Using Lean Six Sigma to Lose Weight

Lean Six Sigma can even improve your life by helping you look and feel better by helping losing weight. We show you how to do that in this project example.

What To Know Before Getting Started

  • Average Daily Calorie Intake (ACDI): The average number of calories consumed daily over a week. Used to determine goal performance;
  • Body Mass Index (BMI): BMI is a general, but not specific, indicator of body fatness. Although BMI alone is not diagnostic, the higher the BMI, the greater the health risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. A BMI range of 19-24.9 is considered a healthy weight range with lower health risk;
  • Calorie Zones: The calories consumed by time of day. Z1: breakfast & mid-morning; Z2: lunch & mid-afternoon; and Z3: dinner & evening;
  • Calories: The number of documented calories obtained from the “nutritional facts label” on food containers or from weighing individual items (e.g. meats, vegetables, etc.) to determine the estimated calorie values;
  • Exercise Calories: The estimated number of calories expended during exercise. For light exercise guidelines used during this project, this is calculated by the current weight/baseline (170 lbs.) X 4 calories/minute baseline factor X the number of minutes (e.g. 190lbs/170lbs = 1.12 X 4 = 4.47 factor X 30 min. = 134 calories) for a 30 minute workout.

Business Case

  • Annual weight gain has increased due to age, slower metabolism, poor dietary habits, lack of regular exercise, and personal injury. Yearly doctor visits track weight, blood panel target ranges, and general health. Target ranges need to be met to prevent increased health risks.
  • Reducing current weight (205) to the healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) range (<25) will require a loss of 15 plus pounds.
    • As shown in the prior weight run chart, the mean weight was 209.9 pounds from January-to-May 2012. There were no calorie or exercise data available for this time period.
  • The risk of not doing this project is that it will be harder to maintain an active lifestyle later in life.
    • Stroke and diabetes become an important consideration that can be minimized with healthy diet & exercise habits/choices.

Problem Statement

  • No diet or exercise programs are in place at this time.
  • As compared to a healthy BMI (<25), a weight of 205 pounds is 7% over ideal BMI ranges. The loss of 15+ pounds will meet target weights of 185-190 pounds.
  • A loss of 5-7 pounds would be considered an initial project success, as a 1st step.

Goal Statement

  • Lose 5 to 5+ pounds by limiting calorie intake by 3500 each week (500 calories/day) with moderately increasing exercise activity to 30 minutes per day for 3 to 5 days/week should result in a sustained weight loss of 1⁄2 to 1 pounds per week.
  • Additionally, identify and limit/eliminate poor food choices will support this goal.
  • Use a daily diet & exercise diary to track data.
  • Create a project log to capture ideas.


Project Results Summary

  • Weight loss of 16 pounds (21 pounds from Jan/Feb);
  • BMI now under 25;
  • Established regular exercise routines;
  • Eliminated mental barriers for weight loss;
  • Reduced time to walk one mile by 6 minutes;
  • Continuing to identify better nutritional foods while shopping;
  • Reduced waist size by about 3”;
  • Reduced pant waist size by 2”;
  • Body fat now 1.5% less.


DMAIC Approach

  • Used Jan-to-May weight data and VOC to establish weight loss project criteria.
  • Established moderate diet and exercise change goals during an extended Measure Phase.
  • During the Analysis Phase, weight loss % was on target (1/2 to 1 pound/week), however, it was not meeting the overall weight reduction goal and unhealthy food choices were noted.
  • The Improve Phase established a regimented diet and exercise routines that produced a weight loss of 9 pounds over two weeks and reached the original goal criteria of 189 pounds. Identified root causes for future attention.
  • The Control Phase weights have been stable for 3 week. Refinements are still needed for healthy food selection. Exercise and calorie data continues to be monitored. Walked 90 miles during the project.


  • It is critical to control weight to reduce long-term health risks. This project applied personal action to meet weight loss goals. At times, it was the application of concepts outside the norms with increased exercise and diet requirements to meet specific project goals.
  • The end result of this project is a healthier and happier person with an undated confidence for future job interviews.
  • Hind sight is 20-20.

Project Timing

  • Start Date: 5/20
  • End Date: 8/12

Define Phase

Define Concepts:

  • Original loss goal of 5-to-15+ pounds over 2-month period would be a success.
    • Since no calorie or exercise data was available from January-to-May 2012, the selection of an initial daily goal of 2000 calories or less per day with minimal exercise routine of 3 to 5 days per week was established.
  • Mental barriers/false assumptions:
    • Would be malnourished if I consumed less than 2000 calories per day. With 1500 calories, there would be grave consequences.
    • The least that I have ever weighed is 196 lbs. over the past few years.
    • Metabolism has slowed down with age.
    • 185+ lbs. is too slim for my body frame.
    • Waist is too large, but nothing can be done for the above reasons (controlled diet & exercise).
  • Exercise: walk 3 to 5 miles per week. One mile now takes about 25 minutes. It originally took 32 minutes to walk one mile.
    • Three miles per day, is less than 1.5 hours at a modest pace.
    • Trying to walk 2.0 miles at one time has caused back spasms in the past (continues).
    • Walking after each meal became the preferred option.
    • Minimum goal now 30 minutes per day/3+ days per week.
    • No strength or running at this time.
  • Initiate personal greetings during daily walks (Dale Carnegie concepts).
    • Most people were friendly, said hello (minimum), and some exchanged ideas and information. Getting to know neighbors was a benefit.
    • Franklin Planner and other quotes (paraphrased):
    • You can make a statement every day. You can declare what your highest priorities are by the way you spend your time. Make sure that you live with purpose, focus, and enthusiasm.
    • The more thought you put into it (goal), the more likely you will discover the advantage you need to make the dream come true.
    • Exercise today for a better tomorrow.

Project Charter
Project Charter

VOC (Voice Of Customer)


Swimlane Map (What is a Swimlane Map?)

swimlane map

Measure Phase


  • New Balance Sports Monitor
  • Nutrition scale
  • Heart beat monitor
  • 3×5 data food cards
  • Diet & exercise diary
  • Weight Watchers digital scale

Approach to Data Collection

(Who measured, how long days? weeks?, when was it measured?)

Mapped out daily process of eating including times, what is being eaten, calories, etc. This measurement measured “how bad is it”. The data collection continued for 9 weeks, with data being identified for Improve and Control Phases.

  • Data collection form.
  • Standardized meal-weighing process to determine calorie values.
  • Zone 1: Breakfast and mid-morning snacks.
  • Zone 2: Lunch and mid-afternoon snacks.
  • Zone 3: Dinner and evening snacks

Data collected was compared to established project norms to validate that data was accurate.

  • Used of Nutrition labels and digital weight scales.
  • Data collection sheet sample.

Comparison of baseline measure to the goal.

Analyze Phase

Approach to process analysis and key insights.

  • Trends developed during the Measure Phase indicating a positive overall performance to goals, with variations noted in Z3 meal and daily calorie penetration limitations.
  • With an established goal of 2000 calories per day, 15 of the 56 days (27%) exceeded the daily limits.
  • The overall result was a weight loss of 7 pounds.
  • Although on track for 1⁄2 to 1 pounds (mean of .88 lbs.) for weight loss per week, review of the daily logs showed too much variation in calorie intakes, unhealthy food types, quantity consumed, data documentation, and exercise consistency.
    • 2 weeks of poor monitoring/data collection practices during scheduled classes, holidays, and family visitations (7/04 to 7/16) showed disappointing data posting of calorie intake to maintain the weight loss plan. Capturing weight and exercise data was documented for run chart details.
  • This was the requirement for a much more regimented diet and exercise schedule for the Improve Phase.
  • Although monitoring daily calorie intake is beneficial, after the concepts are incorporated into the basic weight reduction plan they become less important during the control phase.

Fishbone Diagram


Improve Phase

  • The Improve Process provided dynamic results with a weight loss of 9 lbs. over 2 weeks.
  • A two-week adherence to the Calorie King® 1400 daily calorie plan included:
    • No alcohol, soda, fast foods, white bread, processed meats (chicken, turkey, ham slices are ok) like hot dogs or kielbasa. This plan, although strict, allowed for a variety of healthy food choices for a 2-week test period.
  • Identified low-calorie/fat food substitutions.
  • Increased walking goal to 21 miles per week / 3 miles per day (averaged 18 miles per week during Improve Phase). This meant 1.5 hours per day to meet the 3-mile goal.
  • See improvement data graphs.
  • Realize that a one-size diet plan does not fit all.

Control Phase

Put a plan in place to sustain the loss, “It’s not a diet stupid, it’s a lifestyle change!”

  • Standardize prepackaging of snacks (zip lock bags for nuts, candy, pretzels, and meat meal sizes before freezing, etc.).
  • Switch from “rib eye” to “lean steaks” to reduce fat intakes. Cost and quality increased per pound; but overall calories decreased; eating pleasure increased with reduced red meat intake.
  • Spinach replaces lettuce for salad selections.
  • Low-fat salad dressing now used.
  • Order dressing on the side when placing restaurant order.
  • Use existing kitchen appliances: GT Xpress, Magic Bullet, Lean Mean Fat Grilling Machine, Brook Stone Meat Thermometer, convection oven, and BBQ for food preparation.
  • 8”x 10” color photo of sugar container and zip lock bag with 10 teaspoons of sugar for soda reduction reminder per can (placed above soda storage area).
  • Modified exercise plan to change daily walking schedule and include strength training. One free day for rest.
  • Identified alternate exercise activities for activates: Tia Chi/community classes, strength training plan (kettle bells), exercise bike, weight bench, substitute activities (household chores) etc. to meet daily exercise goals.
  • Added Sleep and Project Log Book to future state map.

Monitoring Plans

Answer the following questions where applicable:

  • What are the key process measures for this process?
    • Exercise and calorie levels.
  • How and where will the process be monitored for performance?
    • By updating weekly, monthly, and yearly target goals.
  • How will we continue to monitor the Y measure?
    • Monthly reviews.
  • Who will monitor and when?
    • Self, with supporting team.
  • What kind of communication needs to take place and between whom?
    • Self will initiate, as required.
  • Arethere leading or lagging indicator measures that need to be monitored?
    • Monthly weight goals, yearly lab tests.