN is to reduce waste in the process. By reducing waste in the process, you will reduce the number of tasks occurring in the process. This reduction of wasteful steps will gain the organization:
    • Capacity to do more customer-value-added tasks,
    • Reduced operating costs, and 3)
    • Provide better quality through less defects (because product or service is handled less).

What is Six Sigma?

  • Six Sigma is a data-driven approach to reduce defects in a process.
  • In the Six Sigma methodology it is believed that variation plays a significant role in the creating of defect.
  • Six Sigma uses the DMAIC methodology to find and reduce variation in the process by focusing on the key process input variables (or KPIV’s).
    • These KPIV’s are potentially the 20% of the process that cause 80% of the “pain”.
what is six sigma

What is the goal of Six Sigma?

  • The goal of Six Sigma is to reduce defects to reach the performance target defined by the customer.
    • To constantly strive for a Six Sigma performance (less than or equal to 3.4 DPMO Defects Per Million Opportunities).
      • Most organizations will never meet this goal, so they set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound) goals in between Six Sigma (which is the perfection state) and their current baseline.
      • The SMART goals are called KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators)
      • These KPI’s are updated once the organization can meet them comfortably, keeping the organization on the path of “continuous improvement”.

What is the Synergy between LEAN and Six Sigma?

I like to think of Lean Six Sigma like the human brain. There are two hemispheres that make up the brain (the right and the left hemisphere).

what is lean six sigma
  • The LEAN side of the brain: The left hemisphere is the more artistic, tactile, and creative side of the brain. We relate this side to LEAN. In the LEAN methodology, we use visual data like TAKT Time and ANDON boards, KANBANS, 5S, and other visual management tools. LEAN wants the operator to constantly add value in the process by having all the necessary information literally surrounding them and visual rather than wasting time looking for the information.
  • The Six Sigma side of the brain: The right hemisphere of the brain is the more academic and logical side of the brain. We relate this side Six Sigma. In the Six Sigma methodology, we use quantitative data to understand our capability to meet the target specification of the customer (rather than a Go/NoGo gauge to react only when we are outside of specifications). We use root cause analysis tools that prove statistically significant effects through hypothesis testing rather than using opinion of the root cause. We use tools like SPC Charts and Capability Charts to control the process at the process owners’ level (rather than only managing the process at the “ivory tower” level).
  • The synergy between LEAN and Six Sigma: Can a complex process that is full of waste cause variation in the Y (or output)? I hope you replied with a resounding “YES!”. As we remove waste (and consequently steps) from the process, the potential for variation decreases. As we reduce waste, can we gauge the effect on the process by tracking the standard deviation (or the measurement of variation)?
    • Can you track TAKT time on a Control Chart to see trends and abnormal variation. Can you track TAKT Time with a capability chart to gauge how well the process meets target TAKT? Six Sigma uses VISUAL tools populated through data to understand the nature of VARIATION in the process.

Just like the brain, LEAN and Six Sigma are interconnected, thus we get the term Lean Six Sigma. Both methodologies working in concert to provide a holistic improvement.

What is the History of Lean Six Sigma?

history of lean six sigma

“Lean Six Sigma can be traced to Motorola in the United States in 1986. Six Sigma was developed within Motorola to compete with the Kaizen (or lean manufacturing) business model in Japan. As a result of Six Sigma, Motorola received the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award in the year 1988.

In the 1990s Allied Signal hired Larry Bossidy and introduced Six Sigma in heavy manufacturing. A few years later, General Electric’s Jack Welch consulted Bossidy and began Six Sigma at General Electric. At this point, Six Sigma became more widely accepted and known in the manufacturing world.

During the 2000s Lean Six Sigma forked from Six Sigma and became its own unique process. While Lean Six Sigma developed as a specific process of Six Sigma, it also incorporates ideas from lean manufacturing, which was developed as a part of the Toyota Production System in the 1950s.

The first concept of Lean Six Sigma was created in 2001 by a book titled Leaning into Six Sigma: The Path to Integration of Lean Enterprise and Six Sigma by Barbara Wheat, Chuck Mills, Mike Carnell. The book was developed as a guide for managers of manufacturing plants on how to combine lean manufacturing and Six Sigma in order to dramatically improve quality and cycle time in the plant. Wheat, Mills, and Carnell narrate the story of a company who was skeptical about implementing Lean Six Sigma, but as a result of doing so was able to successfully improve the quality and efficiency in all aspects of business.

In the early 2000s Six Sigma principles expanded into other sectors of the economy, such as HealthcareFinanceSupply Chain, etc.”

What are the Primary Roles of Lean Six Sigma?

lean six sigma roles
  • The Lean Six Sigma White Belt: The Lean Six Sigma White Belt understands the structure and the goals of Lean Six Sigma. Everyone within the Lean Six Sigma implementation should be trained as a White Belt. They are also the Subject Matter Experts (or process owners) in a project working with the change agents to improve the process.
  • The Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt: The Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt is a step up from the Lean Six Sigma White Belt. They understand basic root cause analysis tools and lead small scale projects within their functional areas.
  • The Lean Six Sigma Green Belt: The Lean Six Sigma Green Belt is a cross functional change agent that focuses 25% of their time on Lean Six Sigma projects. They are trained on statistical techniques that prove/disprove statistically significant effects of the X (or Xs) on the Y (or Ys).
  • The Lean Six Sigma Black Belt: The Lean Six Sigma Black Belt is an advanced change who agent has spent several years and gained project experience as a Green Belt. They are trained in advanced statistical techniques including Design of Experiments, advanced regression, how to evaluate non-normal data, and advance Lean Techniques. The black belt is focused on Lean Six Sigma projects 100% of their time.
  • The Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt: The Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt is a teacher and mentor for all other belts. To fulfill this role, the MBB must have significant project experience (10 or more years) to relate the complex methodologies of LEAN and Six Sigma to the students. They also work with the leaders of the organization to manage the Lean Six Sigma implementation and culture change.
  • The Lean Six Sigma Champion: The Lean Six Sigma Champion are the leaders and decision makers of the company who drive the Lean Six Sigma continuous improvement initiative. They remove barriers for the Lean Six Sigma project team. The champions are the “cheerleaders” of the Lean Six Sigma continuous improvement efforts to change culture.

What are the benefits of Lean Six Sigma?

benefits of lean six sigma

Lean Six Sigma provides various benefits for organizations. It not only saves money, but also changes the attitude of employees and the functionality of the organization. Through implementation of Lean Six Sigma, organizations can expect the following beneficial outcomes:

  • Increase in Profit: As a result of eliminating waste and improving the quality of production, Lean Six Sigma reduces costs for organizations and increases profitability. General Electric reportedly experienced a profit-cost savings exceeding $2 billion.
  • Standardized and Simplified Processes: With the help of value stream mapping, Lean Six Sigma eliminates wastes in processes and unnecessary steps to stream-line production. The processes are simplified so that they are easier to follow and less likely to lead to error. The simplified processes will also reduce time, leading to a decrease in overhead costs.
  • Decrease in errors: With the simplification in processes steps and a detailed investigation into the main causes of error and waste in the organization, Lean Six Sigma drastically reduces errors such as defects and miscalculations
  • Employee Performance/Development: Lean Six Sigma stresses the importance of the ideas and observances of individual employees to the overall success of an organization. With Lean Six Sigma, the feeling of self-importance and significance increases among employees and leads to an increase in motivation and better job performance.
  • Value to Customer: Lean Six Sigma allows companies to improve their processes and the quality of their products. In turn, they can produce more products at a cheaper price with less error. Customer satisfaction will increase, which will then lead to an increase in customer loyalty.

Wikipedia “Lean Six Sigma” (

What are the benefits of Lean Six Sigma to you and your career?

benefits of lean six sigma to you and your career

Lean Six Sigma practitioners are in high demand in all industries across the globe. The Lean Six Sigma methodology is applicable in manufacturing, finance, government, healthcare, retail, insurance, IT, and more. Some of the benefits a Lean Six Signa practitioner brings to the organization are:

  • An ability to drive process thinking to identify and fix opportunities
  • The capability to define critical performance measures and improve overall performance
  • Learn how to measure and improve core business KPIs
  • Develop your project management skills to drive high performing teams
  • Develop your ability to manage and engage senior Stakeholder
  • Learn and become familiar with core change management skill
  • Deepen your business understanding and insights
  • Improve your career transition and gain an edge over other candidates
  • Making data-driven decisions in your everyday activities
  • It will change the way you work forever

Article: 5 Benefits of Lean Six Sigma Certification (

These skills are highly sought after in leadership positions. Your Lean Six Sigma certification will give you an advantage above the competition. It is a powerful credential to add to your resume.

How do I explain Lean Six Sigma simply?

In our Lean Sigma courses, we teach the concept of the Sigma Value with a story that helps our students easily understand the concept.

We tell the class a story of a college football coach that is evaluating five kickers as field goal kickers for an upcoming game. The coach has 100 football each with an RFID attached. He has a GPS solution that tells him exactly where the football crosses the field goal (whether inside or outside of the goal). He gives his kickers a chance to kick each of the 100 footballs through the field goal from the center of the field at 35 yards back from the goal.

explaining six sigma with a example using five field goal kickers

His first four kickers take their turns. Each kicker kicks all 100 footballs between the uprights, not one ball misses the goal. Although, all four kickers were “all over the goal,” some kicks were high, some low, some near the right goal post and others near the left goal post. The footballs never consistently crossed the goal post at the same point.

explaining six sigma with a example using five field goal kickers

Would you say that the first four kickers are “good”? In our classes, most agree that the first four kickers are indeed “good” kickers because they did not miss the goal in a sample of 100 kicks. Although, if you said “Yes”, you would be wrong.

The fifth kicker also kicks all 100 footballs through the uprights but he consistently “splits” the uprights. His kicks are tightly grouped in the center of the field goal with little variation between kicks.

explaining six sigma with a example using five field goal kickers

We then ask the class, “Who are you going to choose to be the field goal kicker during the game?” Most choose the fifth kicker. Why? Because he is more consistent. The fifth kicker will be more predictable because he and his team have learned through practice to have better control over their critical inputs. Those critical inputs could include the angle of the kickers head over the ball when he kicks; the kickers follow through; the foot pounds of pressure when kicking; the angle of the football placed for the kick; etc. All these inputs can be measured, recorded, and improved to enhance the kickers performance.

If you were to film all 100 kicks that the fifth kicker made and super-impose the filmed kicks on top of each other, you would see little variation in his kicking method. This consistency leads to little variation in his where the football crosses the plane of the goal.

Let us go back and review “why the 1st four kickers were not good.”

The sample of 100 kicks gives us a glimpse (in statistics, it is called an “inference”) into the capability of the kicker to kick 1000, or 10,000 or 100,000 kicks.

explaining six sigma with a example using five field goal kickers

We will not know what that sample is inferring until we look at it through some sort of statistical analysis tool. To simply say the 1st four kickers are “Good” based on the sample being “Good” (as opposed to “Bad”) is to ignore the variation between kicks.

You might ask “How can we take variation into account when determining if the kicker is good or not”. Great question! … Let us say that each kick of the football gave us a data point (a combination of an X, Y and Z coordinate) from a virtual grid that surrounds the field goal (they actually do this in the NFL). When we calculate the amount of variation of the sample of 100 kicks from kicker #1, we would see that there is a large standard deviation. This is where we turn that standard deviation number into a picture to show the impact variation has on performance of the kicker to hit the target (the center of the goal). As Lean Six Sigma practitioners, we are interested in +/- 3 standard deviations from the average (Read more about why we use the +/- 3 standard deviation from the average).

explaining six sigma with a example using five field goal kickers

When we show the normal curve (which equals +/-3 standard deviations from the average) and overlay it on the field goal, we might find that the bell curve exceeds the two goal posts. This is an inference as to what the population of kicks (taken from the samples of 100 kicks of each of the four kickers) will look like in future if they still perform with same variation in kicks.

explaining six sigma with a example using five field goal kickers

When we calculate the standard deviation of the fifth kicker and use it to draw the bell curve over-layed on the field goal, we see a bell curve that fits inside the two goal posts.  

explaining six sigma with a example using five field goal kickers

I will ask the question that I asked earlier in this discussion: “Who are you going to choose to be the field goal kicker during the game?” 

In the Lean Six Sigma methodology, this is what we are trying to achieve. We strive to be that fifth kicker who has phenomenal control over his inputs to create a kick that splits the goal posts every time. Just like the kicker, organizations who are consistently and predictably producing good products and services will be more valuable in the eyes of customers.

Do you have an interesting story or teaching tool to explain Lean Six Sigma? If so, include the story or tool in the comments below.