MBA: Six Sigma vs. Kaizen

Close-up of man working on laptop in office
Close-up of man working on laptop in office

As two management philosophies, Six Sigma and Kaizen have some similarities. Both philosophies aim for continual improvement of a business by creating more efficient business processes, reducing waste and eliminating defects.

While the goal of both strategies may be similar, the process is different. Both can be effective methodologies if implemented correctly, and it’s important to understand which method is being used in order to better understand what is going on.

The two philosophies are used in a myriad of industries including healthcare, automotive, and manufacturing. Six Sigma is covered as part of the curriculum of the online MBA Healthcare Administration program at Spring Arbor University. Kaizen is a technique that you may come across in your chosen field.


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The History of Six Sigma vs. Kaizen

The Six Sigma philosophy began to materialize in the 1920s as a measurement standard, but the Six Sigma process received its name from Motorola engineer Bill Smith in the 1980s.

Over time Six Sigma evolved into  a way of doing business, described as a vision, philosophy or a methodology. Kaizen, on the other hand, is an ancient Japanese philosophy that was first implemented in business following World War II. The goal of this philosophy has been to continually improve every aspect of an individual’s life, which slowly evolved into a business philosophy over time.

How the Six Sigma and Kaizen Strategies Are Used in Business

The Six Sigma approach looks at the final product, assessing defects in the product and looking for ways to eliminate the cause behind the defects. The strategy aims to change business processes, if necessary, to come up with a final product without defects or to make changes in the way the product is manufactured.

Six Sigma is a measurement process, looking at how a result deviates from perfection and how to bring the result closer to perfection. The Kaizen approach looks at the business with a wider lens. The goal is to improve every aspect of the business, to make processes standard, to improve efficiency and to always look for ways to reduce waste. It is a system that always focuses on ways to improve, from the entry-level workers to the highest in management.

The Differences Between Six Sigma vs. Kaizen

Six Sigma uses statistics to analyze business processes, while Kaizen doesn’t generally use this type of analysis. Six Sigma aims for perfection, or zero defects as often as possible, while Kaizen aims to improve the overall work environment, the systems in place and the strategies used without focusing on percentile success rates.

The Benefits of Implementing Six Sigma and Kaizen Strategies in Your Business

Both the Kaizen and Six Sigma methods for business will decrease overall spending. Motorola reports that it has saved a record $17 billion since 2006 while utilizing the Six Sigma approach. Many big businesses use the Six Sigma approach, while others utilize the Kaizen method to improve efficiency in the workplace and reduce costs.

It helps to remember that Kaizen isn’t as much a set process, but more a system of beliefs that considers the whole picture. Kaizen is considered, continuous improvement, and there is rarely a finite end to any new processes established. With Six Sigma, the approach is methodical and driven by statistics. The goal is to improve the overall whole by reducing defects.

Each has a different approach in the business world, but both strategies aim to provide quality, reduce waste and increase profits for the business.


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