The term 'Lean' is much heralded but often misunderstood. Let me demystify it for you. Its origins are from Toyota’s Production System (TPS) spearheaded by engineers Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo in the early ‘80s. At the core of the TPS was Toyota’s relentless drive to ;

a) reduce waste and b) improve quality in their supply chain and manufacturing sites.

Lean’  simply  focusses your team on the elimination of waste so that every step in the process adds value in the eyes of the customer.

In 1990 James Womack et al published their book ”The Machine that changed the World”. They chronicled how the auto-mobile industry had been revolutionised by the TPS philosophy and the term Lean Manufacturing was born.  Japanese terms like Kaisen, Kanban and Muda came into frequent use. These ‘Lean’ terms, simply translate as follows;

Kaisen read Continuous Improvement,
Kanban read Signal for Pull systems (rather than the traditional Push)
Muda read Waste or Non value-added work.

As a result of the success in Toyota, Lean Management techniques and principles became widely used throughout the Manufacturing world. Whether you are in the Manufacturing or Service industry every business activity or operation can be process mapped.


Lean Sigma

The term ‘Six Sigma’ is derived from the study of “process capability”. It is a measure of the ‘spread’ and ‘variance’ in your process. Processes that operate within “Six Sigma Quality” are assumed to produce long-term defect levels below 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO).

Six Sigma is a registered trademark of Motorola. Inc.  Martin Burke the owner of LeanPlus has lived with and practiced these methodologies as Quality Manager in Motorola’s cellular plant in Dublin in the late 90’s and early 00’s. At the core of all Six Sigma projects lies Deming’s PDCA cycle of Continuous Improvement (Plan, Do, Check, Act). However in Motorola’ Six Sigma methodology, the principle is expanded into a Six Step discipline of DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control).

Six Sigma uses Root Cause Analysis techniques like the '5 Whys' to get to the core of a problem and allows companies to treat the disease, not just the symptoms. Six Sigma toolkit offers a range of analysis techniques that can be used to improve your operation:

  • Histograms,
  • Run Charts, Statistical Process Control (SPC) charts
  • Pareto Analysis
  • 5S – workplace re-organisation
  • FMEA – Failure Mode & Effect Analysis
  • Fishbone/ Ishikawa Diagrams (5 whys and other diagrams designed to analyse data)
  • Balanced Business Scorecards for KPIs

This is by no means an exhaustive list but real life examples of tools we have used in operational improvement programmes.


Lean Sigma

While Six Sigma alone will undoubtedly improve your QUALITY by getting your processes under control, it will not impact significantly on SPEED of processing or FLEXIBILITY – both are very necessary survival traits in today’s business world! By combining and incorporating LEAN with SIX SIGMA methodologies and tools, (hence the name LeanPlus), we can sustain all three;

Lean Sigma - checklistImproved QUALITYLean Sigma - checklistImproved EFFICIENCYLean Sigma - checklistImproved FLEXIBILITY



Define requirements Define Value to Customer
Map and measure the Process Value Stream Map Core Processes – challenge waste
Analyse the causes Create Flow with value-creating steps only
Improve the Process Pull – design flow around customers pull signals not push
Control to sustain consistent KPI’s Perfection – always strive to further reduce, iterate

Sigma is an analytical approach to performance improvement and when used with Lean Management Techniques, it is a powerful tool for improving the performance of your business.  As a LeanPlus consultant I harness the people in your company to forensically breakdown and reconstruct your key processes to determine if they are set up for maximum efficiency. We begin by developing simple, customer-focused process maps and work with your staff to develop a leaner, more efficient process and finally gain approval through your in-house compliance process. If customers are concerned that their industry is heavily regulated and process changes are frowned upon, rest assure with our approach, we take you with us every step of the way.