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You might have heard us talking about a Lean Six Sigma certification or process, but what does Lean Six Sigma even mean?

Lean is all about reducing waste and durations, or “process improvement” within a production system. Now you may ask, what on earth is process improvement? We all know what a process is – a series of steps that we take to achieve something. In fact, all “work” is a process. Process improvement is understanding each function of the current process and being able to eliminate any unnecessary steps, creating a more efficient process.

Lean Six Sigma

Where does the ‘Lean’ come from in Lean Six Sigma?

Back in the 1930’s, a car manufacturing company familiar to many – Toyota – created a system that needed less of everything to create the same amount of value. This is where the term ‘Lean’ came from. Their focus was to eliminate any non-value adding activities, or waste.

Lean Six Sigma

What about ‘Six Sigma’?

This term popped up in the 1980’s – 90’s through a phone company – Motorola. The company was competing with several foreign manufacturers and needed a plan for making higher quality products and lowering retail prices . Bill Smith, an engineer and vice president at Motorola, developed Six Sigma as a way to measure defects and to improve quality. Six Sigma is a technical term used in statistics and represents 3.4 DPMO (Defects Per Million Opportunities). The improvement measures developed by Smith and Motorola for reducing costs and defects and to achieve this goal became widely known as a business improvement methodology named Six Sigma. This became the operational improvement standard for Motorola and has been widely adopted by companies world-wide.

Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma

Both ‘Lean’ and ‘Six Sigma’ revolve around the process.

Six Sigma focuses on measurement and data analysis, as well as problem solving methods, while the Lean portion identifies and eliminates excess steps in the process. Together these tools create quicker, more efficient, and more cost-saving processes. In other words, Lean Six Sigma is all about finding a better way to do things and maintaining improvements long-term.

Lean Six Sigma

There are key Lean Six Sigma principles that bring the whole toolkit for success together:

  • Focus on understanding who the customer is and what they want / need
  • Identify and understand how the work actually gets done and where the problems really exist.
  • Measurement and analysis of work flow and output, before and after improvements are implemented
  • Innovation of recommended improvements to reduce non-value-added steps and waste
  • Manage by facts and reduce variations
  • Involve and equip people in the improvement process
  • Undertake improvements activity in a systematic way
  • Controlling and maintaining improvements
Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma
Lean Six Sigma

What does Lean Six Sigma have to do with architecture?

Design Collaborative focuses on improving people’s worlds through our designs, and one of the key ways that we do that is through our Fingerprint process. Design is really all about “problem-solving”, and Fingerprint helps us get to know each client in depth (because, like a fingerprint, every client is unique), and enables us to identify and help solve the correct design problems. Lean Six Sigma takes this process even further, allowing us to collaborate with our clients to help them find new ways to improve their work and outcomes. The built environment has a tremendous impact on how work within is accomplished and we strive to design spaces that support the improvements developed through process improvement innovations. Lean principles can also be applied to the building construction process which can save valuable time and money for the clients, the contractors, and DC. Project quality can be improved and timelines can be reduced by eliminating wasteful or untimely design and construction processes.

Lean Six Sigma

Can you imagine how great it would be to save time and money on your new construction project, regardless of size?

To almost guarantee that your new residence hall would be completed well before classes started in the fall? To be sure that your medical facility has the ideal layout for both patients and staff, with the right technology in the best locations? Though the method isn’t 100% foolproof (then again, what is?), it has had enormous success for decades, and continues to improve processes today. Apply it to architecture and engineering, and you have a far more successful project on your hands.

Brotherhood Mutual Headquarters
Brotherhood Mutual Headquarters

Interested in learning more about Lean Six Sigma and how it can help your project? Send a message to our Lean Six Sigma certified expert, Bill Ledger at


IRCA, CQI. “The Origins of Lean Six Sigma.” CQI | IRCA, 15 Nov. 2017,

“Lean Six Sigma Process Improvement.”, 26 July 2021,


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