Six Sigma vs. Kaizen

Instructor: Deborah Schell

Deborah teaches college Accounting and has a master's degree in Educational Technology.

Companies must ensure their products are of the highest quality to compete in the marketplace. In this lesson, you will learn about two improvement methods: Six Sigma and Kaizen.

What Is Six Sigma?

Let's meet Ms. Leaf, who owns Leaf's Tea Company. She is investigating ways to improve the quality of her products and make her business more profitable. She recently read about two methods, Six Sigma and Kaizen, and wondered if they might be able to help her business. Let's see if we can provide Ms. Leaf with some information on these methods.


Six Sigma is a methodology whose goal is to reduce the number of defects to 3.4 per million opportunities, where a defect is anything that does not meet customer expectations. Companies can use the Six Sigma methodology for new products or for existing products. Six Sigma is data-driven and consists of two methods: DMAIC and DMADV. Companies use the DMAIC method for existing products that do not meet customer expectations and need small improvements and they use the DMADV method for new products.

Companies use the DMAIC method for existing products that do not meet customer expectations. The DMAIC process consists of five steps:

  • Define
  • Measure
  • Analyze
  • Improve
  • Control

For example, Ms. Leaf could use this method to identify and correct problems with a signature tea that her customers are finding bitter. Using the DMAIC method, Ms. Leaf's project team would first define the customers' requirements and outline the problem. They would also define the project plan and outline the resources needed to complete the project. In the measurement phase, the project team would gather the necessary data to determine the size of the problem.

Once gathered, the project team can analyze the data collected and determine the cause of the problem. For example, is a particular type of tea leaf causing the bitterness? In the improve phase, Ms. Leaf's team can formulate potential solutions to the problem, which will be implemented and monitored during the control phase.

Companies use the DMADV method when developing new products. The DMADV process also consists of five steps:

  • Define
  • Measure
  • Analyze
  • Design
  • Verify

Ms. Leaf could follow the DMADV method of Six Sigma when developing a new tea infuser mug. In the define phase, Ms. Leaf and her project team would define the goals of the project and what product will be developed. The measurement phase would require the project team to determine customer needs. In the analyze phase, options that would satisfy customer expectations are developed.

In the design phase, Ms. Leaf and her project team would decide on an approach and design the process to meet customer expectations. Finally, the verify phase would allow Ms. Leaf and her project team to confirm that the product meets the needs of the customers.

Six Sigma focuses on quality and the costs associated with poor quality. It also involves reviewing a number of business processes. As a result, completing a Six Sigma review can take a significant amount of time and involve a project team from many different departments in the organization.

What Is Kaizen?

Kaizen focuses on continuous improvement (CI) (ongoing optimization of products and services) and eliminating waste in a company's business processes. Besides improving productivity, Kaizen also aims to improve the workplace, eliminate work that is too difficult and train employees to identify and take steps to get rid of waste in business processes. Every area and department in a company, including the production line, can use Kaizen to improve business processes and eliminate waste.

Unlike Six Sigma projects, where significant changes are made, Kaizen methods yield small improvements, as the focus is on continuous improvements by all company employees. The Kaizen method has seven phases:

  • Identify opportunities
  • Analyze the process
  • Develop a preferred solution
  • Implement the solution
  • Analyze results
  • Standardize the solution
  • Plan for the future

Unlike Six Sigma, which involves a project team of specialists, all employees can participate in Kaizen initiatives. In order to do so, the company must ensure that it trains its employees about what Kaizen is and how they can participate. The company should put together a group to evaluate Kaizen submissions and decide which ones to implement.

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