Six Sigma is a quality improvement approach designed to help organizations to improve work processes, increase the quality of products and services, reduce defects, variation and costs, and drive profitability.
Six Sigma is a set of process improvement techniques designed to help organizations increase their performance, quality of products or services, profits, and company culture. In Six Sigma, improvement is achieved by identifying and removing defects’ causes and reducing all sources of variation in the processes. Some of the qualitative and quantitative tools included in the Six Sigma toolset are FMEA, process mapping, root cause analysis (RCA), 5 Whys, brainstorming, and others.
The data-driven approach benefits companies by bringing increased customer satisfaction and greater profitability through minimizing defects and improving business processes. A Six Sigma project employs either the DMAIC or DMADV methodologies to improve existing products, services, and processes or create new ones.
Thanks to the abundance of its process improvement techniques, the Six Sigma methodology is successfully applied for process management across large and mid-size organizations. Manufacturing, engineering, and healthcare industries widely utilize the quality improvement methodology.
There are five key principles that make the Six Sigma quality improvement approach so effective. In the journey towards improvement, businesses applying the method need to put equal attention to the following principles.
The most prominent methodologies of the Six Sigma approach are DMAIC and DMADV. Both methodologies are customer-focused, aim at reducing process variation while improving work operations. The framework’s main goal is to solve problems through the accumulation and analysis of data.
While DMAIC methodology helps to improve existing processes, the DMADV approach is useful when new ones need to be devised. The former facilitates the elimination of problems and their root causes while the latter prevents their occurrence in the new process altogether.
The Six Sigma approach is successfully applied to a wide range of industries. Pharmaceutical, airline, and manufacturing companies apply Six Sigma effectively to improve processes, increase customer satisfaction and profits, and reduce costs, process variability, and time for rework.
The quality improvement approach has been initially adopted by large organizations from the manufacturing, engineering, and construction domains. However, Six Sigma includes a range of process improvement tools easily adaptable to small and mid-size companies.
On top of the list of the benefits of a successful application of the Six Sigma approach are process improvement, variation identification, and defects elimination. Find some of the most prominent advantages of Six Sigma listed below.
Abandonment is the leading cause for failing Six Sigma’s implementation. Improvement changes are often not sustained due to a lack of expert guidance and commitment. The key role of leadership participation in a Six Sigma process is crucial and can negatively impact employee morale, engagement, and overall improvement. Understanding Six Sigma and the benefits of its tools and techniques is another critical factor that can affect its successful implementation.
The terms most widely associated with the Six Sigma approach are explained below.
Six Sigma is equally adopted to improve the quality of products or services, streamline the work processes, and increase employee engagement.
Six Sigma certification is a five-level training, and educational program developed and offered by some private organizations. The levels gained upon completing the certification reflect the level of knowledge and skills acquired, starting with White Belt, Yellow Belt, Green Belt, Black Belt, and Master Black Belt for the most advanced. A professional Six Sigma certification provides equal opportunities for engineers, analysts, and consultants alike.
Six Sigma training programs entitle you to five levels of certification depending on the acquired knowledge and skills. The five-tiered model is explained below.
White Belt certified professionals can participate in small quality improvement projects while Yellow Belts can better contribute to the project and assist managers in a Six Sigma project. Green Belt certification entitles professionals to act as project and team leaders while Balck Belt graduates handle large and long-term business endeavors.
Six Sigma tools are problem-solving tools or qualitative and quantitative techniques that support process improvement efforts. The most widely adopted statistical and graphic tools are mentioned below.
Developed in 1986 by Bill Smith and Mikel Harry from the Motorola company, the Six Sigma approach has originated as a goal for improving the manufacturing business process. Among the companies that first adopted the quality improvement method are also General Electric and Honeywell.
Although it started as a set of empirical and statistical techniques for process improvement, the Six Sigma approach evolved to a multi-structured approach navigating business strategies. As a result, the principles of Six Sigma impact a variety of business aspects such as lowering defects, reducing costs and process variability, improving business operations and profitability.
Lean and Six Sigma are both process improvement approaches. The Lean methodology is focused on removing all waste from the work process and optimizing it. At the same time, Six Sigma helps identify and reduce all sources of process variability and defects.
The synergy between the two improvement methods created the Lean Six Sigma approach as a standalone methodology for increasing performance through removing waste and reducing all process variation.
The success of Lean Six Sigma relies on the deep understanding of the Lean mindset principles and the Six Sigma process logic. One of its most underlined advantages is that its implementation is facilitated by various available tools and techniques from the Lean and Six Sigma arsenal. These include Kanban, Kaizen, Value Stream Mapping, the 5S model, etc.
The difference between Lean and Six Sigma lies in how the two approaches reach their common goals - providing the best quality, improving processes, reducing costs, and increasing profitability.
While Lean seeks to reduce waste from a process, Six Sigma reduces the process variation. In addition, the Lean concept employs less technical approaches to achieve its goals (Kaizen, 5S, VSM), while Six Sigma utilizes more scientific, statistical, and graphical tools (FMEA, control charts, process mapping). As such, the Lean philosophy encourages work standardization to achieve improvement, while the Six Sigma discipline relies on establishing control mechanisms.
The Six Sigma guiding principles include:
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