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Success through Six Sigma

Robert I. Francis

Six Sigma is a methodology that has gained popularity in the United States and around the world because it provides a systematic approach that can be used to improve quality, efficiency and effectiveness of a business with solutions that have a financial impact. It can also be fun because you can engage a cross-functional team of people to address a real company problem that impacts customers and internal processes in business, engineering, manufacturing, sales and marketing.

Six Sigma became popular in the 1980s with Motorola, and it was companies like General Electric that embraced it as a management strategy. Since then, many companies large and small have recognized Six Sigma as a valuable tool that improves their business. The concept can be applied to any company and it is expanding to areas such as the military and healthcare. It is most successful when employees throughout the company’s organization embrace the concept as a way of life for management and employees.

The keys to the success of Six Sigma are:

* Commitment by the leadership of a company to support the process.

* Commitment by the management team to provide a qualified Six Sigma resource and to assign people (across the company) to a process improvement team.

* Realization that the process could take months to achieve results

* Management recognition for the team after they have the improvements with controls have been achieved and they have started to demonstrate the financial benefits

* A commitment to celebrate the wins!

I believe there are many examples where Six Sigma can be applied with some simple tools. It does not require a degree in statistics or advanced certification although having proficiency in Microsoft Excel a big plus. Personally having the opportunity to apply and implement Six Sigma in product management, engineering and manufacturing, I would make sure you crawl before you walk and keep it simple to get started.

This article is intended to provide the steps you can take to start a Six Sigma project in your company or organization and how you can have fun doing with the implementation.

Step. 1: Select a problem that has a significant impact to your company and affects your company goals. Define the type of improvement that would be desired (i.e., quality, delivery, cost, cycle time, etc.). Make sure when you select the problem that the solution is not known. Forming a cross-functional team is a great way to address the problem. Make sure the members have a commitment from their managers to dedicate several hours a week towards the project. Ensure you have representatives in the company that are exposed to the problem you are trying to address. Take the time to facilitate some simple team-building skills to make sure team members work with each other, and make it fun! Provide the team with an overview of the Six Sigma process, the benefits, their involvement and potential impact to the company. Check online for some team building activities and Six Sigma information or contact me for suggestions.

Step 2. Have the team define their charter and customer requirements and create a high-level process map of the problem they are trying to address. A process map contains the steps or activities that a business or process undergoes to address the opportunity you are trying to address. For example, if you are addressing field failures associated with part X, map the process to build, ship, and delivery the part to the customers. The process mapping activity is extremely important, so be sure you don’t short change or bypass this activity. Try to define the magnitude of the problem. For example, if you see five failures for every 100 units you send out once a month; a failure rate and dpm (defect per million) rate can be calculated with this info; see the book reference at the end of this article for simple ways to calculate dpm.

We now start the formal process of the Six Sigma DMAIC Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control process.

Step 3. In the “define” phase you create an impact statement that states the problem you are trying to address and the financial impact; if possible work with your finance or accounting department to quantify the cost for those failures.

Step 4. In the “measurement” phase you develop a data collection plan for the problem you are trying to address. The key objective is to make sure you have the data collection mechanism in place for on-going data collection. Spend the time to identify and create a reporting mechanism for the problem you are trying to address. As indicated, make sure you can translate data to a financial benefit.

Step 5. The “analysis” phase involves the data, process, and root-cause analysis of the data you collected. There are many tools that can be used to perform analysis of data depending if it is discrete or attribute data. Some examples: Histograms, Pareto charts, cause and effect (fish bone), run charts.

Step 7. The “improve” phase involves having an open mind to identify potential solutions . Be sure all team members participate in this process. Narrow down the solutions to the ones that will give you the biggest bang for the buck then pick the top two or three items. Before moving to the new phase, define an implementation plan.

Step 8. The “control” phase is critical to ensure you maintain improvements. In my experience, if you have done a good job in the measurement phase, you can use some of those tools to develop a control plan.

The next step is to have the team present improvement and savings achieved by the Six Sigma team to the company’s leadership team.

Finally, and this is very important: Celebrate the win!

Projects that I have been involved in have generated savings from thousands to millions of dollars over the life of the project and the savings were underpinned by the companies’ finance department to ensure the cost savings were validated and captured.

There are many Six Sigma projects that can achieve positive result in companies by applying the process and using some simple tools.

If you need assistance, I would highly recommend you select someone with hands on training and experience with Six Sigma who can coach your teams to achieve solutions with financial benefits in the most efficient time frame. As you gain some successes in your company, consider implementing formal training, certification and analytical software tools.

A good reference book is “Six Sigma for Everyone” by George Eckes, published by John Wiley and Sons c. 2003.

Robert I. Francis, founder and president of Core4 Consultants in Reno, has held manufacturing management positions with Fortune 500 companies as well as startups. Contact him through http://www.Core4consultants.com.


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