Implementation of the Six Sigma methodology reveals several common factors for success. Although the terms may differ from one company to another, the common factors can be summarized into five major themes:
Experience at a number of companies has showed some best practices or standards against which you should benchmark your own approach to quality improvement Six Sigma implementation. Your implementation may differ from standard practice.
In some cases we find that we should adjust our approaches to align our implementation plan with standard practice. In other cases, we may need to deploy the Six Sigma methodology differently in a given area to reflect important differences in the organization, its industry, and its state of capability.
In other words, while there is no one method for Six Sigma implementation, there are some good practices you should understand and use wherever it make sense (keeping in mind that often we "won't know what we don't know" about implementation and, therefore, need to understand well the lessons learned at other companies).
To implemement the Six Sigma methodology a company should produce a detailed deployment plan of their own.
In any case, it is very important that within the organization that deployment considers, the roles that need definition, the standards to be used, the management processes to be deployed, the metrics to be used for quality improvement.
These must be relatively consistent across the organization to enable knowledge sharing and ensure that all move in the same direction.
Most of the tools and concepts involved with the Six Sigma methodology have existed for years. Then why have so few organizations achieved quality levels above 4 sigma?
One reason is that the quality improvement efforts of many companies have not been linked to senior management. Unless the senior management of an organization really views quality and customer satisfaction as critical to the success of the business, efforts to improve quality will meet with limited success in comparison to the possibilities.
Senior management (Presidents, VP's, and General Managers) need to link the Six Sigma methodology implementation to the strategy of the business and build, first in their own minds, and then in the minds of their people, an overwhelming case for change that drives urgent action on quality. Some call this creating a burning platform, others term it, creating a shared need.
Once urgency is established, senior management needs to invest the right resources for quality improvement. Improving quality to Six Sigma levels is not "business as usual;" if it were, it would have been done long ago. Instead, the journey to Six Sigma requires that the best people in the organization -- the best leaders, organizers, problem solvers, communicators, coaches, and teachers -- are given the mandate to improve quality and customer satisfaction. These people execute the Six Sigma process using the tools and skills obtained in certification training.
To guide and catalyze the efforts of large organizations, stretch improvement goals are required. These goals should force people to re-think how the work is done and not just to "tweak" the existing process.
Lastly, senior management must be actively involved, lead the effort and ask the new questions that generate new thinking about quality.
Six Sigma methodology training must flow down from top to bottom. If Six Sigma is to be driven off the strategic issues of the business, then it follows that senior management must gain adequate exposure to the Six Sigma philosophy, concepts, and methodology before any action is taken.
Based on this training, senior management is then in a position to wisely identify the high-level focus of Six Sigma, to establish broad goals and, perhaps most importantly, assign the right resources.
Similarly, before Black Belts and Six Sigma Green Belts are assigned to projects, line managers must receive adequate training to know how they can support the project work, as well as to understand the implications of Six Sigma in their areas.
Line managers, as the main communicators of Six Sigma to employees, must also know enough about the vision for Six Sigma and how it works so that they can confidently answer the questions of their people.
To brief line managers, we must, therefore, ensure that we have established a team of Master Black Belts and senior Six Sigma leadership who have had an opportunity to learn about Six Sigma.
If you want them there at landing, you had best make sure they're on-board at takeoff!
The planning of Six Sigma follows the best practices of any large change endeavor -- namely, that the effort invested up front in planning saves at least 10 times the effort that would be expended later by avoiding confusion, rework, and duplication of effort.
While there is no exact formula for how much time should be invested in planning the deployment of the Six Sigma methodology, a lead time of about 6 months prior to the launch of Black Belt training is a good rough guide. In this time, three major things happen:
First, the senior management of an organization receive the initial briefing on the Six Sigma methodology that helps them to establish the "case for change," the overall goals and objectives of the effort, and to identify the initial Master Black Belts as well as which senior manager(s) will spearhead the Six Sigma implementation.
Second, the senior management leader of Six Sigma, along with the Master Black Belts and representatives of other key functions (such as HR and Finance) develop a detailed Deployment Plan.
Third, management and Master Black Belts conduct top-down product benchmarking and process baselining to both establish an initial business-level estimate of quality performance, but also to guide the identification, prioritization, and coordination of Six Sigma projects. The other critical activity in this phase is the identification and selection of Black Belts.
Six Sigma methodology implementation is heavily influenced by how you decide to focus its projects:
Process Quality Focus -- Overall this is the best way to attack the root causes of defects and customer satisfaction issues. The key, is identifying the processes that are critical to satisfaction and that are operating at a low Sigma level.
This approach requires good cross-functional coordination since many of the processes will cross the traditional boundaries of departments.
Product Focus -- Another way to focus efforts is to identify the product family or system that is most contributing to defects and poor customer satisfaction and is also a strategically important product or service. Such an approach usually requires that we look at a number of processes that feed into that product or service.
Project Cost Savings Focus -- While it is essential that you track the reductions in the cost of poor quality projects, we must also recognize that, depending on the priorities of a business, cost savings might become the main focus.
In this situation, projects are selected on the amount management thinks it will save in costs, not necessarily which projects will most affect the root drivers of process capability. We need to recognize the limitations of this approach with respect to establishing new mindsets about quality.
Problem Focus -- Worst of all is a focus on the biggest problem or fire. It is short-sighted and usually not very focused since it is not clear what process should be addressed.
Typically, projects will have some combination of the above. For example, a project might focus on a specific process, but also might focus initially on a certain key product line.
How an organization should structure the people around the Six Sigma methodology is a function of two things:
Best practices dictate that the senior manager or managers responsible for leading Six Sigma (depending on the size of the business) report to the President of a Group. This is to ensure that Six Sigma is linked to the top-level issues of the business and that the entire effort is seen to have the full support of senior management.
This reporting relationship also gives the Six Sigma effort the ability to rise above functional issues.
To become a Six Sigma organization, it takes more than technology, knowledge, and organization. This quantum leap in quality needs people to make it happen. Here is a brief overview of some of the key roles in the Six Sigma methodology journey:
The Management Committee
Business unit leader and direct reports provide leadership and are actively involved with Six Sigma quality improvement as they receive monthly updates on the progress of our journey towards a Six Sigma organization.
Nominated from the Line Management, Champions select Six Sigma projects in order to meet their business objectives, select and support the Black Belts to complete them, and remove the barriers obstructing the path to Six Sigma.
Recommend Six Sigma implementation strategy and long-term policies and procedures to the Management Committee, as well as provide guidance to the business units. Coordinate training of Master Black Belts and Black Belts.
Master Black Belts
Coach and train the organization in Six Sigma methodology. Support the selection of projects and people with Champions.
Coach and lead project quality improvement teams and Green Belts to complete projects.
Think of the Six Sigma methodology as a funnel. In the early stages of the DMAIC process there is lots of input information and data. As the project progresses the potential causes of the problem become fewer until the one or more input factors actually causing the problem are identified. Once they are identified they are controlled
Projects are led by Black Belts. Black Belts have the requisite Six Sigma training to successfully execute the 12 step Six Sigma methodology quality improvement road map.
The steps in Six Sigma project execution are:
This process is responsible for $100’s of billions in savings and cost avoidance. It's the most powerful improvement roadmap in the world and leads to breakthrough improvement!
Six Sigma Methodology Roadmap
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