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Lean Six Sigma in 2024: A Comprehensive Guide to Its Continued Relevance and Adaptation

Riaan du Plooy / 18 Dec, 2023

In today's rapidly changing world, staying competitive is more challenging. Businesses constantly seek ways to enhance efficiency, reduce costs, improve quality, and satisfy customers. Lean Six Sigma, a methodology rooted in process improvement and problem-solving, has been a trusted companion for organizations striving for excellence. But is Lean Six Sigma still relevant in 2024? Can it adapt to the evolving business landscape and address the unique challenges of our times? This comprehensive guide explores Lean Six Sigma's continued relevance, evolution, and how it remains a valuable asset in the modern world. As we close our eyes and picture the reader, we can see the faces of the hundreds of dedicated, hard-working, and trusting people whom we've had the honor of teaching how to be competent Lean Six Sigma practitioners…and can't help but have the question in the back of our minds, "Is Lean Six Sigma Still Relevant? Is Six Sigma Outdated?"

Understanding Lean Six Sigma

Lean Six Sigma is a dynamic approach that combines two powerful methodologies: Lean and Six Sigma. Its primary goal is to identify and eliminate waste, reduce defects, enhance process efficiency, and elevate overall quality. At its core, Lean Six Sigma revolves around the DMAIC cycle: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. This structured problem-solving method empowers organizations to continuously improve their operations.

How does Lean Six Sigma Work?

Lean Six Sigma combines the two methods of Lean and Six Sigma.  In short, Lean focuses on sources of waste and poor flow, and Six Sigma reduces defects and variation. Together, Lean and Six Sigma achieve a cycle of continuous improvements toward the final goal of maximum effectiveness and efficiency. These highly efficient and effective processes result in delighted customers and highly engaged and capable employees. Lean Six Sigma uses different tools and techniques depending on the type of project. Six Sigma typically uses the DMAIC phases for its projects. DMAIC (pronounced “duh-may-ick”) is a process that focuses on structured problem-solving. It is an integral part of Six Sigma, a method of continuous business improvement. The 5 phases of DMAIC are
  1. Define
  2. Measure
  3. Analysis
  4. Improve
  5. Control

As a simplified example, here is how we would use the DMAIC cycle to get healthy;


Stating the problem that my health is not currently in good condition.


Determine the baseline measure for health, which I decide is my weight.


Identify the biggest contributing factors to my unacceptable weight. I analyze my lifestyle and verify that I consume too many empty calories and do not get enough exercise.


Come up with solutions to target those two specific causes; specific solutions to minimize empty calories and to move more.


Create ongoing measures and habits to make sure I don’t slide back. For example, I use an app to track what I eat and track my energy burned each day. 

Check out our DMAIC post for more detailed information!

The Significance of Lean Six Sigma

Why is Lean Six Sigma important in today’s business landscape? The answer lies in the challenges most organizations face—unpredictability, competition, and the need for rapid adaptation. Lean Six Sigma provides a structured framework to tackle complex issues, deliver value to customers, engage employees, and maintain competitiveness. It’s a reliable toolkit for achieving operational excellence.

Most people can relate to workplace scenarios like crushing unpredictability, chaos to meet deadlines, no time to plan or strategize, intense stress trying to keep up with growth, the uncertainty of how to scale, demanding customers, thin profit margins, escalating costs, employee turnover, facing the same problems over and over to name a few. These are extremely common and, in short, most people are working extraordinarily hard just to keep up, let alone to improve, grow, and scale!

There are many success stories, of course, but this is usually because high profit margins and rapid growth hide inefficiencies and poor quality. And a lot of times, success happens because the key success factors just happened to align…for a while. The real challenge is to reliably deliver a valuable product or service while running an efficient and scalable operation at the same time as creating a highly competent and engaged team. And then keep that going as things change! This is something that very few achieve.

Lean and Six Sigma in Their Prime

Anyone who’s heard of Lean, Six Sigma, or the blended Lean Six Sigma has likely heard the impressive success stories of Toyota, GE, and Motorola. In the 1980s, they famously aimed to gain from the success of Lean Manufacturing in Japan from decades before. These organizations committed to and executed the main principles of process improvement, which – at the time – made it worth it. How did they do it? Large groups of people in a classroom, massive binders with printed slide after slide about the technical aspects of Lean Six Sigma techniques. Organizations either focused on Lean (primarily to reduce waste) or Six Sigma (decreasing defects and variation). And it was almost always focused on manufacturing.

In the late 20th century, Lean and Six Sigma gained prominence, particularly in manufacturing industries. Companies like Toyota, GE, and Motorola showcased remarkable success stories. However, during this era, the focus was often on the quantity of certified practitioners and the dollars saved. The broader impact on customers and employees sometimes took a back seat.

And frankly, there was an over-emphasis on the count of Lean Six Sigma belts (people certified as Green Belts or Black Belts) instead of on meaningful results. And when there was a focus on results, many times, it was a narrow and singular focus on Dollars Saved. Not Customer or Employee-focused. So, many times, from a customer or an employee perspective, Lean Six Sigma would have been viewed as worthless.

We’ve come a long way since cigarettes and the vibrating exercise belt in the name of health. For the health of our businesses, for the joy and fulfillment of our employees and to create real value for our customers, we must move a long way from the sad, copy/pasted slides, the old manufacturing or cartoon examples, the stale paper templates from 30+ years ago. And we must focus on increasing capabilities to solve meaningful problems instead of focusing on many people trained.

  • Lean Six Sigma’s Evolution in 2024

    Comparing Lean Six Sigma to exercise offers a fitting analogy. While the core principles remain relevant, the methods and approaches have evolved. In 2024, Lean Six Sigma continues to deliver meaningful results, emphasizing:
    1. Value and Experience for Customers
    2. Joy at Work for Employees
    3. Sustainability and Scalability of Organizations

    The approach has shifted from counting certifications to building competencies that drive significant improvements across diverse business types and industries. It embraces self-directed, online, and hands-on learning, offering flexibility to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.

    Lean Six Sigma Through the Pandemic

    The COVID-19 pandemic presented unforeseen challenges to businesses worldwide. It underscored the importance of agility and adaptability. Lean Six Sigma, with its emphasis on process optimization and problem-solving, emerged as a crucial asset during these tumultuous times. It empowered organizations to navigate disruptions, maintain quality, and emerge stronger.

    One of the greatest advantages of Lean Six Sigma is it's designed to thrive through times of change and challenge. And 2020 and beyond have provided more than enough change and challenge!

    The after-effects of the pandemic interventions caused incredibly unique scenarios. Not only are we continually facing major changes, challenges, and uncertainty, but so is everyone around us (our customers, our co-workers, our community, our friends, and our families). Through all of this, we have seen a dramatic deterioration of quality, service, standards, employee engagement, confidence, enthusiasm, and hope and excitement about the future. With the proper skill set, this global shit show can be the catalyst for true and extraordinary improvements in all aspects of life.

    We can stand by and accept the degradation and things crumbling around us, or we can make an effort to become better, to see the opportunity, and then make the world - or at least your world - better than it was before.

    The Future of Lean Six Sigma

    In 2024 and beyond, Lean Six Sigma’s relevance will continue to grow. It is evolving to address contemporary challenges by integrating with newer methodologies and adopting a hybrid approach. As industries and business contexts transform, Lean Six Sigma remains a reliable compass for organizations seeking excellence.

    Lean Six Sigma is not just a methodology; it’s a mindset—a commitment to continuous improvement and delivering value. In 2024, it retains its significance by adapting to the dynamic business landscape. Whether you’re embarking on a Lean Six Sigma journey or enhancing your skills, remember that the principles of continuous improvement are timeless. Embrace the opportunity to make your world better, one improvement at a time, and let Lean Six Sigma guide you on this transformative journey.