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Deploying Six Sigma

The Six Sigma initiative focuses on breakthrough process improvements as opposed to more gradual improvements typical of a continuous improvement initiative. Both are needed to improve quality. The Six Sigma quality initiative began at Motorola during the 1980s in response to competitive threats from Japan and other countries to its consumer electronics business. During the 1980s, quality improvement strategies evolved. An important improvement was the recognition that although every employee should be trained in basic quality methods, a dedicated group of internal quality consultants is needed to focus on difficult process issues. These became known as breakthrough change agents or Black Belts.

In the mid to late 1990s, the Six Sigma, Lean, and TPM programs quickly became the top productivity programs at many organizations. They contributed significant annual productivity improvements with other initiatives such as supply chain, product design, reengineering, and others. The three operational initiatives of Six Sigma, Lean, and TPM were usually folded into the concept of ОРЕХ.

Business models change and disruptive technologies always appear that require initiative modifications.

The effectiveness of ОРЕХ approach is indisputable to those who helped drive its many successful deployments. Effective deployments require certain success factors, but not all organizations properly implement ОРЕХ and its supporting initiatives. The result is that benefits are mixed and the program falls into disuse. Key success factors for any initiative requiring resources are alignment to organizational strategy and support of leadership. Six Sigma has two success factors that made it popular. These are project selection and execution, using effective tools and methods by highly skilled internal consultants (i.e., Black Belts).

A Lean Six Sigma deployment using both Lean and Six Sigma methods should provide productivity increases in the range of 1-4% for organizations with revenues exceeding one billion dollars, depending on the industry. If your organization is not driving productivity at this level, then the deployment strategy and project execution methods should be reviewed for improvement. The tools and methods incorporated into the deployment strategies, tactics, and project execution are well known and proven, so adjustments to a deployment can be easily made to get on track.

Six Sigma has five sequential phases described by the acronym DMAIC. The DMAIC methodology was applied by Black Belts to complete beneficial projects. But, some organizations utilize DMAIC to enhance employee skills. The DMAIC phases are define the project; measure the process key metric, also called the key process output variable (KPOV); analyze collected data, improve the KPOV by changing one or more key process input variables (KPIVs); and place the process into control. The initial Six Sigma deployment had followed a MAIC methodology, which resulted in false starts relative to project identification. The define phase was inserted, as was the concept of the voice-of-the-customer (VOC), to ensure that projects were selected and defined carefully before work started and that they were focused on customer satisfaction as well as the voice-of-the-business (VOB) to effectively align to strategy.

The initiative is deployed after leaders are trained in its basic concepts and the deployment plan is created with executive stakeholders. The deployment planning is usually facilitated by external consultants. After leadership engagement, the project champions are trained to select projects, the belts, estimate benefits, and guide the program’s deployment. Belts are assigned to projects to apply the DMAIC methodology to investigate the root causes for process breakdowns and develop solutions to eliminate them.

There are several success attributes for deploying a Six Sigma initiative. The first and most important one is to execute actions for organizational alignment, leadership engagement, and deployment. After alignment, the Six Sigma initiative is deployed at successively lower levels of an organization. Once the leadership council or executive steering committee is selected and is operative, champions are selected and trained to guide the tactical aspects of the Six Sigma deployment. Deployment champions guide the initiative at a divisional level, ensuring the project selection process (through the project champions) and remains on target. Project champions provide organizational support to the belts to ensure projects are closed on schedule and benefits are properly assigned to the initiative. Project selection is documented using charters, which provide a good foundation for success. The business opportunities (i.e., the projects) also help determine the belts assignment to specific projects.

After belts are assigned to projects, the project team refines the project’s problem statement, goals or objectives, and other information. This requires reviewing the project’s KPOVs that will be baselined and improved. These are aligned to the VOC and the VOB. Integral to this evaluation process is the creation of a high-level map of the process showing its scope (i.e., its inputs, outputs, and many process steps or operations). As the team starts the measure phase, a second important task is to accurately measure the performance gaps of the KPOVs using DMAIC process capability methods. The project’s benefits are verified based on the KPOV performance baselines and targets. When the team begins the analysis of the root causes for poor KPOV performance, other quality tools and methods are employed to analyze potential causes for the poor KPOV performance. Brainstorming methods are also used to identify potential causes for poor performance. These are the many input variables (X). Through subsequent data collection and analysis, one or more of these input variables will be found to impact the project’s KPOVs. Effective data collection and measurement are critical to continue an analysis of root causes to identify the KPIVs.

In the analysis phase of the project, analytical tools and methods are used to identify the major root causes for the process breakdowns. The tools and methods vary between industries and within an organization (e.g., manufacturing versus accounting). But the goal of any DMAIC analysis is a consistent mapping between KPIVs (root causes) and a project’s

KPOVs, which are the project metrics to be improved. These are used to build the Six Sigma model: Y =/(X). This formula describes the change of a KPOV (Y) in terms of changes of the process KPIV (X).

In the improve phase of a project, the team changes the levels of the KPIVs to evaluate their combined impact on one or more KPOVs under controlled conditions. Once the relationship is understood, a process pilot is conducted. In the pilot, solutions to the root causes are applied; when performance to target is confirmed, the changes to the KPIVs are integrated into a control plan. Many of these controls are Lean tools and methods such as 5-S, modified work instructions, training, mistake-proofing, elimination of unnecessary operations, and others. In the control phase, a complete cost-benefit analysis is made to verify the benefits of the project. When the project is completed, the team identifies the lessons learned and communicates them across the organization.

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