History of Lean Six Sigma

History of Lean Six Sigma

The history of Lean Six Sigma dates back to the early 20th century. Since Lean Six Sigma is the combination of two concepts, we’ll look at the histories of Lean and Six Sigma. In addition, we’ll look at how Lean Six Sigma evolved as a synergized concept of Lean and Six Sigma.

Table of Contents

History of Lean: Pre-20th century

The basic foundations of Lean can be traced to Benjamin Franklin’s works. In one of his publications, he touched on the importance of time and reducing cost. Furthermore, he gave some piece of advice on how people carry goods or inventory.

History of Lean: 20th century

Frederick Winslow Taylor in his 1911 publication, ‘Principles of Scientific Management’ introduced the concept of standardization. He opined that superior methods should replace existing ones. Besides this, the new method should be the standard for the whole organization. Taylor’s ideas birthed the beginning of process improvement.

History of Lean: 21st century

Lean manufacturing began with Henry Ford in the 1900s. He was the first person to truly integrate an entire production process. Ford lined up fabrication steps using the concepts of work and interchangeable parts. He called this ‘Flow’ production (1913). However, Ford’s system had a problem. His system could not produce variety of parts. All the Model-T chassis produced before 1926 were limited to one color and specification.

In the 1930s, Kiichiro Toyoda, Taiichi Ohno, and others at Toyota started looking at Ford’s situation. While Ford was producing 8,000 vehicles per day, Toyota had produced just 2,500 vehicles in 13 years.

Toyota had plans to scale up production, but they didn’t have enough resources at that time. After a series of observations and thinking, people at Toyota came up with different concepts. Some of the concepts include:

Toyota Production System (TPS)

Just In Time (JIT)

Pull concept


In 2008 Toyota became the world’s largest automotive manufacturer in terms of overall sales. Also, as of 2017, Toyota is the world’s second-largest auto manufacturer. Toyota’s continued success has paved way for further research on Lean manufacturing.

History of Six Sigma: How it started with Motorola

Losing market share in the early 1980s was ironically the turning point for Motorola. Motorola’s President and CEO Bob Galvin had enough issues to deal with. At an executive meeting, he asked the question, ‘What’s wrong with our company?’ As usual, he got the seemingly right answers. Some of the answers were: ‘the Japanese’, ‘the weak research and development’, ‘the economy’, etc.

While this was going on, a lone voice came from the back of the room saying, ‘our quality stinks!’ That voice was Art Sundry’s. He was the sales manager for Motorola at that time. People thought he would be fired for making such a statement. However, that was not the case.

History of Six Sigma: Breakthrough for Motorola

Motorola had a choice to make. It could continue to lose market share or make an unprecedented breakthrough. To this end, Motorola began its search for ways to improve its quality. Bill Smith and Mikel Harry pioneered the work that focused on improving processes and resolving defects. Their discoveries laid the foundation for what we call Six Sigma today.

History of Six Sigma: Six Sigma gains for Motorola

After the successful implementation of Six Sigma, Motorola realized a significant increase in revenue. For instance, Motorola realized more than $ 2.2 billion in revenue within four years. In addition, they delivered  $16 billion in revenue within 15 years.

History of Six Sigma: Six Sigma adoption by General Electric

In January 1996, General Electric’s (GE) Chairman, Jack Welch launched the Six Sigma quality initiative. He was told about the profound effect of Six Sigma. Although skeptical at first, he initiated a campaign called ‘the GE Way’. GE was able to save more than  $12 billion with Six Sigma in the five years after adoption and implementation.

How to get certified

Getting certified requires that you attend training and then sit the IASSC exam. Harrybaker Training Institute is accredited by IASSC to conduct Lean Six Sigma training and exam.

Please, visit our ‘Lean Six Sigma training page’ to learn more.


Recertification is required for the three different belts. From the day you are certified, IASSC grants you a ‘current status’. The current status shows that your certification is active. Within three years of being awarded the IASSC certification, you will have to take a recertification exam. If you do not take the recertification exam, IASSC will grant you an ‘elapsed status’. Therefore, to have an ‘active status’, you need to take the recertification exam before the end of the three years or no longer than 90 days after ‘elapsed status; has been granted’.

As a combination of two concepts, the history of Lean Six Sigma can be traced back to the early 2000s. The concept was used in a book titled ‘Leaning into Six Sigma: The Path to integration of Lean Enterprise and Six Sigma’ by Barbara Wheat and others.

Today, most organizations around the world are adopting and implementing Lean Six Sigma. As a matter of fact, different bodies now certify professionals in Lean Six Sigma.

Please, visit our ‘Lean Six Sigma qualification’ page to learn more. 

Are you considering Lean Six Sigma?

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