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Process improvement: Six Sigma
Oct 1, 2021 2:58:31 PM4 min read

Process improvement: Six Sigma

Let's begin with a question: Is it bad being mistaken 1% of the time in my company? Many people would say "NO, that means that 99% of the time you do things right"; but, what about that 1% of the time in which your company is not being productive? That 1% involves: almost 15 minutes a day, which in work time means 1.6 hours a month and almost 20 hours a year (two and a half days in an 8-hour workday) in which EACH OF YOUR EMPLOYEES is not being productive.

Surely, you'll be wondering what's the solution to this waste of time. The solution was designed and created by Bill Smith with the support of Bob Galvin, CEO of Motorola, which led this company to win the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the American award to excellence, in 1988. The solution is called “Six Sigma”.

What is Six Sigma? It's a process improvement methodology that focuses on reducing variability, by reducing or eliminating problems or defects in the delivery of a product or customer service. The goal of Six Sigma is reaching a maximum of 3.4 defects per million events or opportunities (DPMO); a defect can be described as an event in which a product or service doesn't meet the customer's requirements. 

<<< How can you rethink your company's processes? >>>

The process of implementing this methodology is characterized by 5 stages:

Define: This stage involves setting the goal of the problem or defect and validate it at the same time that you define the participants. Once you have chosen the project, you have to choose the team most prepared to carry it out and assign the necessary priority to it. In this stage, you must answer questions like: What processes are there in the area? What activities (processes) are you responsible for? Who are the owners of these processes? What people do take part in the process, directly and indirectly?  Who could be part of your team to change the process? Do you have information about the process? What type of information do you have? What processes do you believe need to be improved first? 

Measure: This stage involves characterizing the process by identifying customers' key requirements, the key characteristics of the product (or variables of the result), and the parameters (input variables) that have an impact on the process and the key characteristics or variables. From this characterization, the measurement system is defined and the processing capacity is measured. In this stage, you should answer questions like: Do you know who your customers are? Do you know what your customers' needs are? Do you know what your customers need from your processes? How does the process take place? What are its steps? What type of steps are involved in the process? How does it get the information?

Analyze: In this stage, we have to find out the real causes of the problem or defect, in other words, the team analyzes both current and historic results. They propose and confirm hypotheses about possible cause-effect relationships by using appropriate statistical tools. This way, the team confirms the decisive elements of the process, i.e. key input variables or "less important" elements that affect the process variables. In this stage, you should answer the following questions: What are the specifications made by your customer for your measuring parameters? How does the current process develop concerning those parameters? What are the goals of process improvement? How did you define them?, among others. 

Improve: In this stage, the team manages to determine the cause-effect relationship to foresee, improve and optimize the functioning of the process. Finally, the operational range of parameters or input variables of the process is determined. You should pay special attention to the following questions: Do sources of variation depend on a supplier? Who is the supplier? What are you doing to monitor or control them? What relationship is there between measurement parameters and critical variables?

Control: This stage consists in designing and documenting the necessary elements to make sure that what you have achieved by Six Sigma keeps on working once changes have been implemented. When goals are achieved and the mission ends, the team tells the executives and dissolves. You should take into account: How exact is your measurement system? How did you define it? In what proportion has the process improved after the changes? How do you keep implementing the changes?, among others. 

<<< Process improvement: its impact on the profitability of your company>>>

In conclusion, Six Sigma is a methodology in which an improvement process takes place, one that is systematic, scientific, and based on facts. This process eliminates unproductive steps, focuses on new measurements, and applies improvement technologies. 

To implement this methodology successfully is important you understand that using Excel spreadsheets, Word, endless email lists and WhatsApp chats are inefficient and insufficient. Therefore, the best way to implement the use of this methodology is using a software tool that allows you to manage your processes and do a follow-up of their results in real-time. 


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