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What are Lean and Six Sigma?

The medical laboratory industry has become more competitive in recent years due to cuts in reimbursement, more restrictive regulatory requirements, increased competition in outreach, and increased cost of labor and materials. This has significantly affected the bottom line of both hospital and reference laboratories. In order to stay competitive, laboratories must be able to meet the needs of their customers at a reasonable cost. This transition has led to more laboratories utilizing Lean and Six Sigma to achieve customer satisfaction and improve finances.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership defines Lean as:
"A systematic approach to identifying and eliminating waste (non-value added activities) through continuous improvement by having the product flow towards the pull of the customer in pursuit of perfection." *
Six Sigma is a quality improvement method that strives to prevent defects. Six Sigma quality performance means no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. The methodology emphasizes the DMAIC approach to quality improvement and problem solving.
Lean and Six Sigma are complementary concepts. Both Lean and Six Sigma focus on process improvement. While Lean focuses on reducing waste, Six Sigma focuses on reducing variation. By eliminating both waste and variation, you will approach a defect-free process.
Czarnecki H, Loyd N. (2002). Simulation of lean assembly line for high volume manufacturing. Center for Automation and Robotics, University of Alabama in Huntsville. Available at: Accessed July 18, 2016.