All you need to know about “Six Sigma” in process improvement

Speeding up productivity of our business is a major requirement to remain competitive in a global economy that changes everyday. Our company survives if we are certain that processes produce value. Indeed, they need to be designed and implemented to be measured in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. Is in this context where “Six Sigma” emerges as methodology that supports our organization on the path of business process excellence. Sigma (σ) is a letter taken from the Greek alphabet mainly used in statistics as a measure of the amount of variation or dispersion of a set of data values. Accordingly, “Six sigma” methodology aims to eliminate most of defects at various levels (manufacture, transaction, product, service), based on a normal distribution curve intended to be six standard deviations among the mean and any specific limit. “Six sigma” processes expects to produce a feature free of deficiencies with a certainty of 99.99966%.

Poor quality costs

A commonly used concept when referring to poor quality costs in any industrial process is that they are only caused by defective products. This is partly true. Making sure that high-quality products are produced is an important amount of the total poor quality costs. Poor quality costs could be grouped in the following categories:

  • Internal faults: defective products, redesigning, rework and shortage in materials.
  • External faults: returned products, guarantees, penalties, environmental costs.
  • Prevention costs: quality planning, failure proofing, education and training.
  • Assessment costs: field testing, service audits, inspections.

The “Six Sigma” design framework compares businesses, products, processes and services. Furthermore, it provides tools that quantify company quality, and, at the same time, is a guidance tool to achieve our company objectives. “Six Sigma” mission is then to provide accurate information which would be helpful to achieve maximum quality in products and services. Another important characteristic of the program is the building of trust among participants, since business activity is founded on information, ideas and experience, which helps to raise quality and administrative management. “Six Sigma” is defined at operation and management levels. At the operations level, statistical tools are used to measure variables of the industrial processes to identify failures. At management level, it analyzes processes used by employees to improve quality of products, processes and services.

Rice before crop_six sigma_david kiger
Image courtesy of coniferconifer at Flickr.com

“Six sigma” roles and resources

“Six sigma” uses a specific convention for members of their team; therefore, its philosophy is based on a group work effort. As “Six Sigma” has a strong component of statistics and “lean manufacturing” it is essential for the participants to have previous knowledge, along to the experience acquired in other successful projects.

  • Champion: middle or senior level executive. He or she sponsors a specific project and negotiates availability of resources.
  • Black Belt: professional working as a team leader on the projects. He or she knows and applies “Six Sigma” methods and tools.
  • Master Black Belt: successful Black Belt experienced on managing several projects. He or she is an expert in “Six Sigma” tools and methodology, is in charge of training Black Belts and maintaining the course of action, leads cultural change.
  • Green Belt: part-time worker who leads smaller projects. He or she has a little training in methods and basic statistical tools.
  • Finance Controller: he or she is in charge of establishing measurements to lead the financial success of projects, also estimates and approves project results and quantify benefits of the projects.
  • Process Owner: he or she is responsible for the business process that is the target, maximizes the performance of this process at a high level.

Tips for Managing Six Sigma projects

  • High level managers must be trained on “Six Sigma” to guarantee their commitment. Their leadership would be essential for the performance of the project.
  • A mentoring process is a must. It ensures that guidance is done well, corrections are regular and projects finish on time. The financial return on training investment would be around 15 times and can be done by appropriate project definition and money allocation.
  • Adequate consultants are needed to successfully training of all Belts. It would be preferred a Black Belt or Master Black Belt who has experience on “Six Sigma” projects rather than an academic with no practical experience.
  • Not only black or green belts involvement in projects is required, supervisors and operators need to be trained in the use of tools and techniques. In this way, they will see the results on their own and will aspire to get a “Six Sigma” certification.
  • It is necessary that “Six Sigma” planning is included on the business plan of the company. Finance departments should ensure financial validation of the project and proper tracking until project is completed.
  • “Six Sigma” tool has the ability to direct and determine the effectiveness of process control, so evidence of better results as a result of data-driven processes need to be shared at all levels of the company.
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