Lean and Six Sigma Process Improvement Methods

On this page:

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) 

EPA Office of Pesticide Programs Antimicrobial Testing Program Lean event value stream mapEPA Office of Pesticide Programs Antimicrobial Testing Program Lean event value stream map.

Value stream mapping refers to developing a visual picture of the flow of processes, from start to finish, involved in delivering a desired outcome, service, or product, which could include multiple processes. (a "value stream"). Value stream maps are generally bigger picture, strategic views of a service or process – they are used for identifying improvement priorities. In environmental agencies, a value stream could be the process of permitting air emissions of a certain type, approving a brownfield site for redevelopment, or hiring new agency staff. VSM examines information flows and systems, and the flow of products or service products (e.g., permits) through an agency’s processes. VSM can increase understanding of decision-making processes and identify sources of waste (e.g., documents waiting to be reviewed). The typical products of a 2–5 day VSM workshop are two maps — a map of the "current state" of targeted processes and a "future state" map of the desired process flow — and an associated implementation plan for future process improvement activities.

Top of Page

Kaizen Events 

Lean Kaizen event in Region 10Kaizen event in Region 10.Kaizen is a combination of two Japanese words that mean "to take apart" and "to make good." Kaizen refers to the belief that small, incremental changes routinely applied and sustained over a long period of time result in significant performance improvements. Kaizen focuses on eliminating waste in a targeted system or process of an organization, improving productivity, and achieving sustained improvement. Kaizen activity often involves rapid improvement events (sometimes called a kaizen blitz), which bring together a cross-functional team for two to five days to study a process and begin the implementation of process changes.

Top of Page

Process Mapping

The process map is a visual image or depiction of the specific process you would like to improve.  It’s a great tool for creating a common /shared understanding of a process.  You’d be surprised at the different perceptions people have about a process.  It’s not until you get them in a room together that you arw able to develop the common ground and understanding of the process.

Top of Page


5S is a simple methodology for creating a clean, safe, orderly high performance work environment. The concept is that an orderly environment promotes efficiency.  It’s a time saver to help increase performance efficiency and productivity. 5S includes the following steps:

  • Sort  Clearly distinguish needed items from unneeded and eliminate the latter.  E.g.( excess supplies, outdated data or information.  Books, catalogues and files).
  • Set In Order/Straighten  Organize and identify a specific place for everything.  Keep needed items in the correct place to allow for easy and immediate retrieval. Immediately recognize items out of place, and an excessive or insufficient amount of items. Eliminate time wasted locating items; Improve customer service.
  • Shine  Keep the workplace neat and clean.  A clean and organized environment can boost employee morale and create a sense of ownership and belonging.
  • Standardize  This is the method by which sort, straighten and shine are made habitual. Standardization enhances organizational performance and eliminates the need to re-do the first 3S’s.  It encourages consistency.
  • Sustain  The final S involves the effective, ongoing application of 5S in order to improve organizational performance.  Here, you’re simply maintaining established procedures.

Top of Page

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a process that uses information and statistical analysis to measure and improve an organization’s performance. It is a measurement-based approach that focuses on process improvement and variation reduction through the application of Six Sigma improvement projects. Unnecessary variation in how a process is implemented can result in significant delays and poor quality of decisions and outputs. The Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) method is a system for improving existing processes that fall below specifications. Like Lean, Six Sigma focuses on identifying and applying steps that produce continual, incremental improvement. Six Sigma can also be used to develop new processes, services, or products at Six Sigma-quality levels (often referred to as "Design for Six Sigma").

Six Sigma is typically executed by trained personnel (often referred to as "green belts" and "black belts") who have experience with performance measurement and statistical analysis.

Six Sigma methods were first developed by Motorola and Allied Signal, and were refined and popularized by General Electric in the mid-1990s.

Top of Page