Lean Six Sigma Tools and Definitions, and When to Use

Adonis Partners wants to take the guesswork out of understanding what the commonly used terms, tools and definitions are around Lean and Six Sigma. Here is a glossary of these search terms and tools used in continuous improvement processes. 

5 S Sorting, Organizing, and Clean Workspace Improved workplace organization: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain When waste has been identified and needs to be eliminated
5 Why’s RCA, Root Cause Analysis, Why-Why Analysis A technique of asking “why” ~5 times in order to get to the root cause When structured thinking is needed to generate a potential hypothesis
8 Wastes Waste Identification A list of potential sources of non-value-added work When assessing processes for value-added vs. non-value-added work
Basic Statistics Data Analysis, Statistics Assessment of types of data (continuous & discrete) as well as sample planning; measures of central tendency (mean, median, mode) and dispersion (range, standard deviation) Throughout kaizen and process improvement initiatives to analyze collected data
Brainstorming Strategy, Planning, Deep-Diving A means of identifying potential concepts When identifying potential causes or solutions
Cause & Effect Diagram Fishbone Diagram, Ishikawa Diagram A structured approach to diagnosing potential causes of a problem; use 6Ms (Machine, Method, Material, Measurement, Mother Nature, Manpower), or 4Ps (Policy, Procedure, People, Place) as anchors When brainstorming potential causes of a problem
Conflict Mgmt Team Management, Team Building A disagreement or emotional tension that arises from the incompatibility of needs, goals, feelings, views or desires Throughout kaizen and process improvement initiatives to drive towards ideal outcomes in a positive manner as opposed to a negative one
Control Plan Sustainance Plan, Sustainability A document providing measurements and standards defining a process; it defines and describes critical ongoing measurements and response plans To sustain a process improvement by providing a consistent framework for process trouble-shooting
Data Collection Data Analysis, Statistics A means of establishing a factual basis for making decisions; normally sourced through systems, work orders, surveys, and filing systems Throughout kaizen and process improvement initiatives to understand gaps as well as impact
Error Proofing Poka-Yoke, Preventing Errors, RCA-CAPA, Corrective Actions A strategy of implementing fail-safe mechanisms; aka Poka Yoke When assessing options to prevent a process from producing defects
FMEA Failure Mode & Effects Analysis, Risk Identification, Risk Management A systematic tool for identifying the effects or consequences of product or process failure and methods to eliminate/reduce the chance of failure Either as a diagnostic tool to assess opportunities for improvement, or once a future state process is defined to identify unexpected gaps
Goal Statement Target, Project Charter A target improvement to be achieved based on resolving factors contributing to a problem Once a problem has been identified and an aspiration can be set; should evolve with additional data collection
Kanban Visual Board, Andon Signal A visual signal to do something When considering ways to manage inventory and the flow of work
Multi-Voting Brainstorming, Decision Making A means of converging a set of potential options When a list of ideas (> 8) needs to be narrowed down by a group
Pair-Wise Comparison Brainstorming, Decision Making A means of gaining agreement on a set of potential options When a list of ideas (<=8) needs to be narrowed down by a group
Pareto Prioritization, 80-20 Rule A chart to help visualize the Pareto Principle (80/20) Throughout kaizen and process improvement initiatives to identify the vital few from the trivial many
Plan & Implement Solutions Project Planning, PDCA A project plan (typically action plan, Gantt chart, timeline, scrum) to implement proposed solutions and measure how the improvements impact the objective Once countermeasures are selected as a means to track and monitor progress towards improvement objective
Problem Statement Project Charter An introduction to the issue or challenge as well as the effects & negative consequences if the issue is not solved When scoping a kaizen or process improvement initiative as a means to level-set on the challenge to be solved
Process Map Flowcharts, Decision Making, Understanding Processes A graphical representation of the steps involved in a process or portion of a process; identifying cross-functional links and those who “touch” the process When it is necessary to understand the relationship between process steps and understanding complexity and hand-offs
SIPOC (Supplies, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers) Visual Process Mapping, Inputs & Outputs to a Business Process A high-level process map that identifies the customers, outputs, process steps, inputs, and suppliers Typically used early in an improvement project to help determine the scope of the project and illustrate relationships
Solution Selection Matrix Prioritization A tool to prioritize solutions based on specific evaluation criteria When a group of concepts needs to be prioritized relative to a specific set of criteria
Spaghetti Diagram Understanding Workflows A visual representation of the flow of work on a layout diagram When needing to show excessive amounts of movement or flow of work (physical or virtual)
Stakeholder Analysis Change Management A list of all stakeholders and their level of support along with a plan to increase the level of acceptance (when needed) Initially used in the early stages of kaizen or project discovery; should be updated throughout as a means to manage change effectively
Stakeholder Impact & Reaction Change Management A tool for assessing potential implications and responses by stakeholder groups for various countermeasures When needing to identify how the flow of work or roles/responsibilities will change as a result of implementing countermeasures
Standard Work Standardization To uniformly produce products and deliver services When processes are not performed consistently by all associates
Value Stream Map Value Add Activities, Non-Value Add activities, Waste Identification A tool that helps visualize and understand the flow of material and information as a product or service makes its way through the value stream When documenting the current state and to capture critical data regarding the flow of products or services to help identify value and waste. Used as a tool to help define a future state as well
Visual Workplace Lean Manufacturing, Toyota Production System A means of communication regarding objectives and the state of operations When considering potential countermeasures as a means of ongoing communication & measurement to drive sustainability
Voice of Customer Customer Concerns, Business Problems, Identifying issues, Problem Statement The qualitative or quantitative expression of the things that drive customer satisfaction; the customer can be clients, internal functions, or anyone whose satisfaction depends on the performance of the process When preparing the problem statement and understanding what success looks like relative to the outcome of the process


Continuous Improvement…

is the core principle at Adonis: we enable our clients to both achieve and sustain optimal performance by cultivating a working relationship between the people, processes, and technology at work.


  • Purpose
  • Employee engagement
  • Talent development


  • Lean Six Sigma techniques
  • Strategic planning
  • Waste elimination


  • Data-driven approach
  • Cutting-edge technology
  • Meaningful metrics

The Result

The result is holistic operational agility that generates sustainable value.


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