What is this ‘Lean’ and ‘Six Sigma’ thing I’ve heard about?
“Six Sigma is a quality program that, when all is said and done, improves your customer’s experience, lowers your costs, and builds better leaders.” ~ Jack Welch
Although this methodology of process improvement originated in the manufacturing sector, it is very applicable to any process. When properly utilized, it can affect any operation and has been deployed in health care, call centers, government service delivery. Anywhere a process and workflow exists, process improvement is a method to improve efficiency.
We’re going to assume you know at least a little about the Six Sigma improvement cycle. (If you don’t you can get up to speed here.) We’re going to concentrate our information to you more on how to get started.
What people should expect from a Six Sigma approach
When a business fails to meet customer requirements and starts to lose customers, market share and money, the need to implement a process improvement program like Six Sigma becomes painfully clear . Under those circumstances, such a program becomes a literal means to survival. That’s the extreme and decision makers should also recognize that a process improvement program can improve any business – even a successful one. Implementing a quality improvement initiative can help ensure that a business that is successful today stays that way in an increasingly competitive and demanding global marketplace.
Six Sigma is a common sense approach to solving problems within a disciplined and structured methodology.
It only makes sense to fully understand a problem before trying to find a solution to it. Getting to the root cause of a problem eliminates the need for band-aids. The Six Sigma method involves understanding the problem, collecting and analyzing the data, identifying the root cause, implementing the corrective action/solution, and making sure that the process cannot revert back to its old ways. It is data-driven. It means that decisions are based on facts and data, not gut feelings or how it is done elsewhere.
Since most functions in business, or in life for that matter, can be seen as processes, Six Sigma aims to understand, analyze and improve processes via projects. Projects take on one process at a time with the goal of improving the health of that process.
As people become familiar with the basic methodology, they often question why anyone would not use it. Why spend time and money implementing a solution to a problem without understanding what caused the problem in the first place? How can anyone be sure that the problem will not reoccur, even after implementing a solution, if they are not exactly sure what caused the problem to begin with? How many solutions have to be implemented (and how much time and money spent) to solve the same problem over and over before the “right” solution, the one that addresses the root cause, is implemented?
What Six Sigma can do for your business
Using the Six Sigma approach will enable any business to improve customer satisfaction, product and service quality and on-time delivery, and shorten development time. It provides the tools to identify and reduce or eliminate defects, non-conformances and disconnects; to streamline and optimize processes resulting in reductions in cycle time, work in process, inventory turns and costs; and to improve productivity and efficiencies. It can be used to drive improvement in manufacturing, engineering, service, transactional and any other environment.
Because Six Sigma empowers employees by involving them in process improvement, morale and satisfaction increase. The methodology mandates that successes are recognized throughout the business, generating enthusiasm and excitement and more successes. As employees experience these successes, they bring a fresh approach to their work. All this adds up to providing more value to the customer and the business.
In addition to driving improvements in customer satisfaction, quality, cycle time and cost, the key to improving the long-term health of a business is to increase the value of its products and services in the marketplace. Six Sigma’s “voice of the customer” focus and associated tools enable the business to identify what the customer values and then translate those things into defined requirements. The business can use those requirements to increase the value of its products and services, which then positions the business for continued success.
- If you’ve read this far through this page, you deserve a reward. Do you see the tag line below our logo? The line that reads “Everything Else is just Movement’? That is a partial quote from Shingeo Shingo, the original founder of the Toyota Production System (TPS) and a legend in Six Sigma. His full quote is as follows:
“It’s only the last turn of a bolt that tightens it – the rest is just movement.” ~ Shingeo Shingo