Lean Sigma incorporates the speed and impact of Lean with the quality and variation control of Six Sigma. It therefore combines the two most important and most powerful continuous improvement trends of our time:
• making work faster (using Lean principles), and
• making work better (using Six Sigma).


Importantly, Lean Sigma provides the tools to identify and eliminate waste and quality problems in your own work area.

This will mean:

• Delighting your customers with speed and quality
• Improving your processes
• Working together for maximum gain
• Basing decisions on data and facts

Businesses fundamentally exist to provide returns to their stakeholders. Lean Sigma outlines a program for combining the synergies of these two initiatives to provide your organization with greater speed, less process variation, and more bottom-line impact than ever before.

Six Sigma is deployed mainly for innovative, breakthrough and continual improvements under improvement projects led by Black Belts and directed by Master Black Belts. On the other hand, Lean is deployed for daily continual improvements and performance sustaining activities under the lean kaizen events led by Line Engineers and Supervisors.

This below chart illustrates how the number of steps in the process reduces the overall yield at various sigma levels. Note: This chart is modified from a study done by Motorola Six Sigma Research Institute.

• Lean eliminates non-value added steps or waste from the process.
• Six Sigma improve quality of value add steps by reducing the variability in the process

This diagram gives a good representation of how Lean and Sigma interrelate and align with each other.

These two diagrams are referenced from the Lean Sigma Institute.

Lean Six Sigma
Time Variability
Increase Speed
Eliminate Waste
Quick Fix Solutions
Process Variability
Improve Quality
Increase Yield
Root Cause Solutions


All too often we hear of horror stories of failure that could be easily avoided. The basis of Lean Six Sigma is neither rocket science nor brand new thinking; indeed the individual elements have been around a long time; DMAIC, structured problem-solving, governance, coaching, dashboards etc.

What is essential and very relevant in today’s fast moving E-business global market is the creation of a simple and effective process that brings all these elements together and then embeds them within the organisation as ‘business as usual’. This process makes it easy to do the right things and difficult to fall back into old behaviours, and this is the difference that makes the difference.

Lean Six Sigma – a brief step back in time

Lean Six Sigma is the hot topic of today, but this it is not an overnight phenomenon. Many of the tools & techniques have been around for along time; Dr Walter Shewhart in 1924, working in Western Electric Company first introduced the idea of preventing defects in manufacturing rather than inspecting finished product, using the Control Chart to predict failure and manage processes economically. Dr Edwards Deming later took his work to Japan, which in many ways helped to industrialise their nation.

The idea of Six Sigma can be attributed to Bill Smith who when working with Motorola in the 1980’s as Quality Assurance Manger, first applied the principles that led to Motorola winning the first Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award in 1988. Others followed and there have been many success stories.

Similarly, although the term Lean is often attributed to James Womack in his book “The Machine That Changed the World" in 1990, the basic tools of Lean have been used since the 1950’s. At Toyota Motor Company, Taichii Ohno and Shigeo Shingo, began to incorporate Ford production ideas and other techniques learnt from Deming, Ishikawa and Juran into an approach called Toyota Production System or Just-In-Time. This was the precursor to Lean as we know it today.


There were several quite unique differences in the way Lean Six Sigma was introduced by comparison to many other companies. What a company must not do did is simply embark on a training programme. If the Lean Six Sigma process is to be effective in reducing cost, improving margin and delivery performance, it needed to become part of ‘business as usual’. Focus needs to be on the three killers of profitability and productivity: Delay, Defects and Deviation.

This meant therefore, also creating a continuous improvement process and a governance framework that was firmly embedded within the company culture and structure. This was particularly important given the nature and characteristics of the business – globally organised by strategic business units, highly innovative, responsive to rapid change with a highly skilled, technical and intellectual workforce.

The main areas of the article are presented under the following main headings:

• Training Materials and Workshops
• Coaching
• DMAIC Governance
• Talent Pool Utilisation
• Continuous Improvement

Training Materials and Workshops:

All materials were fully developed and delivered in-house to reflect company issues and challenges and to make them specific and relevant; four training workshops were created that are shown in Figure I. The Black Belt was a 4 x 4 day course spanning a period of about 4 months with numerous practical examples and exercises. The latest statistical analysis software was used, namely; MINTAB v16 as appropriate.

The Green Belt workshop was effectively the first 4 day training session of the Black Belt course. Combining the first session had enormous benefits in bringing together staff from across the different functions of engineering, quality, service, finance and purchasing etc., cross fertilising ideas and enabling team relationships to develop with a common understanding of the tools & techniques. A much simplified Excel based analysis tool was used called a Toolbox Calculator for analysis as the types of problems that Green Belts would tackle were less complex.

A Yellow Belt one day training course was created from the Green Belt materials. The purpose of this was to enable a large cross section of the organisation to learn and understand Lean Six Sigma so that they too could make a valuable contribution to improvement in their work area.

The name Lean Six Sigma Money Belt is sometimes used when the simpler tools are used to simplify & stream process and then optimise it by eliminating defects, before implementing new ways of working to verify results.

An Executive Black Belt workshop was designed and delivered for Senior Managers, so that they were aware of and understood the process, and therefore able to create the right environment for Lean Six Sigma to work effectively. After all, these people would be sponsoring the projects, providing the resources and freeing up the barriers to change and improvement.

Additionally, a collection of 31 basic generic tools were created as a Tool-Kit to accompany the training. These were structured under headings; what, where, when, how and why. This Tool-Kit was made available to everyone in the organisation to support the wider teams in contributing effectively to their projects, and included tools such as; Affinity Diagrams, Brainstorming, Critical Path Analysis, Responsibility Charting.


In our experience, coaching is one of the most misunderstood and undervalued element of Lean Six Sigma initiatives. Time and resource is rarely budgeted for this at the outset, and is often seen as an unnecessary cost, with dire consequences. The need for coaching and recognising its importance in developing people skills and delivering great projects is paramount. To let loose newly trained Black Belts and Green Belts without this support is a recipe for disaster.

Coaching is about harnessing the latent talent created during training to develop a confident and competent individual who can use effectively the new tools & techniques in developing the best solution. This is the difference that makes the difference, enabling the right solution to be found, as there are always many.

The fundamental principle understands each person’s ability and then supports them in their personal development in an agreed and structured way. This is such a worthwhile and vital part of applied learning. The company should set a minimum coaching requirement of 3 hours per Green / Black Belt per month as a high level figure for budgeting resource. Coaching would be provided by a Master Black Belt, or a Black Belt with coaching skills in close partnership with the HR department. A typical training and coaching ‘wave’ plan is given in Figure II

The Wave Training and Coaching plan depicts how the various elements are arranged. For those staff attending Black Belt training, their initial coaching is structured in between training sessions focused on them presenting back their work at the following sessions – in this way it is much organised DMAIC pathway that leads them through to completing their projects. In contrast, the Green Belts receive their coaching geared toward their individual needs, but of course based on the minimum requirement of 3 hours per month through to completion.

A RAG [red, amber and green] traffic light metric measures their achievement against agreed criteria and this is discussed more fully in the section headed DMAIC Governance.

In our particular case, the first two ‘waves’ saw 35 people being trained and then deployed part time on 23 projects [some in joint project teams]. Time allocated was budgeted for the all 35 people x 3 hours or 105 hours per month, and not based on the 23 projects. This was because everyone working on joint projects must experience all elements of DMAIC [avoiding the; I’ll do Define, you do Measure scenario]. This would become critical in their eventual recognition as certified Green and Black Belts. The DMAIC process is given in Figure III described as a Lean Six Sigma Roadmap

The final sustainable element used within coaching was a unique Storyboard Workbook. This enabled the Black Belts and Green Belts to work through the whole DMAIC process with a rigour and structure that ‘gold-plated’ and implemented the best possible outcome. The Storyboard Workbook was a worked-up template that gave clear instructions on what to do and when throughout the DMAIC process. Practical examples, prompted formal sign-off at each stage, sample calculations of Sigma levels and financial savings etc enabled the coach and student to critique progress effectively.

The completed Storyboard Workbook could then be used as a record of the DMAIC project by other teams at a later date, for example to see if these same improvements could also be made in their work area.

DMAIC Governance:

A usual question asked is; “How do we know how successful we are leading and managing the Lean Sigma process?” To answer this question a set of metrics were created within Excel, which reported as a dashboard and became the ‘heart beat’ of the whole Lean Six Sigma process. This served to report on and control how well desirable outcomes were being delivered.

‘What gets measured gets done’ – was an all important axiom that was used as the underlying principle in building the dashboard. In all, 12 measures were agreed that defined the essentials; 6 financial and 6 performance measures that covered areas such as; aggregate and tracked savings, utilisation of talent pool, allocation of projects, coaching effectiveness and DMAIC progress. To ensure these metrics were easy to understand, RAG principles were used to measure achievement against agreed criteria and to report on trends.

The dashboard was updated real-time after each intervention / event by the Master Black Belt, whether a coaching or training session, or completion of a DMAIC element. This was then used by a Governance Body to lead and manage the whole process, and is discussed more fully in the following section.

Talent Pool Utilisation:

It was essential that the investment in training was harnessed and its impact on business performance optimised. Selecting the right staff for Black Belt training was a crucial element in creating a usable talent pool, as it would be these same people who would predominantly lead projects and be key to achieving the savings. Aligning the right people with new project ideas was a top priority and guidelines for their selection are given in Figure IV.

An aspiration deployment and benefit strategy was developed that recognised the need to create a critical mass of Lean Six Sigma staff. Plans were discussed for between 2% to 5% of the organisation to become Black Belts – the wide variation reflected the global structure and differing SBU needs.

Similarly, the strategy articulated a need for circa 30% of the organisation to become Green Belts and over 75% Yellow Belt trained. Also, at any one time over 95% of the senior management team should have attended the Executive Black Belt workshop.

Guidelines were set for each Black Belt project to generate savings of $250k and for a Green Belt project to achieve $50k. Those Black Belts deployed full time would be expected to lead and deliver 8 projects over the first two years accruing target savings of $2million plus other non-financial / intangible benefits. In these cases, this require back-filling their previous role with a clear career plan and personal development in place. By the same token, development planning through the Belt grades was also seen as an important element; Yellow to Green to Black to Master Black Belt.

Continuous Improvement:

Right from the outset, it was critical that this was not a “here today, gone tomorrow” initiative. It had to become business as usual and as part of a self sustaining process of continual improvement. With this is mind, it was important to create a continuous improvement process that embraced Lean Six Sigma and the DMAIC process in its entirety.

Lean Six Sigma projects need to be well led, managed and directed within the business, and a 9-step Continuous Improvement Process was created for this purpose. This was a closed loop system that incorporated all the essential elements beginning with; Identified Projects, then Analysis & Rating, followed by developing the Mobilisation Charter and so on. This enabled senior managers to steer effectively the Lean Six Sigma process within their strategic goals and is given in Figure V.

For each of the 9-steps, a full description details explicitly what is required, when and who is responsible. Spreadsheet analysis tools are used as necessary. For example the Analysis & Rating step enables new project ideas to be assessed against their likely impact on criteria such as quality, margin and delivery as well as complexity and resource requirements.

In the Recognise Achievement step, a process was set up that embraced not only internal company policy, but also an external assessment by the American Society for Quality [ASQ], where everyone who entered attended the training and completed their project[s] would be entitled to register for the ASQ accredited qualification. A final example, Globalise Gains step sets out how the Governance Body would assess the relevance and importance of completed projects in other parts of the business, in effect rolling out improvements already deemed to be successful.

The Governance Body comprised of senior managers, the Master Black Belt and Champion[s] who would meet monthly to lead, manage and control the whole process. Their remit is summarised below;


• To manage the ‘Hopper’ [quality and quantity of ideas], aligned to individual and strategic objectives captured within a Project Initiation Document [PID].
• To commit resources and ensure they are being well used
• To initiate good projects and ensure they deliver target savings within budget and timescale.
• To create a culture of continuous improvement


• Reviews PID’s and Projects
• Follows the guidelines set out in the 9-Step Process
• Decides on critical mass of Lean Six Sigma talent
• Manages talent pool utilisation
• Sets Strategic Business Unit PID rating criteria
• Agrees project savings targets & trend profile
• Reviews and uses DMAIC metrics to drive the process that delivers tangible benefit.

Embedding the continuous improvement process within the organisation’s culture meant utilising the company intranet; this was used across the whole organisation daily to carryout its business. Easy access buttons were created enabling anyone to get an update on Lean Six Sigma progress, upload new project ideas, review the projects hopper, download training materials, and gain access to the GB/BB community, training waves, and external accreditation and so on. There were both open and restricted areas created to allow for confidentiality to be honoured in certain cases.

A Final Note

There is no easy route to success, but by using tried and tested principles and processes and introducing them in a structured and manageable way, sustainable change is possible provided that new behaviours and learning are well embedded into ‘business as usual’. The bottom line is enabling the organisation to make it easier to do the new right things, rather than to fall back into old ways of working.

Einstein was accredited to have said; “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler”, and this was also an important underlying principle in the programme. Being able to recognise and develop the new ways of working with the client at the right level of detail, and then build the continuous improvement process that embraced DMAIC Governance, the training programme and coaching processes fit for the organisation’s culture was a crucial factor in its success.

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