Lean Six Sigma is a powerful combination of two Continuous Improvement methods.  “Lean” is about speed – reducing non-value-added activities (or waste), to improve process cycle times.  “Six Sigma” is about quality – reducing process variation and defects to near-perfect zero, translating to a 99.9997% yield.

Improving Process Cycle Time isn’t about doing things faster.  It’s about understanding what the customer, the business, or other key stakeholders value, and eliminating everything else.  Lean is about the relentless reduction of the Eight Deadly Sources of Waste:

Eight Deadly Sources of Waste

  • Defects

  • Overproduction

  • Waiting

  • Non-Utilized Talent

  • Transportation

  • Inventory

  • Motion

  • Excess Processing

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

– Peter Drucker, 1963, Harvard Business Review

Six Sigma is a data-driven, analytical approach to improve quality.  It’s about using statistical methods to understand trends and root causes that reduce variation.  While Six Sigma was pioneered by Motorola in the 1980’s, it has grown beyond manufacturing to help companies improve their logistics, customer service, and other back office operations.

Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement

How do companies educate and engage leaders and line workers to relentlessly improve the business? It can start with a simple pilot program.

  • Educate key leaders on the purpose, the potential and the journey
  • Engage a “Project Sponsor” to Charter a project by defining the scope, objectives, baseline and target measures. Choose a project that employees care about and where incremental progress will motivate the team.
  • Select an experienced resource to engage line workers in executing the Project Charter, by using simple Lean Six Sigma tools (Process Maps, 5 Why’s, Polka-Yolk, Fishbone diagrams…)
  • Have the team present mid-week “pitchouts” to leadership, to share their progress, interim findings and feedback
  • Ask the team to prioritize short-term and long-term improvement ideas
  • Allow the team to internally market their successes and learnings to generate interest in future efforts
  • Encourage leaders to Sponsor other, future initiatives 

What’s So Unique?

When done correctly, employees are armed with simple tools to improve the processes they care about. They are engaged in making their jobs more enjoyable, by taking control over improving the things they do every day. It provides value to the business and instills value in the employee.

Lean Six Sigma starts with a “Charter” that is written by a “Sponsor”. This simple step ensures proper expectations of scope, objectives, and accountability.

  • Once the project is appropriately “Defined”, data is gathered as part of the “Measure” phase to understand the current state.
  • The data is then “Analyzed” to understand root cause and suggest possible countermeasure.
  • During the “Improve” phase, potential solutions are evaluated and prioritized regarding their merit.
  • The “Control” phase is used to pilot and implement the solution and understand the level of improvement that was achieved.

Once stabilized and understood, future projects are again “Defined” to drive the continuous improvement.

Lessons Learned


The Do’s

 The Don’ts

Create a training program for sponsors, project managers (belts), employees Don’t use it to implement your own ideas – if you already know the answer, just implement that…don’t waste the team’s time
Create a desirable career path for Lean Six Sigma facilitators Don’t cut corners. Don’t be impatient. Don’t skimp on Charter Writing. Don’t jump from Define to Control
Leverage skilled resources to pilot a program to ensure initial success and to build momentum Don’t allow Sponsors to disengage, or team members to dishonor time commitments
Arm employees with simple tools and let them discover and present their fact-based findings and recommendations Don’t scope projects too large or allow for scope creep.
Trust the methodology and project phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control Don’t allow the team to fall victim of “analysis paralysis”


About Pete Beckwith

Pete Beckwith is a partner with Fisher Management Partners, and he leads its Supply Chain Solutions Practice. He began his career at Andersen Consulting and later joined Arthur Andersen’s Business Consulting Practice, where he led Supply Chain solutions for Central Ohio. After Andersen, Pete was the Director of Business Integration and IT Strategy at Cardinal Health, a Fortune 20 company in the global healthcare distribution industry. He later served multiple executive roles at Cardinal Health, including as VP within Merger Integration and Operational Excellence, until he joined Fisher in 2015.

Pete has successfully delivered large domestic and international supply chain projects. His areas of expertise include supply chain management, business integration, Lean Six Sigma and continuous improvement.  You can reach Pete at pete.beckwith@fishermp.com.