A Brief History Of Lean Six Sigma In Healthcare

History of Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare

The history of Lean Six Sigma in healthcare is a relatively short one, but its impact has been monumental. Lean Six Sigma was developed as a business methodology in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until recently that its principles were applied to the healthcare industry.

Since then, Lean Six Sigma has been used to identify and eliminate waste, reduce costs, increase patient satisfaction, and improve the quality of care delivered. In this blog post, we’ll explore the evolution of Lean Six Sigma in healthcare and how it has revolutionized the industry.

1. What is Lean Six Sigma?

History of Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare
A Brief History Of Lean Six Sigma In Healthcare 6

Lean Six Sigma is a set of principles and processes designed to improve efficiency and reduce waste in any business process. It originated from the Toyota Production System and focuses on improving quality while reducing costs.

The goal of Lean Six Sigma is to create a continuous flow of value-added activities and eliminate activities that don’t add value. It is used in many industries, including healthcare.

The core components of Lean Six Sigma include the “Five S’s” (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain) as well as other key strategies such as kaizen (continuous improvement), total quality management (TQM), and value stream mapping.

Lean Six Sigma also employs statistical tools such as Pareto charts, run charts, control charts, cause-and-effect diagrams, and histograms to identify process problems and find solutions.

By focusing on eliminating wasteful activities and improving quality, Lean Six Sigma can significantly reduce costs and improve patient outcomes.

For healthcare organizations looking to reduce costs, streamline operations, and improve patient care, Lean Six Sigma is an invaluable tool.


2. The Origins of Lean Six Sigma

It was first developed in the early 1980s by Motorola as a way to make its manufacturing processes more efficient and reduce costs. Since then, it has become a popular methodology for businesses of all sizes, including those in the healthcare industry.

Six Sigma is based on the idea that if you measure something, you can analyze it and find ways to improve it. It is based on a data-driven methodology that emphasizes process improvement and quality control. This method works by identifying and eliminating errors and sources of variation in processes in order to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction.

The use of Lean Six Sigma in healthcare was pioneered by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who was an American engineer, statistician, and professor. He was an advocate for using statistical quality control methods to improve the quality of products and services.

His work in the area of quality assurance inspired many in the healthcare industry to apply Lean Six Sigma concepts to healthcare processes. He was so passionate about statistics that he said: “In God we trust. All others must bring data.

What does mean Six Sigma?

What does mean Six Sigma
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The name Six Sigma comes from the Greek letter sigma, which is used to denote standard deviation in a normal distribution. This means that any process that follows the Six Sigma approach should produce results that fall within six standard deviations of the mean or average.

3. Six Sigma history timeline

Six Sigma has been around since the mid-1980s, but its history dates back even further. Here is a brief overview of Six Sigma’s evolution throughout the years:

1987 – Motorola introduces Six Sigma as a way to improve manufacturing processes and become more competitive in the marketplace.

1995 – Jack Welch formally implements Six Sigma at GE.

1997 – Six Sigma is adopted by companies across multiple industries, including healthcare, finance, and telecommunications.

2002 – The American Society for Quality (ASQ) certifies the first Six Sigma Black Belts.

2005 – The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) introduces an official standard for Six Sigma.

2011 – Six Sigma is adopted by a number of government organizations and educational institutions.

Today, Six Sigma continues to be used in many organizations across the world as a way to increase efficiency and reduce costs.

4. How has Six Sigma changed throughout history

Since its conception in the late 1980s, Six Sigma has come a long way in terms of its adoption and application in various industries. The core concepts have largely remained unchanged; however, there have been some significant developments over the years.

In the early 1990s, when Six Sigma was first adopted by large corporations such as Motorola and GE, the main focus was on improving operational processes and driving quality initiatives. The methodology was applied to reduce defects, improve process reliability, and achieve predictable outcomes.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Six Sigma expanded beyond its manufacturing roots and began to be adopted in service industries, such as healthcare, banking, and IT. During this period, the emphasis shifted from process optimization to customer satisfaction and cost reduction.

By the mid-2000s, Six Sigma had become a popular business strategy that many organizations were using to drive continuous improvement and increase profitability. At this point, organizations began to move away from the traditional DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) approach and started to focus more on the DFSS (Design for Six Sigma) methodology, which is tailored to the unique needs of each organization.

In recent years, the focus of Six Sigma has shifted towards problem-solving and innovation. Companies now employ Six Sigma tools and techniques to develop new products, services, and processes. Additionally, data analytics has become an integral part of Six Sigma, and organizations are using advanced analytics to make more informed decisions.

As technology continues to evolve, it is likely that Six Sigma will continue to transform and evolve to meet the needs of modern businesses.

5. The Benefits of Lean Six Sigma

Improved Efficiency

By streamlining processes and eliminating waste, organizations are able to become more efficient, saving time and money.

Enhanced Quality

Organizations can use data-driven problem-solving techniques to identify and eliminate defects, ensuring that they consistently produce a high-quality product or service.

Reduced Costs

Without inefficiencies or mistakes, companies can spend less on manufacturing and shipping.

Increased Customer Satisfaction

Organizations that produce a higher-quality product or service will have customers who are more satisfied and loyal, resulting in increased sales and profitability.

Improved Employee Morale

When employers invest in their workforce through development tools and training, the organization as a whole benefits from increased employee collaboration and innovation.

6. The Five Steps of Lean Six Sigma

The Five Steps of Lean Six Sigma
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This is the first step in Lean Six Sigma and involves clearly defining the customer requirements, process objectives, and project scope. During this phase, the team should also identify possible root causes and create a high-level timeline for the project.


The second step of Lean Six Sigma is to collect data and measure the current performance of the process. This will provide the team with a baseline against which future improvements can be measured.


This step is focused on understanding the data collected in the previous step and looking for ways to improve the process. This includes evaluating the current process and brainstorming ideas for change.


Now, we are at the most actionable step. During this step, the team works to implement changes to the process based on their analysis from the previous step. This includes developing action plans, testing solutions, and analyzing the results of these changes.


The final step of Lean Six Sigma is to ensure that the process improvements are sustained over time. This involves monitoring the process, gathering feedback from customers and stakeholders, and making any necessary changes to keep the process performing optimally.

7. How to Get Started with Lean Six Sigma

If you’re looking to implement Lean Six Sigma in your organization, you need to be prepared to take the necessary steps. It’s important to understand that Lean Six Sigma is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and the way it is implemented will vary from organization to organization. Here are the five steps you need to take in order to get started with Lean Six Sigma:

  • Understand the Goals – You need to start by understanding what success looks like. What do you want to achieve with Lean Six Sigma? What processes need to be improved and how will those changes impact your bottom line?
  • Choose a Methodology – Once you understand your goals, you can then choose a methodology. Lean Six Sigma offers two main approaches: DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) and DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, and Verify). Determine which approach best fits the needs of your organization.
  • Build a Team – You need a team of people who have an understanding of Lean Six Sigma and can help implement it in the organization. This team should consist of a leader, experienced change agents, and members from different departments.
  • Create a Plan – Your team needs to develop a plan for implementing Lean Six Sigma. This plan should include the resources required, timelines, milestones, and more.
  • Track Progress – Monitor and track progress throughout the entire process. This includes measuring performance and customer satisfaction, as well as using feedback from employees and customers to improve the process.

8. How can Lean Six Sigma be implemented in healthcare?

The implementation of Lean Six Sigma in healthcare usually involves the use of a team of experts, including members from various departments within the organization. The team works together to identify the problems and define the objectives and goals for improvement.

After the goals have been set, the team implements the necessary changes in order to meet those goals. When implementing Lean Six Sigma in healthcare, organizations must first understand the key elements and principles of Lean Six Sigma. These include process mapping, value stream mapping, data collection, and analysis.

Additionally, organizations need to determine which processes should be improved and develop an implementation plan. Once the plan has been developed, it is important to ensure that it is properly executed. Once the implementation is complete, organizations must continue to monitor progress to ensure that they are meeting their desired objectives.

They can also use Lean Six Sigma to identify potential areas of improvement and implement changes as needed. By continuing to monitor progress, organizations can ensure that their operations remain efficient and effective.

9. Achieving success with Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare: A Case Study

It may seem too good to be true, but a hospital in East Europe recently achieved a remarkable feat – after implementing Lean Six Sigma practices, it significantly reduced its operating costs while improving patient care. It’s hard to fathom how this could be possible given the complexity and careful coordination of healthcare services, but the case study reveals that Lean Six Sigma provided an invaluable framework to streamline processes and reduce waste. Although many consider Lean Six Sigma to be primarily useful for industry leaders in manufacturing, this case study proves that it can also be invaluable for medical facilities looking to provide better care while reducing costs.

Defining the problem

This involves identifying the root cause of a problem that needs to be addressed. A Lean Six Sigma team can then use data-driven methods to gather information and develop an understanding of what factors are causing the issue. From there, they can use the data to decide on the best course of action for addressing the problem and improving patient care and safety.

The data collection and analysis process can involve evaluating existing processes, looking at patient outcomes, identifying sources of waste and error, and examining key performance indicators. The goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current situation so that the team can identify opportunities for improvement. After the problem has been defined, the team can begin to brainstorm solutions and create an action plan for implementing changes.

Measuring the current state

There are various methods for measuring the current state of a process, including surveys, interviews, observations, time studies, and benchmarking. Surveys can be used to gather data on the perceptions of stakeholders, while interviews can be used to gain more detailed information. Observations can be used to document the actual process being performed. Time studies and benchmarking can help determine the current cost and effectiveness of the process.

It is important to collect data that is accurate and reliable, as this will ensure that the process can be accurately measured and improved. Data should be gathered from multiple sources to ensure accuracy and consistency. This data can then be used to identify areas for improvement and track the success of any changes that are implemented.

Analyzing the data

This is a critical part of the process, as it allows for an accurate assessment of the impact that the changes have had on patient care and safety, costs, and efficiency.

The data should be collected regularly to ensure that the process remains effective. A variety of tools and techniques can be used to analyze the data, including but not limited to:

• Control Charts – these are graphical representations of data that can be used to monitor trends and detect any unusual or unexpected results;

• Process Mapping – this is used to identify any areas of waste or bottlenecks in the process, as well as potential improvements;

• Statistical Analysis—this includes hypothesis testing, correlation, and regression analysis.

Improving the process

Once the Lean Six Sigma project team has identified and implemented solutions to their problem, they will need to continuously monitor and measure the outcomes to ensure that their efforts are successful. In healthcare, this might involve tracking patient satisfaction scores, cost savings, and quality metrics such as hospital readmission rates or complication rates. It is important to create measurable goals and track progress over time in order to determine if the changes have made a positive difference in patient care and safety.

The team should also focus on identifying any potential problems that may arise with the implementation of the Lean Six Sigma processes. This could include staffing challenges, budget constraints, or other issues that may interfere with successful implementation. The team should be prepared to adjust their strategies accordingly and respond quickly if any issues arise.

Finally, the team should evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts and look for opportunities to make further improvements. For example: gathering feedback from staff members, patients, and other stakeholders to gain insight into areas for improvement or further potential solutions.

Implementing changes

To make sure the changes are successful, it’s essential to have buy-in from everyone involved. That means ensuring that all members of the healthcare team understand why the change is necessary, how it will benefit them, and what their role is in its implementation.

It’s also important to establish clear objectives, assign tasks to specific individuals, and set up a timeline for completion. It’s helpful to make sure that any new processes or procedures are documented, so they can be replicated if needed. Finally, make sure to conduct regular check-ins with team members to monitor progress and ensure that any issues are addressed promptly.

Monitoring results

Data should be collected regularly and compared to previous results to identify any differences or trends. If any changes have been made, it is important to monitor the impact of these changes over time to make sure they are effective. Additionally, feedback from staff, patients, and stakeholders should be sought out to ensure that Lean Six Sigma principles are being properly implemented. By using these strategies, healthcare providers can ensure that Lean Six Sigma is successful and continues to improve patient care while reducing costs.

10. What are the Challenges of Implementing Lean Six Sigma in Healthcare?

The implementation of Lean Six Sigma in the healthcare industry can present unique challenges. One of the main issues is the resistance to change that many healthcare organizations may have. Lean Six Sigma is a relatively new approach to healthcare improvement, and some hospital staff may be resistant to its implementation due to a lack of familiarity with the process. This resistance can create difficulties in obtaining buy-in from all stakeholders for the implementation and successful completion of Lean Six Sigma projects.

Additionally, healthcare organizations often have a complex environment with multiple departments, each having its own processes, procedures, and staff. It can be difficult to coordinate efforts across these departments and implement Lean Six Sigma strategies effectively. Another challenge is finding qualified personnel with both Lean Six Sigma and healthcare experience. Having staff with the right combination of skills can be difficult to obtain.

Finally, Lean Six Sigma requires significant financial resources for successful implementation. Healthcare organizations must be able to fund the cost of training staff, materials, and other associated expenses to make sure that Lean Six Sigma initiatives are successful.

In conclusion, while Lean Six Sigma can offer many benefits to the healthcare industry, there are also challenges that must be taken into consideration when implementing this process. Organizations should carefully evaluate the potential benefits and drawbacks of Lean Six Sigma before committing to its implementation in order to ensure a successful outcome.

11. Future of Lean Six Sigma in the Healthcare sector

The healthcare sector is constantly evolving, and so too is the need for quality improvement initiatives such as Lean and Six Sigma. These methodologies have proven to be incredibly effective in improving healthcare quality, increasing patient safety and satisfaction, and reducing medical errors. As the industry continues to transition to a more data-driven approach to healthcare delivery, lean and six sigma will continue to be important parts of the performance improvement process.

By implementing these methodologies into a continuous improvement culture, healthcare professionals can make sure their process flow is optimized to ensure that each patient receives the best possible care. The use of six sigma methodologies such as DMAIC allows healthcare professionals to increase the level of operational performance and, at the same time, the level of customer satisfaction, which is so important.

As we continue to move into a future of increasingly sophisticated technology, we can expect that lean and six sigma will continue to evolve. However, it is important to remember that, at its core, lean six sigma is about people—understanding their roles in the organization, listening to their ideas, and giving them the support they need to make meaningful changes. By integrating the principles of lean and six sigma into a culture of continuous improvement, healthcare organizations can continue to strive for excellence in providing top-quality care and improving patient safety.

12. Takeaway

The healthcare industry faces the ongoing challenge of reducing healthcare costs while maintaining quality care. One approach to addressing this challenge is by applying Lean Six Sigma methodologies in healthcare. Lean Six Sigma combines Lean and Six Sigma approaches to identify and eliminate inefficiencies, reduce waste, and enhance efficiency in the healthcare system. By optimizing processes and streamlining operations, healthcare providers can reduce costs, improve patient outcomes, and enhance the overall healthcare system.

13. Conclusion

As the healthcare industry looks further for improvements, more and more organizations bring lean six sigma to hospitals to make a difference. By adding from healthcare organization some specific data into the six sigma health care methodology, as well as healthcare management tactics, these organizations can drive real change and achieve sustainable improvements in the quality of care. And that can make a difference!

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About the Author

Liviu Prodan

Liviu is an experienced trainer and LifeHacker. He’s been living the ‘Corpo life’ for more than 15 years now and has been a business developer for more than 12 years. His experience brings a lot of relevancy to his space, which he shares on this blog. Now he pursue a career in the Continuous Improvement & Business Development field, as a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, a path that is coherent with his beliefs and gives him a lot of satisfaction.

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