The 6 Steps to Six Sigma

Step 1

Get the proper level of Six Sigma expertise at the executive level of the company. If the top leaders don't understand the advanced six sigma principles, the company has no shot to attain total quality. This will probably require a hefty budget, entailing the hiring of several high-priced consultants for long periods of time. The consultants need to observe and gather data about the companies operations, and show the executives how to interpret the data.

Step 2

Get the staff involved. The ones in the trenches are the most knowledgeable about the day-to-day operations, and the day to day's are where most costs are spent. This means getting people like the shop foreman, the line supervisor, and the office manager involved in the training. Not only do they need to understand the thinking behind six sigma, but they also need to buy into the benefits. Since they're the ones carrying out the orders and directing the vast majority of employees, if the trench-level staff isn't aligned with management, the company is sunk.

Step 3

Measure the data - quantify the number of defects per unit. This applies not only to manufacturing, but to services as well. It's easier to measure defects on an assembly line. You just divide the number of defective units by total output (that's really simplified, but you get the point). Services are more vague.

This is why it is vital to get input from your customers. Ask them how things are going from their perspective. Is there anything they would like to see you improve on that would make their experience more favorable? You're looking to increase overall quality. Nobody knows your faults better than your customers.

Everything must be measured and quantified into actual numerical data. How long does it take the average customer order to ship? What percentage of customers is satisfied with your performance? What is the average employee break time? How long does it take the customer service department to answer the phone? Once enough data is gathered to answer questions like these, the six sigma process and the path to quality improvement can begin.

Step 4

Now you must analyze all of the data that has been collected so far and identify the difference between perfection and your current operating efficiency level. The goal is to constantly close the gap between the two. Again, as stated in Step 2, staff buy-in is extremely important. If management does not show a link between "total quality improvement" and "workplace improvement," then all the data collection will go to waste. The staff will not willingly take the extra steps (which often require harder, more detailed work) if they are not being rewarded. Some companies use bonuses to provide incentive, other companies offer prizes for attaining goals or add employee perks based on improvement levels.

Step 5

Now is the time for improvement. Changes in procedure and operations should have been in place, and more data should be collected to gauge the level of overall quality improvement. Either the hired consultants or an internal team of Six Sigma Black Belts should supervise the data collection. Again, this step will be expensive. Gathering the vast amount of data needed to accurately assess performance takes a great deal of time, resources, and capital. But without proper data and measurement, you will never know if the changes are working or not.

Step 6

After improvement begins, the constant chore of ongoing control must be monitored. Unforeseen variables will arise. Employees may turn over, competitors might introduce new products, your facility may undergo changes, and many other things could happen which will impact the overall quality of your business. Top level Black Belts need to be constantly analyzing data to gauge the impact of any future changes, spot possible trends, and formulate actions to keep on the path of consistent and eternal improvement.

If you're truely interested in the Principles of Six Sigma, take a look at all the news, articles, and education provided at Six Sigma Principles

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