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Last edited 08 Apr 2021
Lean Six Sigma in the construction industry
Lean Six Sigma (L6s) is a collaborative, team-focused process-improvement method which aims to reduce waste, minimise process variation and achieve as high a degree of operational excellence as possible. It combines two continuous improvement methods – Lean and Six Sigma – which aim to help organisations achieve their aims as fast and as efficiently as possible and build better problem-solving cultures.
L6s originated in the 1980s at Toyota, Japan (Lean) and at Motorola, US (Six Sigma). The latter was formulated to compete with Japanese business improvement models. During the 2000s, the two morphed into a process designed to be applied to all professions and occupations.
The L6s improvement process aims to achieve a better understanding of how a process functions so as to increase the value offered to customers. It uses Sigma’s DMAIC phases (see below). By combining the principles of Lean and Six Sigma (see below), L6s aims to improve quality, reduce production costs, increase the pace, remain competitive and save money. The result is a balanced methodology which consistently produces better products at lower cost.
 Originating principles
Lean is a popular philosophy which aims to eliminate waste and achieve continuous flow by improving transaction and manufacturing processes, thereby increasing the value delivered to customers. The eight kinds of waste (‘muda’ in Japanese) are:
Made famous by Japanese car-maker Toyota, Lean principles are derived from the lean manufacturing method which incorporates the four-step method continuous improvement methodology: Plan Do Check Act (adjust) (PDCA) (or Plan Do Study Act). PDCA is based on trial-and-error, as opposed to planning the process at the outset to achieve perfection.
Each PDCA fix allows essential fine tuning which may ultimately lead to perfection – or as near as possible. Although Lean optimises efficiency, its purpose is not to eliminate people in the process; it does not stand for Less Employees Are Needed, as some detractors have noted.
Six Sigma is a managerial concept for manufacturing and business. It aims to reduce production defects (errors) and minimise variability over the long term, resulting in as near-perfect products as possible. Practitioners use statistical models to achieve as close as possible to defect-free goals.
 Applications of Lean Six Sigma
As a sector, construction is often called the last great unreformed industry, a leading waste producer in terms of both material and time. Lean design and lean construction use tools to improve the time to market and the quality of new products (eg buildings).
The UK-based Construction Innovation Hub is preparing the construction industry for L6s and aims to help designers, manufacturers and assemblers coordinate their efforts to bring minimal defects and provide a value product to society. It aims not only to impress upon the industry the need to do things right but also to do the right things.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Advanced manufacturing.
- Construction Innovation Hub.
- Integrated project delivery (IPD).
- Latham report.
- Lean construction.
- Lean construction - a quality perspective.
- Mean lean green.
- Modern methods of construction.
- Pareto analysis.
- Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA).
- Reinventing construction: a route to higher productivity.
- Total quality management in construction.
- Vested outsourcing.
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