Given how time- and resource-intensive running a manufacturing business can be, companies large and small are always looking for ways to run more efficiently. This has manifested new technologies as well as new approaches to process refinement. One such process is Six Sigma, which was initially developed at Motorola in 1986. Nine years later, it was adapted by Jack Welch for use at General Electric, and its adoption has grown throughout industrial sectors thereafter.
Six Sigma aims to improve quality output by removing errors and reducing manufacturing variables. In statistics, “sigma” means “standard deviation,” and is a unit of measurement used to quantify the number of standard deviations between the process mean and the nearest specification limit. In plain English, it’s a measure of how much variation from the norm is acceptable. In the context of Six Sigma, it’s meant to help reduce product defects.
If a process is measured as Six Sigma, it means that there are only 3.4 defects per million opportunities (or outcomes). This is considered an acceptable defect rate.
What Is the Six Sigma Process Comprised Of?
Six Sigma is made up of the following doctrines:
- Achieving continuous, stable and predictable process results is vitally important to business success
- Manufacturing and business processes have characteristics that can be measured, analyzed, controlled and improved
- Sustainable quality improvement requires commitment from the entire organization, specifically top-level management
To follow those doctrines, Six Sigma projects typically follow one of two methodologies: DMAIC and DMADV.
- DMAIC stands for “Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.” It is used to improve existing processes.
- DMADV stands for “Define, Measure, Analyze, Design and Verify.” It is used when creating new products or processes.
How Do I Implement Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is typically implemented with the help of consultants who focus all of their time on working with organizations to improve their systems and processes. It has a well-defined set of roles that it believes lead to successful implementation. These roles are:
- Executive Leadership: Not only is top management responsible for overseeing and enforcing Six Sigma implementation, but they are responsible for providing the support and resources their employees need to successfully implement the process.
- Champions: These are Six Sigma proponents who work to keep employees mindful of process improvements while working hand-in-hand with the executive leadership to keep the process on track.
- Master Black Belts: Identified as Champions, Master Black Belts act as in-house coaches and devote 100% of their time to Six Sigma implementation. They also act as mentors to Black and Green Belts.
- Black Belts: All of their time is also devoted to Six Sigma, but they focus more on successful implementation as it relates to individual projects.
- Green Belts: These are everyday employees who adopt Six Sigma implementation as part of their daily job responsibilities. They assist Black Belts as needed.
Hiring consultants can get expensive, however, which is why some organizations choose to train their own staff instead.
To become a consultant or become certified for any of these roles, Six Sigma certification is available. Unfortunately, there is no standardized certification, as different organizations have different requirements. For example. the American Society for Quality offers multiple belt-level certifications, while the International Association for Six Sigma Certification (IASSC) offers other types, including Lean Six Sigma certification.
Does Six Sigma Have Utility Outside of Manufacturing?
There are examples of Six Sigma being used to improve processes that aren’t related to manufacturing. The City of Kawartha Lakes, located in the Canadian province of Ontario, used the DMADV approach to increase the effectiveness and success of its advertising and marketing efforts. In another case, an unidentified bank used the DMADV approach to improve the process of setting up new customer accounts. The lesson here is that improving processes and striving for more efficient methods is important to any business, and a system like Six Sigma can have many different applications.
Implementing Six Sigma is not a quick fix. It will take time and dedication from every employee in the organization and upper management to make it successful. But if done correctly, the benefits far outweigh the time and money spent on implementation.
For more information on product manufacturing, read this article about how lean manufacturing can lower your production costs.