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Lean, Six Sigma versus TPM

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Should I implement Lean, Six Sigma or TPM in our organization? Which program will give us the best and sustainable benefit? Should I focus on gaining training and experience in Lean, Six Sigma or TPM? Which methodology will give me the biggest impact to my professional career?

These questions may have crossed your mind and you need some direction, or maybe you’re like, “what in the world are you talking about and why should I care?”

Let’s begin with some definitions:

Lean – is defined by many authors and experts in different ways using descriptions like eliminating wastes, increasing speed, improving efficiency and other variations. I prefer this definition I heard from one of my previous leaders: “Lean is the efficiency of how we convert customer expectations into customer satisfaction.” In other words, Lean is about meeting (or exceeding) customer demands in the most efficient (least waste) possible.

Six Sigma – like Lean, Six Sigma is also described in multiple ways: reducing variability, increasing accuracy, a management system and getting to 3.4 defects per million opportunities. All definitions are correct... but each could weigh differently based on who uses it. The fact is, Six Sigma is a broad and powerful program that thousands of companies are adopting based on their need. In simple terms, Six Sigma is defined as improving accuracy and precision of a process(es) through a structured problem-solving methodology called DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control).

Most companies that have continuous improvement programs are applying both Lean and Six Sigma as one, united approach...which makes sense. When applied correctly, Lean Six Sigma will deliver results for organizations that far outweigh the investment of its implementation. One can read everywhere countless success stories of organizations reaping sustainable benefits of correctly applying Lean Six Sigma.

How about TPM?

Most organizations define TPM as Total Productive Maintenance while others made the liberty of redefining the three letters to suit their intended application and scope of deployment. It is a structured methodology that focuses on increasing machine or equipment effectiveness to deliver breakthrough results. It is also a journey (typically years) that seeks to positively transform the workplace and increase people competencies.

I got the definitions, now what should I implement?

The first filter is the type of organization. If your company’s operations does not mainly rely on equipment or machines, like a manufacturing process, then TPM is not the best program for you. One of the core deliverables of TPM is improving machine availability and stability by reducing planned and unplanned stops. Thus, the benefits of applying TPM methodologies cannot be fully realized in companies that are not equipment asset-intensive like service industries or offices.

The second aspect to consider is to answer the question: “where are we now in our Continuous Improvement  (CI) journey?” If you are just starting, Lean or Lean Six Sigma would be the better option. Lean specifically considers the whole end to end process (a.k.a. Value Stream) and uses concepts like creating flow and establishing pull systems to eliminate wastes. Thus, easy to solve problems (low hanging fruits) and bigger impact (cross functional) opportunities are found and executed with the application of Lean.

Once the organization embraces Lean culture, they will see more and more problems (opportunities) that need to be addressed, some of which may require deeper, quantitative analysis or structured problem solving. Six Sigma is designed for these challenges! It employs a rigorous, step by step problem solving methodology called DMAIC. It first Defines the problem, then Measures the extent of the problem, Analyzes and verifies the root causes, Improves the process by applying solutions to the root causes and then put effective Controls to sustain the gains. It doesn’t matter if the problem scope is one machine or the whole organization, Six Sigma projects have different levels (called belts) to match the scope and complexity of the problem to solve.

If you are still with me up to now, I salute your passion to learn more about this topic. Read on.

If Lean and Six Sigma are already a powerful duo in continuous improvement, where will TPM come to play?

Hunting and Farming - Six Sigma projects are designed to be executed by a temporary project team. Once the project is completed, usually after a few months, the sustenance of the improved process (say reduced machine defects) is given to the process owner and project team disbands. The Six Sigma project team is like a hunter that takes all their needed tools, hunt the game and brings it home. On the other hand, TPM is implemented in a series of small and interrelated steps to improve machine effectiveness. It starts with fixing abnormalities found in the machine and restoring it back to its basic (or optimal) condition. Then it continues to develop the competencies of everyone in the organization to further increase availability, stability and reliability of the  equipment. Since the methodology involves everyone in the organization and the steps are detailed and numerous, TPM implementation takes years to get the whole organization to progress through all steps. It is like farming where one needs to prepare the soil, plant the seed and grow the crop before it is ready for harvest. The only difference is that each step in TPM will deliver expected breakthrough results (harvest) for the organization so benefits are realized as the TPM implementation progresses.

One interesting thing to note is that Lean Six Sigma methodologies are integrated in the TPM structure. One TPM pillar is dedicated to focused improvement through application of DMAIC and other problem-solving tools. On the other hand, TPM methodologies like cleaning, inspection and alignment are key components when a Lean Six Sigma project on an equipment gets to the Improve and Control phases of the project.

In summary, all three programs have their unique strengths and we cannot paint the same brush on how all organizations should move through their continuous improvement journey. However, here is what I find as the most common approach that sticks: Most companies start their CI journey by applying Lean concepts and methodologies at varying depths. Among the three, Lean is the easiest to be understood by everyone in the organization although its successful application varies widely due to many factors including top management support, alignment of goals and capabilities of lean leaders, among others. Six Sigma can be incorporated into the Lean journey as the organization deals with the next level of opportunities such as solving recurring problems with unknown root causes. It’s structured problem-solving method (DMAIC) can also be applied to any type of organization. However, if the organization is equipment operation-intensive, like manufacturing, TPM stands out to be the most methodical and encompassing program to achieve breakthrough equipment effectiveness and transformation of the workplace including improving team competencies. I’ve worked with organizations that applies all three methodologies, harmoniously, and achieved desired results.

If your organization is ready to embark on the CI journey, it is highly recommended to discuss options with a qualified CI coach to determine the best approach to take that would result to significant sustainable benefits for your company.

About the author:

Ron Auza is passionate in anything about Continuous Improvement and he does it with sustainability in mind!  He is a Certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a Certified TPM Coach and Trainer. Whether you are an individual who aims to improve your

problem-solving and leadership capabilities or an organization that seeks to increase process efficiency and business profitability, Ron would love to listen and share how he can help.


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