What Is Lean Six Sigma?
HealthFebruary 22, 2019

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Nurses are always looking for ways to improve processes, and Lean Six Sigma is a way to accomplish this. The method combines two well-established quality improvement tools, "Lean" and "Six Sigma," to systematically reduce waste and limit variation in healthcare facilities" processes.

What is Lean?

Lean Methodology, Lean Management, or simply Lean, is an integrated system of principles, practices, tools, and techniques that seek to eliminate waste, decrease production time, and improve process efficiency.

The Lean method actually originated with Toyota Motor Corp. in Japan, where it was developed as a production tool to provide best quality, lowest cost and shortest lead time through the elimination of waste. It serves as a framework for management to ensure the greatest value for customers while maximizing the resources used. Its strengths lie in engaging frontline employees to develop standardized solutions to common problems.

The application of Lean principles in healthcare facilities helps to minimize waste in every process, procedure, and task through an ongoing system of improvement. Using lean principles, all members of the organization, from clinicians to operations and administration staff, continually work to identify areas of waste and eliminate anything that does not add value for patients.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma was introduced in American business by Motorola in 1987 and further developed by General Electric in the 1990s. The term Six Sigma traces its roots to statistics. Six Sigma stands for the standard deviations to the left and the right of the mean (average) on a graph.

Six Sigma emphasizes that the less deviation from the mean, the better. Its strengths lie in its emphasis on organizational infrastructure, deployment plans, analytical tools, quality improvement, and controls. Six Sigma aims to identify and correct the causes of errors.

In healthcare, errors can lead to a variety of problems. An error or defect could mean anything from long waits for appointments, confusing instructions, or ineffective procedures and treatments. By reducing defects, a provider can achieve higher levels of performance.

High levels of performance mean fast turnaround times, fewer errors and lower costs. Effective and efficient processes also help to reduce staff turnover and increase retention.

Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma combines the strengths of both quality improvement methodologies. Its goals are to create robust processes, uphold quality culture, improve metrics and increase customer satisfaction. It helps an organization produce goods and services efficiently, with less waste and less variability, using resources efficiently without compromising quality.

Strengths of the hybrid include:

  • Engagement of frontline staff
  • Customer focus
  • Commitment of management
  • Process improvements
  • Interdepartmental or interdisciplinary involvement
  • Teamwork
  • Productivity/cost savings
  • Dedicated and structured approach
  • Error and waste reduction or elimination

The Lean Six Sigma method provides a structured approach to eliminating causes of common problems encountered in the healthcare setting. It also fosters teamwork and involvement of the different departments and disciplines in the healthcare facility. Overall, it maximizes quality improvement in healthcare, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

When implementing Lean Six Sigma, it's important to involve everyone in the organization, from management to frontline staff, to make the program successful.

To read more about implementing quality improvement methods, visit the American Society for Quality website.

Has your facility tried Lean, Six Sigma or a combination of these methods?

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