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Simplifying Six Sigma

For many years in my previous career with GE, I worked in the Quality or Six Sigma function.  I earned my Master Black Belt and Quality Leader stripes while wading through Pareto charts, histograms, statistical analyses, scatter diagrams, flowcharts, and project scopes.  It was an intense way of working as we measured the heck out of every step in order to reduce defects to only 3.4 per every 1,000,000 opportunities.

Well, let’s demystify the approach and talk about three very simple and common sense ways of integrating Six Sigma into YOUR business.  First, we’ll address who has the final say on defects.  Second, we’ll cover operational definitions (ooh, sounds boring, but can be so liberating).  And third, we’ll talk SIPOC – now, we’re talking!

Many folks might believe that Six Sigma is a process efficiency or cost reduction program as it aims to reduce defects.  And while these can certainly be added benefits within an organization, the real driver behind defect reduction is your CUSTOMER.  All process improvement and process design should originate from what delights your customer and also eliminates their pain points.  If you give your customers the final say on what constitutes a defect (pain point, mistake, detractor from a great product or service) and work to reduce those as much as possible, you preserve and build your revenue.

On to operational definitions:  this helpful technique gets all of your team members on the same page by carefully defining WHAT you are trying to do, measure, or achieve.  You want your team members to ask one another “what do you really mean by that?” and document the consensus answers.  Questions that challenge assumptions should be very welcome and having operational definitions in play for projects, campaigns, and programs can be huge time and money savers.

Last but not least, we recommend the SIPOC tool for very thorough and thoughtful processes.  SIPOC stands for suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers.  It’s a highly visual and methodical tool that forces you to start with the customers of a process and think through the important people and items that touch each process step.  Participating in a SIPOC documentation should be a very illuminating and educational exercise for your team.

If my CSR colleagues will allow me to continue in my Six Sigma forays, you’ll see future blog posts with more tools to deploy.  And CSR is delighted to discuss quality engagements with you for your organization:  voice of the customer analysis, process improvements and defect reduction, and process design.  We look forward to hearing from you.


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