The History of Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma as we know it today has been the constant work of many decades. Hundreds of large companies and great minds have adapted the techniques, building on what came before and developing robust systems for process improvement. But Lean and Six Sigma actually have separate origins. The two systems have many areas of overlap, but they were developed independently by two different manufacturing giants who saw vast opportunities for improvement in their businesses. To understand how Lean Six Sigma fits into our modern business models, it is important to understand the driving force and history behind the practice.

Early Process Improvement Techniques

With the beginning of the industrial revolution in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, manufacturing businesses were quick to seek out ways to improve their processes. While early manufacturing was rudimentary and produced less complex components, early inventors like Eli Whitney were key promoters of process improvement. Whitney was a champion of interchangeable parts in manufacturing. The interchangeable parts movement sought to standardise certain parts and components, meaning they could be used for many different processes.

There are many early examples of process improvement in manufacturing, some of which even date back thousands of years. But, as technology improved, champions such as Whitney were able to press for real changes that would go on to underpin the modern world as we know it.

The History of Lean Principles

Lean is a set of principles for efficiency in processes that resulted from the Toyota Production System in the mid 20th century. In the 1950s, Toyota was still a small-scale car manufacturer. World War II had hurt their business, but producing trucks during the Korean War gave Toyota the experience and income they needed to expand. Wanting to further their business after the war, several Toyota executives visited automakers like Ford, touring their factories and learning from their American counterparts’ success. These visits ultimately led Toyota to develop their Lean Manufacturing principles, all of which are still applicable and valuable in modern businesses.

The Toyota Production System (Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing system) primarily focused on identifying and eliminating process waste. This improved the quality and flow of production, ultimately delivering better products to their customers. By empowering every worker with respect and the ability to reach their potential, Toyota used Lean principles to minimise waste, produce better cars and pioneer manufacturing standards that have since spread across the world.


The History of Six Sigma

The 20th century was ripe with manufacturing ideologies such as Lean and Total Quality Management. But, as Lean grew in popularity, so too did Six Sigma. Developed in the 1980s by Motorola – who produced microprocessors and spurred the computing revolution at the time – Six Sigma was their approach to quality improvement and control. Motorola’s Six Sigma gave rise to the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) principles that we still use today. The DMAIC framework empowered Motorola’s employees to institute greater quality control over processes that were designed to create standardised and highly repetitive products. A Six Sigma process is one in which 99.99966% of all parts are produced without defect.

Motorola’s Six Sigma and its DMAIC principles ensured their products were of the utmost quality and repeatability, which is a critical factor in microprocessor production. Their new focus on quality led to great improvements in the finished product, saving Motorola $2.2 billion over the next 4 years, and making their products highly sought after by a growing industry.

Want to See How Lean Six Sigma Applies to Modern Business? Train with Thornley Group Today!

Process improvement has its roots in humanity’s very earliest civilisations. The pursuit of efficiency and improvement has always driven us to seek new ideas and better results. Lean and Six Sigma have been applied by businesses all over the world for decades with great success. Improving your business, reducing waste and delivering better products is the goal of all Lean Six Sigma training with the Thornley Group team. We empower process improvement professionals with the tools and skills they need to make a difference and offer major benefits to their organisations. If you are interested in learning more about Lean Six Sigma and how it can help your business thrive, speak to our experienced instructors and book your next Lean Six Sigma training course today!

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