Only One Planet: Making Sustainability and LEAN Six Sigma Work

Updated: Jan 18

In this blog post, we will be discussing some management systems and methodologies which arose from manufacturing settings. These developed in the 1990s in the automotive industries in Japan but have since been expanded to many other industries. They are concerned with optimal productivity and waste minimization. These methodologies and their successful implementation will be covered as well as how sustainability can be integrated seamlessly. To find more just keep reading.

LEAN, Six Sigma and LEAN Six Sigma

LEAN on me.

The main driver of the LEAN manufacturing production system is to add the greatest value possible to your clients' lives while avoiding waste in areas like transport, inventory, processing, production and manufacturing (e.g. defective products). There are five key steps that have been identified that can achieve this aim.

These are as follows: 1) “As value is specified, value streams are identified, wasted steps are removed, and flow and pull are introduced; begin the process again and continue until a state of perfection is reached in which perfect value is created with no waste” (Pearson, Larson & Gray, 2013, p. 266). 2) “Specifying value from the perspective of the end-customer” (Pearson et al., 2013, p. 266) 3) “Identifying all the steps involved in the value stream and eliminating any steps that do no create value” (Pearson et al., 2013, p. 266). 4) "Ensuring the value-creating steps occur in tight sequence so that the product will flow smoothly towards the customer" (Pearson et al., 2013, p. 266). 5) "Customers pull value from the next activity upstream" (Pearson et al., 2013, p. 266). With LEAN businesses will use the PDCA method. This stands for plan, do, check and act. Figure 1: PDCA Cycle (Roser, 2019)

Knocked for a six.

Six Sigma is a business improvement methodology. It’s based on tracking and measuring processes, analysing the methods and principles of specific tasks and reviewing policies and procedures that are involved in the work undertaken by a business.

This can be summarised as: 1) Metric: “a measure of defects” (Pearson et al., 2013, p. 266). 2) Methodology: “understanding customer requirements, alignment of key business processes, basing control on data and embedding sustainable outcomes in the business” (Pearson et al., 2013, p. 266). 3) Management System: “ensuring strategic alignment, using a high-performance team to ‘attack’ specific projects and governance of efforts to ensure results are sustained in the business” (Pearson et al., 2013, p. 266).

With Six Sigma, businesses will use the DMAIC process. This stands for define, measure, analyse, improve and control. Figure 2. DMAIC method (Info Diagram, 2019).

Forces combined

LEAN Six Sigma is a hybridization of the two methodologies. It blends the merits of both to ensure maximum effectiveness. You’ll see below that there are certain elements which are common to both. These are: - Limiting waste - Reducing or eliminating work that doesn’t add value - Reducing cycle time - Reducing or eliminating processes that affect productivity

Figure 3. Improvement objectives of the Lean Six Sigma or LSS (Snee, 2010 in Drohomeretski, Gouvea da Costa, Pinheiro de Lima & Andrea da Rosa Garbuio, 2012, p. 810).

The greatest disparities between these two methodologies are, training time and initial investment required, both of which are lesser in the LEAN methodology (Drohomeretski et al., 2012, p. 811).

Successful Deployment of LSS

Individual processes don’t work in a vacuum they are part of a larger strategy for the entire business. It’s vital that processes are evaluated against clear measures that will meet business requirements and priorities (Arcidiacono, Costantino & Yang, 2016, p. 239). Doing this involves adapting the DMAIC method used in Six Sigma to focus on four steps. These are assessment, monitoring, sustainability, and expansion or ASME for short. In order for LSS to be implemented successfully, businesses must have a clear idea of what the critical success factors are, the elements that will support these and the benefits that these will engender for the business.

Figure 4: Key elements for success of LSS deployment (Arcidiacono et al., 2016, p. 239)

Critical Success Factors

To implement any type of change within a business those in charge must be convinced of its validity, have the skills to implement it and be able to persuade internal stakeholders of the validity of these changes.

For more on stakeholders check this post out: <Social Impact: how to engage stakeholders, no ring necessary>

A clear strategy needs to be formulated and actively implemented in order to ensure that business goals are achieved. This strategy must improve the performance of the business and so must be an achievable challenge not simply wishful thinking. A vision of what the business is aspiring to achieve is vital. Having an idea of what the future would ideally look like for the company gives focus and direction to the business’s activities.

For more on brand strategy: Brand You: how to build a strong core with a committed following

Supportive Elements of CSF

In addition to leadership, strategy and vision are funding and people. As previously mentioned, there are costs involved in implementing these processes and businesses must be aware of the financial impacts of attempting to implement LSS. Furthermore, the business needs to be honest about what type of culture it currently has and what may need to change. The business needs to know if it has the right people and skillsets within it in order to achieve its strategic goals.

Want to learn more about culture? Read this: Glocalism: This is what world consumer culture looks like


The benefits of successful implementation are increased productivity, better use of resources, better use of technology and increased engagement from internal stakeholders.

Lean Six Sigma and Sustainability

How does LEAN Six Sigma fit with growing concerns about sustainable business practices? Sustainability focuses on the “processes and practices that maximise profits, minimise negative environmental impacts, conserve natural resources and energy, and are safe for employees, consumers and communities” (NAFCAM, 2010 in (Cherrafi, Elfezazi, Chiarini, Mokhlis & Benhid, 2016, p. 830). It serves only to add to existing elements of LEAN and Six Sigma rather than detracting from them.

Figure 5. Integrated LEAN, Six Sigma, Sustainability Model (Cherrafi et al., 2016, p. 834).

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In this blog post we’ve discussed LEAN and Six Sigma metrics, methodologies and management systems. We’ve seen how the hybridization of LEAN and Six Sigma can be achieved and how sustainable business considerations can be seamlessly integrated. Leadership, strategy, and vision are vital, the benefits can be significant with the right business culture, skills and people. Waste management and strategic alignment can only be positives for any business.

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Arcidiacono, G., Costantino, N. & Yang, K. 2016, "The AMSE Lean Six Sigma governance model", International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 233-266, viewed 26 April 2019, doi:

Ben Ruben, R. Vinodh, S. & Asokan, P. 2018, “Lean Six Sigma with environmental focus: review and framework, The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology, vol. 94, iss. 9-12, pp. 4023-4037, viewed 26 April 2019,

Info Diagram, 2019, “Six Sigma Powerpoint DMAIC Modern Graphics”, viewed 26 April 2019,

Cherrafi, A. Elfezazi, S. Chiarini, A. Mokhlis, A. & Benhid, K. 2016, “The integration of lean manufacturing, Six Sigma and sustainability: A literature review and future research directions for developing a specific model”, Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 139, pp. 828-846, viewed 26 April 2019,

Drohomeretski,E. Gouvea da Costa, S. Pinheiro de Lima, E. & Andrea da Rosa Garbuio, P. 2012, “Lean, Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma: an analysis based on operations strategy”, International Journal or Production Research, vol. 52, iss. 3, pp. 804-824 , viewed 26 April 2019, DOI: 10.1080/00207543.2013.842015

Roser, C. 2019, “Hoshin Kanri – Part 2: PDCA”, All About Lean, viewed 26 April 2019,

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