Applying Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a highly disciplined improvement approach that helps individuals and companies eliminate costly problems, develop and deliver near perfect products and services.

For over a decade, corporations in all industries have used the discipline of Six Sigma to increase their market share, raise turnover, improve profit margins, and ultimately, shareholder value. Six Sigma is credited with saving money in billions while simultaneously improving overall quality and customer satisfaction. As it has matured, Six Sigma has evolved into a process capable of addressing virtually any problematic system or process within an organisation.

The name Six Sigma is derived from a statistical heritage. Sigma is a Greek letter assigned to represent the amount of variation or inconsistency a measurable outcome exhibits.

Using Six Sigma in Organisations

Six Sigma establishes improved business results in organisations with a systematic five-phase problem solving method called DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. The main core of Six Sigma is the application of statistical and other analytical tools in the context of a well-disciplined, easy-to-follow approach. The tools are easily applied in a either a product or services and business process oriented environment. Beyond the main core of the method and its tools, is an impressive management system that ties it all together.

Six Sigma is not about establishing an 'institution' within an organisation and it is not about cost avoidance. It is an enterprise-wide approach that effectively develops employees within a company to have the knowledge and capability to solve problems, to improve decision-making and subsequently improve the overall performance of the enterprise from a financial and customer perspective.

When Six Sigma is properly implemented as a roadmap and a management framework, it consistently delivers breakthrough results throughout the business. As a system, it combines the best problem solving tools and methods with capable employees under the umbrella of a comprehensive leadership framework, to rapidly achieve reduced costs, higher quality, lower cycle times, improved overall customer satisfaction and a lower investment in equipment and inventory; all leading to increased market share, revenue, profits, and ultimately shareholder value.

To achieve Six Sigma from a goal or quality perspective, an output from a process must produce no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities, where an opportunity is defined as a chance for non conformance, or not meeting the required specifications. To achieve Six Sigma from a business results perspective, waste that is generally called Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ), must be reduced in order to improve net profit margins twenty to forty percent or more.

It is important in gaining buy-in from people, that its purpose and uses are effectively communicated, working hand in hand with the organisation's project management methodology.

Introduction to Six Sigma

The Six Sigma philosophy holds that every process can and should be repeatedly evaluated and significantly improved in terms of time required, resources used, quality performance, cost and other aspects relevant to the process. It prepares employees with the best available problem-solving tools and methods. At its core, Six Sigma utilises a systematic five-phase problem solving methodology called DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control.

  • Define - At the preliminary stage we identify poorly performing areas of the company, define and launch projects with well articulated problem and objective statements that have a financially beneficial impact to the company.
  • Measure - Here we identify the true process and determine the mostly likely contributors including the statistical determination of the accuracy and repeatability of the data characterising the process. We ask, what is the capability of the process? Using process mapping, flow charts and FMEA (Failure Mode Effects Analysis), original data is collected that will act as a baseline for monitoring improvements.
  • Analyse - When, where and why do defects occur? This phase applies appropriate statistical analysis such as scatter plots, Input/Output matrices and hypothesis testing to accurately understand exactly what is happening within a given process.
  • Improve - In this phase, vital factors in the process are identified and experiments are systematically designed to focus on those that can be modified or adjusted to achieve the desired level of improvement.
  • Control - The Control phase incorporates the basic tools of Process Control to manage processes on a continual basis. Once the DMAIC process has begun, it must be managed continually to assure that benefits are sustained.
  • Participants

    In the Six Sigma environment, participants - from senior management downwards - assume specific roles in the performance improvement process. The Champion, Master Black Belt, Black Belt, Green Belt and Yellow Belt each have unique perspective on businesses' strategic priorities, key processes and the organisation's culture. Each requires training and coaching in their responsibilities, duties and processes.

  • Champions are responsible for coordinating a business roadmap to successfully achieve Six Sigma within their organisation. They are responsible for the logistical and business aspects of a Six Sigma project. Champions select and scope projects that are aligned with the corporate strategy, choose and mentor the right people for the project including sponsors and project leaders, and remove barriers to ensure the highest levels of success.
  • The Master Black Belt sits atop a skill and knowledge hierarchy that includes Black and Green Belts, with gradually increasing levels of sophisticated tool sets at their disposal. The primary activity for the MBB is being a leader and teacher. As a leader, the MBB will have responsibility for overseeing projects with multiple Black Belts and Green Belts participation that will significantly change the way the organisation does business. As a teacher, the MBB is responsible for the on-going development of existing Black Belts and Green Belts.
  • The Black Belt is a key change agent or project leader for the Six Sigma process and has completed 3 - 4 weeks of training and delivered several successful projects. Typically from among the best performers these individuals lead teams working on chronic issues that are negatively impacting the company's performance. The Black Belt is usually assigned to a two-year dedicated position responsible for executing the Six Sigma process on selected projects.
  • Green Belts complete around 5 days training and serve as specially trained team members within a function-specific area of the organisation. This focus allows the Green Belt to work on small carefully defined Six Sigma projects, requiring less than a Black Belt's full-time commitment to Six Sigma throughout the business.
  • Suggested Approach

    If there is appetite to develop this learning and a readiness for change, there are a number of options available. It is recommended that learning be managed in stages, as participants will need time to absorb their learning and begin to test their knowledge practically in the workplace.

    An initial consultation must take place with you to understand your purpose, drivers, any known issues and your desired outcomes. Secondly, you should identify individuals and teams who may benefit from Six Sigma and prioritise their training. It is important to cascade top down and therefore the leadership team should be included.

    Having a phased approach, is important to create a 'pull' for Six Sigma, led by senior management in awareness sessions in order to demonstrate their role, to the coaching and support provided to newly trained practitioners - all is really important in driving projects forward with pace. Follow up clinics or surgeries provide on going detailed group or one to one support. Training for practitioners is achieved through a blend of theory, practical application and case studies.


    Six Sigma enables organisations to obtain improvements significantly faster than before. In following a strategy for process improvement and change, it is imperative to combine not only the processes and technology, but also the people. A structured approach to communication, analysis, problem solving, decision-making and the prioritisation of tasks and the establishment of goals and metrics to manage and measure the business, is crucial to the success of the organisation going forward.

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