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Simple steps to make Six Sigma work for your small and medium size business

May 11, 2008

Tools for Generating Ideas and Organizing Information

  • Brainstorming: A method to generate ideas. Ground rules such as “no idea is a bad idea” are typical. The benefit of brainstorming is the power of the group in building ideas off of each other’s ideas.

    • Serves as a starting point.

    • Basic purpose is to come up with a list of options for a task or solution.

    • Will be shortened into a final selection.

    • Can use brainstorming again to list possible measures and still later to come up with creative improvement solutions.

  • Affinity Diagramming: A tool used to organize and present large amounts of data into logical categories based on perceived relationships and conceptual frameworking. Often done using “sticky notes” in a brainstorming exercise, and then grouped by the facilitator and workers. The final diagram shows the relationship between the issue and the category. Then categories are ranked, and duplicate issues are combined to make a simpler overview.

    • A common follow-up to brainstorming that helps to evaluate ideas.

    • The best method is for people to be quiet and group ideas without speaking.

  • Multivoting: A tool used to arrange and order by importance a list of ideas, problems, common causes, and the like. The list typically consists of a few controllable items (usually three to five). It is a group effort where each and every member of the group is allowed to give a number of “importance” to each item. Those items receiving the highest rankings from the group should get attention/consideration first.

    • Used to narrow down a list of ideas or options.

    • A follow-up to brainstorming.

  • Tree Diagram: Breaks down ideas in progressively greater detail. Shows the links or hierarchy of the ideas brainstormed. The objective is to partition a big idea or problem into its smaller components, making the idea easier to understand, or the problem easier to solve. Might also use this to tie major customer needs to more specific requirements.

  • High-Level Process Map (SIPOC Diagram): SIPOC stands for “suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, and customers.” You obtain inputs from suppliers, add value through your process, and provide an output that meets or exceeds your customer’s requirements. It’s a method that helps you not to forget something when mapping processes.

    • Preferred method for diagramming major processes and identifying possible measures.

    • Shows major activities, or sub-processes, in an organizational process along with the framework of the process.

    • Helps to define the boundaries and critical elements of a process without getting into so much detail that the big picture is lost.

  • Flowchart: A flowchart is a graphical representation of a process from start to finish, showing inputs, pathways and circuits, actions or decision points, and, ultimately, completion. It can serve as an instruction manual or a tool for facilitating detailed analysis and optimization of workflow and service delivery.

    • Shows details of a process including tasks, procedures, alternative paths, decision points, and rework loops.

    • Shows how a process currently works or how it should work.

  • Cause-and-Effect Diagram (Fishbone Diagram): Tool used to solve quality problems by brainstorming causes and logically organizing them by branches. Also called the Ishikawa diagram.

    • Used to brainstorm causes of problems.

    • Causes that lead to other causes are linked in a structure tree.

    • They do not tell the root cause. They help you develop an educated guess about where to focus measurement and further root cause analysis.

Tools for Gathering Data

  • Sampling: Offers a much more realistic approach than counting every measure that goes into a process. Counting or measuring everything can be a logistical nightmare and can be very expensive.

  • Operational Definitions: An operational definition can be defined as a clear and understandable description of what is to be observed and measured, such that different people collecting, using, and interpreting data will do so consistently. An operational definition is a concept to guide what properties will be measured and how they will be measured.

  • Checksheets and Spreadsheets: Used to collect and organize data. Ensures that the right data is captured and that that all necessary facts are included, such as when it happened, how many, and what customer. Varies from simple tables and surveys to diagrams used to indicate where errors or damage occurred.

  • Measurement Systems Analysis (MSA): An experimental and mathematical method of determining how much the variation within the measurement process contributes to overall process variability. Helps measure effectiveness gauges, rulers, and other measurement instruments.

  • Voice of the Customer (VOC) Methods: The “voice of the customer” is the term used to describe the stated and unstated needs or requirements of the customer. The voice of the customer can be captured in a variety of ways: direct discussion or interviews, surveys, focus groups, customer specifications, observation, warranty data, field reports, and so on.

    • Collects external customer input, assesses and prioritizes requirements, and provides ongoing feedback to the organization.

    • Tools may be simple or sophisticated market research methods, requirement analysis concepts, and newer technologies, such as data warehouses and data mining.

Tools for Process and Data Analysis

  • Process-Flow Analysis: A map or flowchart of a key work process that can be used to scrutinize the process for redundancies, unclear hand-offs, unnecessary decision points, delays, bottlenecks, defects, and rework. Can be one of the quickest ways to find clues about root causes of problems.

  • Value and Non-Value Added Analysis: Each step in a detailed process map is assessed on its real value to external customers. It’s never possible to eliminate all non-value adding activities because some are in place to protect the organization or in place to meet legal requirements. This process helps remove things that are unnecessary in a process and are a drain on resources.

  • Charts and Graphs: A visual display of the data. Charts and graphs of various types offer a different picture of the data. Some of these charts include:

  • Pareto Chart — A specialized bar chart that breaks down a group by categories and compares them from largest to smallest. It is used to see the biggest pieces of a problem or contributors to a cause, and which problems have the biggest impact. The Pareto Chart utilizes the “80-20 Rule,” which states that 80 percent of the problems arise from 20 percent of the causes.

  • Histogram — Shows the distribution or variation of data over a range of size, age, cost, length of time, weight, and so on. In analyzing a histogram, you look for the shape of the bars or the curve, the width of the spread or range, or the number of modes.

  • Run Chart — Shows how trends are changing over time.

  • Scatter Diagram — Looks for direct relationships between two factors in a process to see if there is any correlation. If two measures show a relationship, then one might be causing the other. When an increase in one factor matches an increase in the other, it is called a positive correlation. When an increase in one causes a decrease in the other, this relationship is called a negative correlation.

Tools for Implementation and Process Management

  • Project Management Methods: Six Sigma companies recognize early on the importance of strong project management skills: planning, budgeting, scheduling, communication, people management, and technical project management tools.

  • Potential Problem Analysis, and Failure Mode and Effects Analysis: These are two of the methods that are applied both in implementing new processes and in running them every day. Both start with brainstorming the many things that could go wrong. Then, the potential problems are prioritized. Finally, the biggest risks are mitigated by looking for ways to prevent them from happening, as well as ways to limit contingencies.

  • Stakeholders Analysis: Involves identifying the people and groups that need to be considered, their likely views on the project or solution, and approaches to gaining their input and/or support.

  • Force Field Diagram: Shows the relationship between factors that help promote a change and those that oppose or create resistance to it. Used to develop plans to build support for critical change.

  • Process Documentation: Creating effective, clear, not overly complex process documentation, such as process maps, task instructions, measures, and so on.

  • Balanced Scorecards and Process Dashboards: Provide a summary of critical measures that give real-time feedback and promote prompt attention to issues and opportunities. These tools typically feature both output (Y) and process and input (X) measures and go beyond traditional financial data. Six Sigma placed new attention on the ability of people throughout and organization to keep tabs on current performance, trends, and issues of key indicators in a process.

Tools for Statistical Analysis

  • Tests for Statistical Analysis: Looks for differences in groups of data to see whether they are meaningful. These tests include t-tests, Chi-squares, and analysis of variance (ANOVA).

  • Correlation and Regression: These tools test for the presence, strength, and nature of the links among variables in a process or a product. These tools include regression coefficients, simple linear regression, multiple regression, surface response tests, and so on.

  • Design of Experiments (DOE): A collection of methods for developing and conducting controlled assessments of how a process or a product performs, usually testing two or more characteristics under different conditions. In addition to helping target causes of a problem, DOE can be essential to get maximum benefit out of solutions called optimizing results

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