My Lean Six Sigma Journey: A series

Hello everyone and welcome to my Lean Six Sigma Journey!

I have joined Zerwaste as a digital data analyst and marketing intern this February. As part of my training, I am delving into the world of Lean Six Sigma and I have decided to take you along with me.  Having worked as a business journalist and technical writer for most of my career, I have enjoyed learning complex concepts and introducing them to my readers in the form of quick digestible pieces of content that are aimed at making consuming new information much more efficient and smooth.

My aim in documenting this learning journey is to first: gain knowledge on the topic of Lean Six Sigma. Second, to share with you the knowledge and resources I gather through weekly posts ranging from in-depth articles to infographics, cheat sheets, and more on Zerwaste’s blog. While I am by no means an expert in this field, I hope that my posts will introduce into the world of Lean Six Sigma, educate you on continuous process improvement, help you see waste in your organization, and finally guide you towards choosing the right methodologies for you, your business, and your customers alike.

In today’s post, I will offer you a quick overview of Lean Six Sigma, then I will move to talk about what Lean is, its origins, the three types of waste, and the different ways your organization can benefit from becoming Lean.

In the coming weeks, I will be delving deeper into the worlds of Lean, Six Sigma, and their intersection as well as exploring the different tools that they offer. There will be several series that focus topics such as the 7 types of waste (Muda), The 5S principle, The Kaizen method, and so much more. So, join me as I make sense of this new world!

What is Lean Six Sigma?

What is lean six sigma? That is the first question that I typed into Google and Wikipedia quickly gave me a very good first definition on the topic. “Lean Six Sigma is a method that relies on a collaborative team effort to improve performance by systematically removing waste and reducing variation. It combines lean manufacturing/lean enterprise and Six Sigma to eliminate the eight kinds of waste.”

Another interesting definition I came across is by the American society for quality, ASQ, which defines it as “a fact-based data-driven philosophy of improvement that values defect prevention over defect detection.” So what Lean Six Sigma does is first gather data about a company’s processes, analyze them to detect wasteful activities, then design and implement improved processes that guarantee optimal results each time and finally continue to strive for near perfection across the organization.

Breaking down it into the two methods it follows, Lean Six Sigma is a continuous process improvement method that combines the tools and techniques of two widely adopted Business Improvement principles: Lean and Six Sigma. To put it in simple terms, lean takes away the waste (“Muda”) from a process to increase efficiency; while Six Sigma provides process standardization that guarantees the highest quality with almost zero defects. Combining these two approaches has created a very powerful process improvement method that promotes operational excellence in every department in your organization.

What is Lean Management?

This brings us to talk about our next topic for today which is Lean. What is Lean And where does it come from? Lean is a business principle, mindset, and philosophy that aims at enhancing customer value and improving operational performance through removing waste from processes and increasing output. It aims at increasing customer satisfaction and creating products that meet clients’ demands while improving business efficiency.


On the heels of the industrial revolution, mass production factories popped up everywhere across the globe creating an urgent need to improve efficiency and meet customers’ demands who were becoming more sophisticated. Frederick Taylor, Henry Ford, and Taiichi Ohno are some of the names that shaped the manufacturing sector. Henry Ford laid down the groundwork in 1913 by looking at operations from a process point of view, eliminating wasteful processes, finally integrating a full production process.

“The key to the Toyota Way and what makes Toyota stand out is not any of the individual elements…But what is important is having all the elements together as a system. It must be practiced every day in a very consistent manner, not in spurts.”

Taiichi Ohno, the father of Lean

Ford’s innovative approach revolutionized production processes and influenced those who will follow namely the Toyota team. Shortly after World War II, Taiichi Ohno and his team at Toyota built on Ford’s existing process improvement methods creating the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS aims to reduce cost while increasing efficiency by eliminating waste, variation, and overburdening.

Later in the late 1980s, intrigued by the Japanese successful management style, researchers James Womack Daniel Jones traveled to Toyota’s factories to learn more. A few years later, they published their book “The machine that changed the world”, and later “Lean Thinking” which helped popularize and spread the concepts of lean to the rest of the world.

Why Lean?

Lean manufacturing’s popularity lies in the transferability of its concepts to different industries. Shaped by manufacturing trendsetters in the early 1900, Lean has found a way to expand across industries and disciplines like tech, finance, healthcare, education, marketing, and many others.

By following Lean management approaches and making use of its many tools and frameworks, businesses can be transported into a new era of operational excellence. Yet, adopting these approaches does not imply simply hiring a black belt consultant for a month and hoping that your business will magically transform. To be truly lean is to adopt a lean mindset and apply lean principles everywhere in your organization. It is a culture followed everywhere in the organization that adopts a “customer-first” mindset; focusing on designing out waste and removing non-value-adding processes; striving to reduce defects by removing variation; building on strong team structures; and leveraging data to drive change.

Where is the Waste in Your Organization?

Lean is a management philosophy that seeks to eliminate all kinds of wasteful practices within your business. From defective products and over-accumulation of stocks to unnecessary keystrokes and unmotivated employees, waste can be found in any part of your organization.

If you have previously read about Lean manufacturing, you have most probably come across those three terms: Muda, Mura, and Muri. These Japanese words are often used together in the Toyota Production System (TPS) to describe all the different wasteful practices that need to be eliminated.

Muda, Mura, Muri

Let’s familiarize ourselves with the terms:

  1. Muda: wastefulness, uselessness, and futility  – which looks into any activity that consumes resources without creating value for the customer, wastes resources, or makes producing a valuable product difficult.
  2. Mura: unevenness, non-uniformity, and irregularity– which into the unevenness which occurs in an operation: i.e. anything that could cause inconsistency and inefficiency in your process.
  3. Muri: overburden, excessiveness, or unreasonableness – which looks into the overburdening equipment or operators: i.e. any task or load that places undue strain on your employees or machines.

These three terms are very rich and each of them drills down into all possible types of waste that could occur in your organization regardless of the industry as well as their causes and effects. By pinpointing the root cause of waste in your organization and redesigning your processes, you will be able to save a lot of wasted resources, time, and money. So, being able to see waste is one of the main steps towards building a lean organization and the topic of next week’s topic.

The way forward: Lean Six Sigma and beyond

This post is the first of many that will introduce you to the world of Lean Six Sigma and operational excellence, help you identify problem points in your organization, and guide you to make informed and educated decisions when selecting your organization’s process improvement methodology. I hope you join me as I continue to learn about this wide and fascinating world of Lean Six sigma.

Stay tuned to this space,

And remember your Mudas!

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