Introduction

In today’s cut-throat business environment, constant innovation and process efficiency, cutting out wastage of resources, and quickly adapting to changes in the business ecosystem are the most important virtues any business strives to achieve. An attempt to increase efficiency is also a driving force behind constant innovation, and virtually all businesses employ the services of a dedicated team to ensure internal processes are running efficiently without avoidable bottlenecks in the overall production of the business.

While good business leaders are entrusted with such responsibilities, it is a herculean task to ensure efficient processes when the business grows beyond the small scale to medium or large-scale enterprises. In what follows, we shall take a look at Six Sigma tools and a related methodology Lean Six Sigma tools.

An enterprise-wide practice to ensure that there are regular checks on the efficiency of various processes within the business helps identify bottlenecks, wastage and get the business running like a well-oiled machine. Businesses have adopted various process improvement models like Six Sigma, Agile, Just-in-Time, Kaizen, among others, to stay ahead of the game.

  1. What is Six Sigma
  2. What Are Lean Six Sigma Tools?
  3. How Six Sigma Tools Are Helping Individuals and Businesses?

1. What is Six Sigma

Six Sigma was first introduced in 1985 at Motorola by an engineer named Bill Smith to help Motorola sustain itself in the highly competitive electronics segment in Japan. Six Sigma is designed to work with facts and facts only, putting in place structures that ensure data collection and constant feedback to the system based on this data. The basic idea in Six Sigma is to identify and cut avoidable wastage of resources like time, raw material and workforce. Quality management based, heavily relying on statistics is the foundation Six Sigma is based on.

Let’s look at a formal definition or description of Six Sigma, also denoted as 6σ (small letter sigma from the Greek alphabet). As per Wikipedia, Six Sigma is a set of tools and techniques that are used to ensure process improvement. The numeral six in the name is actually denoting a quality value that ensures 99.99966% of opportunities to produce some features of a part are statistically expected to be free of defects. Like 6σ, there are other levels of sigma, such as 5σ. 5σ, for example, strives to ensure no more than 1 defect in 3.5 million opportunities; in other words, 230 defects per million opportunities. Using the same scale on 6σ, you are allowed 3.4 defects per million opportunities.

2. What Are Lean Six Sigma Tools?

There are several Six Sigma tools that have been proposed over the years since its invention. There are over 10 six sigma tools that are popular, some specific to the type of industry, others that have been adopted across multiple industries. A few noteworthy tools are Standard Work, 5S Workplace Organization, Control Charts, Gemba Walks, Hoshin Kanri, Kanban, A3 Problem Solving, and more. We shall briefly look at tools like DMAIC, 5S Workplace Organization, Value Stream Mapping, Seven Waste in the sections that follow.

  • DMAIC Tools

A 5-phase tool that works by developing on each preceding phase is one of the most popular tools in use across industries. DMAIC is an abbreviation made up of the various phases that go into making this tool. 

D- Define

M-Measure

A-Analyze

I-Improve

C- Control Processes

There are well-defined criteria that each of these phases has to stick to before proceeding to the next phase. For example, the Define phase involves identification of the problem or focus area, preparing a project charter, getting buy-in from stakeholders, and signoff to get started on the project to improve the situation pertaining to the focus area.

DMAIC is usually represented graphically as a cycle that falls in a feedback loop until the goal is achieved. Control feedbacks into Define to continue the cycle indefinitely, achieving perpetual process improvement.

The measure is a phase that involves putting into force all systems that can measure what is important to be measured and measure it consistently.

Once the measurement has taken place for a significant period of time, the data is analysed for root causes and solutions. Improve phase helps to implement corrective measures identified in the Analyze phase. This needs complete support from the stakeholders and backing from top executives. The control phase aims to continually feedback the system that is now in place to measure, analyze and improve.

  • 5S Workplace Organization

5S Workplace Organization is a tool that aims to increase productivity by ensuring a clutter-free ecosystem, removing any bottlenecks to efficient production. 5S Workplace Organization uses 5 concepts of Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuske to achieve its objectives. Let’s quickly note what each of these means.

  1. Seiri (Sort) proposes to cut out the clutter and to retain only what is absolutely necessary.
  2. Seiton (Set) then is to sort what is left to get components to production in order.
  3. Seiso (Shine) requires the business to review workplace conditions or situations on an almost daily basis and attempt to clean up any mess.
  4. Seiketsu (standardize) proposes to design and establish standards for Seiri, Seiton and Seiso.
  5. Shitsuske (Sustain) necessitates continuing the above process consistently, running programs that constantly educate and drive the improvements into the workforce.
  • Value Stream Mapping

Value Stream Mapping, or VSM, one of the Lean Six Sigma tools, is a detailed study of the existing system and representing it in a graphical representation that highlights those parts of the system generating value or is of value to the objective of the system. This is a quick way of identifying activities and resources not critical to final production while maintaining quality. VSM also identifies push and pull inconsistencies within a system that increases wait times or hold times resulting inefficient use of resources.

  • Seven Waste

Lean Sigma identifies seven wastes in the production environment that need focus and work towards reducing these wastages. These seven wastes in production are:

  1. Defects- This is an obvious one. Defects in produce waste resources and increases the cost of production.
  2. Overproduction – Many times, production exceeds the optimum level, or production completes sooner than required, necessitating a hold up further down the line.
  3. Transportation – Inefficient movement of materials increases the cost of production and wastes valuable resources of manpower and time.
  4. Overprocessing – On account of poor product quality and/or design, a process runs the risk of overprocessing.
  5. Inventory – Any inventory exceeding the optimal level will almost always cause an increase in costs.
  6. Motion – Movement of important human resources or workforce can also slow down production.
  7. Waiting – Any delays in materials or equipment is a waste that businesses can do without.

There are many ways to tackle each kind of waste, and it is specific to the industry that the methodology is being applied.

  • Flow

Flow is designed to minimize or eliminate scrap, backflows and stoppages in the system. It refers to continuous task completion through any projects launch, development and delivery. Root causes for wastage are identified, and an attempt is made to reduce all kinds of waste in the system, ensuring concentrated focus on the critical aspects of a project.

3. How Six Sigma Tools Are Helping Individuals and Businesses?

Six Sigma tools are designed to improve the quality of the processes involved in the production that will eventually reflect in the quality of production. By eliminating clutter, waste and time-consuming activities, Six Sigma tools help streamline the business processes or production processes, thereby improving the value chain. The idea has been taken a step forward by looking at these tools as a way to continually improve processes by constantly identifying areas of improvement, monitoring, analysing, improving, sustaining and back to identifying areas of improvement.

Six Sigma methodologies have assumed generic application across industries, and thus you will see almost all industries implement such improvement measures. There are several examples to prove the efficacy of Six Sigma, like that of the US Army saving almost $2 billion after implementing a Six Sigma project.

Conclusion

There are a number of certifications available to certify your knowledge and skills in Six Sigma tools, like Green Belt and Black Belt certifications. Jigsaw Academy offers you one of the best and highly appreciated courses to get through your Six Sigma certifications.

If you are interested in making it big in the world of data and evolve as a Future Leader, you may consider our Integrated Program in Business Analytics, a 10-month online program, in collaboration with IIM Indore!

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