What is Six Sigma: An Essential Guide

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Last updated on
16th Mar, 2021
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01st Jul, 2020
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What is Six Sigma: An Essential Guide

Six Sigma is a methodology providing the organization with the tools to improve the quality of business processes. It leads to a decrease in process variation and increase in performance helping in reducing defects and improving employee morale, profits, and quality of services or products. There have been different definitions proposed for Six Sigma with the following common threads:  

  • Using teams that have been assigned well-defined projects and can directly impact the bottom line of the organization 
  • Training people of all levels in statistical thinking and providing extensive training in project management and advanced statistics to key people 
  • Emphasizing on the DMAIC approach for solving problems 
  • Creating a management environment supporting the initiatives as a business strategy 

In this article, we will provide you with a brief overview of the Six Sigma methodology. We introduce the philosophy, the tools, the methodology and the metrics and then dive deeper into how Lean and Six Sigma complement each other by understanding their key elements and principles. We then examine the success factors involved while introducing the Six Sigma methodology and what you can do to enhance your career prospects in Six Sigma. 

Six Sigma: A Quick Guide 

Philosophy 

Six Sigma defines all the work as processes that follow the DMAIC approach of defining, measuring, analyzing, improving, and controlling. For the processes, you require inputs (x) which will produce outputs (y). To control the outputs, you need to control the inputs. This can be expressed as y=f(x). 

Tools 

For implementing the six sigma approach, certain tools or quantitative and qualitative techniques are required for driving process improvement. These tools include process mapping, control charts, statistical process control (SPC), and failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA).  Although, no specific set of tools have been selected as the tools for six sigma. 

Methodology 

In this view of six sigma, there is recognition of the rigorous and underlying approach named as DMAIC. It involves defining the steps a practitioner must follow. This includes identification of the problem and implementing a long-lasting solution. There are other six sigma methodology but DMAIC is the most recognized and adopted. 

Metrics 

The quality performance according to six sigma is 3.4 defects per million products or services.  

Lean and Six Sigma 

Lean is another methodology that focuses on starting up the process emphasizing on the business model over the business plan. It also includes encouraging the process of development and customer discovery and iterating for achieving the right market fit or product.  

There is no significant difference between lean and six sigma. More often than not, the term ‘lean six sigma’ is used because, for process improvement, both approaches are used for attaining positive results. The focus of six sigma is to enhance process control and reduce process variation. Lean works on promoting work flow and standardization and driving out waste like non-value added procedures and processes. 

Lean six sigma is a data-driven philosophy that believes in preventing defects over detecting defects. It reduces waste, variation, and cycle time for driving bottom line results and customer satisfaction and promoting the use of work flow and standardization.  

Three key elements of Lean Six Sigma

There are three main elements of lean six sigma which reinforce each other:  

  • Process and Methodology: These are a series of phases organizing the problem-solving tools for ensuring that all the root causes are found a solution can be implemented. 
  • Tools and techniques: There is a comprehensive set of analytical techniques and tools that are used for identifying and solving problems. 
  • Mindset and culture: This is a way of thinking relying on processes and data for achieving continuous improvement and operational performance goals. 

Principles of Lean Six Sigma

To achieve quality improvement goals, the following principles must be kept in mind: 

Focus on the customer 

If you are taking an approach to Six Sigma, it is important that you know what you are doing and why you are doing it. When you are working for making improvements on a single process, the scope will be limited with limited concentrations. But, when we work on six sigma, we don’t work with a single process. We use the principles of six sigma for driving the business forward.  

The primary thing of what we want to achieve through six sigma is delivering the value and improving the value for the customer. You don’t have to optimize the production process for a product or a service that no one wants.   

Understand how the work is done 

To make any improvements to the process, you must know how the process occurs. There are documentation for processes and workflows that you can use for business process management. You can use a technique named process mining where software is used for analyzing the work done by the team so that you can find how tasks are done.  

Once you have documented the process, you must use some tools for checking that the work is done in the correct way. This is known as conformance checking. 

Make a smooth flow of processes 

One of the main aspects of six sigma is making everything process driven. For achieving this you need to figure out what the problem is and understand it. Bottleneck is a common problem occurring within a process where a certain process is performing below the standard. There are tools that can be used for identifying and highlighting bottlenecks. 

Reduce waste and concentrate on value 

If you want to prioritize value, then you need to eliminate everything that doesn’t add to the value. According to Rene T. Domingo, professor at the Asian Institute of Management and author of several books on Quality Management, you can eliminate waste by following these five steps: 

  • Making it visible 
  • Being conscious of it 
  • Being accountable for it 
  • Measuring it 
  • Reducing or eliminating it  

Remove variations by stopping defects 

To reduce defects, you need to optimize a process and run it right every time. For this, you need to standardize your processes. For cutting more defective output, you need to remove variation had let the process run every time at its best level.  

Standardization is the key thing to focus on while manufacturing products and working with industrial and mechanical styled production systems.  

Collaborate and get the buy-in from the team 

While it is the job of analysts and managers to make decisions, employees that are involved in the process can have some important insights as well. Different team members involved in the process improvement project are titles like process owner, process champion, green belts, and black belts. 

For getting buy-in, involving the staff is essential, at least through consultation. 

Make your efforts scientific and systematic 

There is a scientific quality to six sigma resonating in the data-driven world we are currently living in. Now that we have so much data on how things are operated, you have to find ways for leveraging that data for creating and maintaining improvements.  

Success factors in implementing Six Sigma 

Once you have implemented the principles of six sigma, be aware of other key factors that determine the success of the methodology, such as: 

Leadership responsibility 

The leader of a project plays an important role in making a project successful. They are responsible for prioritizing all the business activities and ensuring that the team has the resources to begin the production process.  

Resource allocation 

A project manager is responsible for employing the right members of the team. It the employed members are six sigma certified members, they can be assigned with the task of monitoring the process of project development. Also, they will already be familiar with the techniques and methods of six sigma.  

Training 

It is important that all the employees of the organization go through a proper training session to get all the required information regarding the project. Also, they must be familiar with the tools that will help in the successful completion of the project. 

Project approach 

The status of the project should be reviewed regularly by a senior management team, stakeholders through team meetings. All the members working on the project can share their suggestions and feedback in these meetings.  

Reporting 

All the procedures involved in the six sigma must be documented correctly. This will help the organization know about the financial impact made by the implementation of six sigma methodologies.  

In conclusion

In this article, we have discussed the various definitions of Six Sigma and the key principles to achieve quality improvement goals. We introduced the philosophy, the tools, the methodology and the metrics and then took a deeper dive into how Lean and Six Sigma complement each other. We also examined external success factors in implementing Six Sigma.

Whether you are a graduate in any stream, an engineer, or an MBA professional, if you want to enhance your career prospects and salary gains, then make sure to get certified in Six Sigma courses. Begin with a Green Belt and climb your way up to master the Black Belt.

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