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Define Six Sigma

Being able to define Six Sigma is much harder than it sounds. On the one hand it is a quality improvement methodology but on the other this can mean very different things depending on that industry it is being applied to and for what purpose.

If you read through the history of Six Sigma you will see that this methodology was originally devised by Motorola as a way to improve manufacturing. However since then it has been used in industries as diverse as banking, contact centres and supply chain improvements.

When you define Six Sigma it is easy to get carried away by the martial art aspect of it ie the Black Belt, Green Belt levels, all of which simply denote the level of expertise which have been gained in the methodology. However Six Sigma does have some very practical and effective processes which work as long as the senior management buy in is there. Six Sigma is after all a “ top down” program. This means that should there not be the necessary “buy in” from senior management, this process has no chance of working as it should as there will not be rigorous ongoing project quality management.

The Six Sigma definition utilises two project methodologies which are:

1.0 DMAIC

DMAIC is used when Organisations want to improve existing processes which they have in place. This is delivered through a 5 step process which is:

1.1 Define

This will include defining what the problem is and what the results after following the DMAIC process should be.

1.2 Measure

This stage measures the key aspects of the current process whilst collecting any data relevant to it.

1.3 Analyze

The data collected is then collated and investigated to determine the various data links involved. This will include verifying the cause and effect relationships inherent in such processes as well as investigating the root cause of any defects discovered in the process.

1.4 Improve

This stage looks to implement improvements in the current process to rectify any defects uncovered. Techniques such as mistake proofing and design of experiments are used which are then tested in proof of concept pilot.

1.5 Control

Every process needs to have a control mechanism to ensure that any problems are picked up and corrected swiftly. Therefore in this stage systems such as production boards and statistical process controls are devised, implemented and monitored on an ongoing basis.

2.0 DMADV / DFSS

DMADV or DFSS (Design for Six Sigma) is used by Organisations where there is either no existing process in place, or the process currently being utilised is unworkable. The latter happens far more than you may realise!

It again follows a 5 phase process:

2.1 Define

This phase deals with determining the process goals which meet the business requirements and overall strategy.

2.2 Measure

This phase seeks to determine the elements of the process which are CTO or Critical to Quality such as production, development, stages of testing and of course project risks.

2.3 Analyze

As there is no existing process to analyze, a new high level design alternative needs to be devised which enables a seamless “conveyer belt” or production to be created which enables a consistent product to be produced.

2.4 Design

As this is a new process, the design needs to be planned and optimised. One would also often do a proof of concept at this stage to test the simulation thoroughly before applying it at a wholesale level.

2.5 Verify

This will involve running pilots in order to verify the new process and production prior to handing it over to the Organisation owners.

As a result of the above two methodologies, each Six Sigma project will follow a define set of phases which have quantifiable results. These results or outputs can be numerous. From increased revenue and profit to reduced overheads and budget for a project. It can even include reduced project time and cost to market delivery.

Define Six Sigma - Tip

The definition of Six Sigma means it is now the most popular and utilised quality improvement program. It is not cheap and requires significant involvement from senior management in order to realise the benefits. It is also not quick and easy to implement. However despite this, it is much in demand from big Organisations particularly now during this new Decade of Austerity.

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