Using Six Sigma in Process Management

Process Management

Six Sigma isn’t just for getting resume fillers, shiny certificates or colorful belts; it’s designed to achieve real business value. So how do you do it in real life? I’ll explore that question in a series of articles. Here’s the first.

Congratulations! You own a business process at work. You are officially a process owner! It doesn’t matter if you are a software development project manager or a tester. It doesn’t matter if you are responsible for making restaurant franchises successful or if you are a waiter. You could be tech support provisioning equipment and tools for fund managers or run an anti-bank fraud unit or run a library system for a major university or really anything else. The bottom line is that there is an expectation of delivering value for a company.

If you are responsible for delivering value, you own a process.

So how can we leverage Six Sigma techniques to make our process better? Let’s start with an analogy so we can dial in on what we are trying to accomplish.

Have you ever been late to work? As an individual, you may consider using an alarm clock, changing your changing your routine, taking a different route to work, or doing all sorts of tactical approaches. But a process owner needs to consider how reliably an entire workforce is arriving to work on time and, if unsatisfactory, the root of the problem.

Here’s my road map to using Six Sigma to manage your process helping you achieve great business results, delight your customers, and impress your colleagues.

How do we get work? How do we do work?

First off, I’d like to know what kicks off the process. Any position you hold will be subject to processes. I’d immediately start mapping the process. First with a SIPOC so I could understand my suppliers, consumers, and key components and outputs. I’d follow with an actual process map soon after.

What Are Our Performance Goals?

I’d use proactive and reactive feedback to judge what our customers expect from us and then translate that data to Critical to Quality measures.

I’d collect voice of client to see what they needed from us.

How Well Do We Do Our Current Work?

Now that I know what the expectations are I’d then follow up with a value stream to flesh out my IPO model metrics. This would let me know what our actual performance is.

Sometimes it’s blindingly obvious that improvement is needed. Sometimes you’re not sure. If I could not trust our tools to give me good data, I’d conduct a Measurement System Analysis or at the least a gauge R & R.

I’d calculate a baseline sigma to grossly understand how reliably we were making our commitment. If appropriate,  a Process Performance and Capability analysis would help me understand how accurate the process was and how reliable the process was of achieving those marks.

Depending upon the time available I would do a value stream analysis to I could gain further insight.

Remove Variation and Get the Process Under Control

Some processes are under control. Others are not. My next step would be to remove variation, standardize and stabilize a process, and then

Our team would then use a variety of techniques (brainstorming, kaizen) to look forbottle necks and improvement opportunities. We might kick off a DMAIC project. We might institute a kanban pull system. We might benchmark similar processes. There are all sorts of tactical improvements that could be done. The key is that the actions would be driven by objective data and standards.

If we did a value stream map, I’d follow up on that learning. I’ve heard McKinsey state that the best in-class sub-processes have a max of 50% complete and accurate scores. I’d shoot for that across the board. Whatever our % Complete and Accurate score was (percent chance of a single request making it through our process completely and accurately with no waste) and I’d seek out the largest opportunities.

These are my thoughts on how to manage a process. What would you add? Of course, creating new processes and new products is an entirely different subject. I’ll cover that next time.

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