Six Sigma is a program to increase product quality in a production process. It is ideally suited to manufacturing processes which produce high volumes of products, but the concepts are relevant to any industry. Even in our engineering consulting firm, Six Sigma concepts are quite valuable to assessing and improving the quality of reports and data that is submitted to clients.
The goal of implementing Six Sigma in your organization is to improve the quality of your products or services. The process can be carried out in various ways but the general road map is as follows:
- Select Initial Projects
At the risk of stating the obvious, you need to have the appropriate management buy-in and budget. The larger the organization, the more it will cost to get started. There is a training requirement which will be an upfront cost, and a recurring cost of using those Six Sigma practitioners on improvement projects rather than other, paying work. Perhaps most importantly, the implementation of the improvements identified by the Six Sigma practitioners will require regular, ongoing expenditures. But this is the whole point – to spend a bit of money to increase product quality. So to summarize:
- Initial training of green belts, black belts, etc. – $2,000 – $4,000 per course.
- Cost of using those personnel on Six Sigma projects.
- Cost of the process improvements, as they happen.
Six Sigma courses will tell you that expenditures should pay for themselves in the form of higher quality products and satisfied clients. I would concur, but add that the cost savings are sometimes hard to quantify because you are trying to measure additional orders for the product, or services, based on improved product quality. But certainly if you are thinking of implementing Six Sigma to correct a product quality problem, there will be a high likelihood of recovering the costs.
To implement Six Sigma, there should be at least one Green belt, Black belt, and Master black belt if you are just starting out. You could get away without the Master black belt. The roles are as follows:
- Green belt: Does the analysis and bulk of the work for Six Sigma improvement projects.
- Black belt: Leads and organizes Six Sigma projects, makes recommendations for improvements and plans for their implementation.
- Master black belt: Provides overall direction, and makes decisions regarding which Six Sigma projects to pursue.
A Six Sigma project is a project which analyzes and improves a process to achieve higher quality products.
Courses for green belt certification are usually 1 week, while black belt is about 2 weeks.
Once training is completed, projects can be selected and the process is started. Six Sigma practitioners will use statistics to analyze the output of a process and determine the required improvements to increase product quality. The concepts are based on reducing variability. In other words, the closer the widgets are to exactly the same, the better the quality of the product.
Top management support is essential, and often the organization needs to be ready for change. The benefits for the customer and business can be easily identified, and process improvement can be integrated with existing initiatives.
Six Sigma green and black belts will be trained to look at process through the eyes of DMAIC and DMADV.
- DMAIC (pronounced “Demayik”) looks at existing processes using Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control
- DMADV (pronounce “Demadvee”) looks at developing new processes using Define-Measure-Analyze-Design-Validate
The Six Sigma process is very statistical in nature. Six Sigma practitioners are trained to look at the output of a production process in terms of statistical distributions and create targets for percentage defective. The goal is 6 standard deviations from the mean (hence the name “Six Sigma”) which correlates to 3.4 defects in 1 million products.