Six Sigma vs. Kaizen

Six Sigma and Kaizen can often be used together for process improvement projects as they both work towards continuous improvement by increasing efficiency and eliminating waste. It’s important to keep in mind these are two very different management philosophies.

The history of Kaizen has its roots in ancient Japanese philosophy. When first developed, the idea was to continuously work towards perfection in all areas of one’s life. It was first used in a business sense shortly after World War II. Six Sigma is a much newer process improvement program that originated around the 1980’s.

Kaizen is more of an overreaching form of process improvement that aspires to improve all aspects of a business through standardizations eliminating waste (defined in many ways depending on the type of business), and increasing efficiency. Six Sigma is a more specific form of process improvement that narrows its focus on improving the quality of the final product. This is done by examining the potential causes for failure in quality and eliminating the reasons for these defects. Instead of examining ALL the processes of a particular business, only those related to a specific final product are reviewed in a particular project.

When Kaizen is incorporated into a business process, the focus on improvement has a large scope. The function of each employee is examined, regardless of level. Six Sigma is more mathematical in its function and requires a measure of processes deviation from perfection. It is is far more deeply rooted in analysis and mathematical equation. The aim is to reach zero defects at project completion

Both approaches can and do help companies save a lot of money and time. Which form of improvement should be incorporated into the corporate culture largely depends on the goals of a company. If the issues a company have deal much with the final product and working on ways of achieving it with less defect, Six Sigma is an ideal approach. For those wishing to do more of a complete business “makeover” regarding efficiency and waste elimination, Kaizen would be a more logical choice. People tend to group these two forms of improvement together and it is important to recognize there are fundamental differences between the two. While both have the same ultimate goal of process improvement, the path for getting there is vastly different depending on the approach.


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