Continuous improvement is a philosophy by which organizations continually look for – and invest in – better ways to get their work done. This includes the evolution of their products and services, processes, procedures, workflows, and other aspects of day-to-day operations.
With so many techniques and methodologies available, it makes sense for organizations to evaluate and determine which one best meets their business needs and fulfills their objectives. For all approaches, it’s wise to remember the common mistakes that can occur with adopting any continuous process improvement mindset.
In Part 1 of our series, we summarized Kaizen, PDCA (Plan Do Check Act), and 5 Whys analysis.
In Part 2, we dig into Six Sigma.
The Six Sigma approach focuses on minimizing variations within the end product. This comes into play in the manufacturing environment, where the goal is to reduce inconsistencies and defects while optimizing for consistency. In addition, the increased performance also leads to improved profits, increased employee morale, and higher customer satisfaction.
Developed in the 1980s, this methodology uses statistical data as benchmarks to help businesses understand how well their processes work.
The term “sigma” refers to one standard deviation away from the mean in a data set. The premise is that six standard deviations would occur before a process results in a defect. While it’s an extremely high bar to reach, a process achieving Six Sigma status would produce just 3.4 errors (defects) per one million process events.
To reach Six Sigma status, an organization must invest in a thorough examination of what is causing processes to result in mistakes, defects, or waste. The method includes several activities, assessments, and evaluation approaches, including the 5 Whys methodology covered in Part 1 of this series.
As a whole, the program encompasses several complementary elements, including:
- Philosophy: The perspective that all processes can be Defined, Measured, Analyzed, Improved, and Controlled (DMAIC). Control the inputs, and you will control the outputs.
- Tools: Six Sigma experts use many qualitative and quantitative techniques in their quest for process improvement.
- Methodology: Applying the rigorous DMAIC approach defines Six Sigma practitioners’ steps. While it is not the only methodology used, it is the most widely recognized and adopted.
- Metrics: Six Sigma quality analysis and performance relies heavily on metrics.
- Teams: Teams allow organizations to focus on well-defined and appropriately scoped projects.
- Training: Everyone involved in leading Six Sigma efforts receives statistical thinking and project management training.
- Management: For this approach to be successful, an organization must create an environment that willingly supports these initiatives as part of its business strategy.
Each letter in the DMAIC acronym refers to a process phase:
- Define: The project team starts by defining the problem they want to solve. Activities in this phase include detailing customer needs and requirements and developing a process map.
- Measure: The project team then collects data on the current operation of the process and, as part of this, determines the baseline sigma.
- Analyze: The project team conducts a detailed analysis of the data and the process to determine the root cause of the problem.
- Improve: The project team uses the analysis results to generate potential solutions to the problem. From there, they evaluate and select the solution that will best work to address the issue.
- Control: Once a solution has been confirmed, the project team designs a control plan to ensure that the new strategy is implemented and can maintain the solution’s benefits.
While DMAIC is an integral part of a Six Sigma program, it can also be implemented as a standalone quality improvement methodology or as part of other process improvement initiatives.
In future posts in this series, we’ll cover additional tools and methodologies used in process improvement.
In addition to an in-house culture that thrives on ownership and responsibility throughout our team, we help businesses manage projects to significantly impact their success and growth, which often includes analyzing and improving processes.
When you’re ready to put your project in the hands of a trusted professional organization, contact us to learn more about working together.