Throughout the history of business, there have been many systems used for process improvement. Process improvement is the methods used to increase overall production in a company. It is used to speed up processes, reduce waste, improve management and supervision, and to make productivity more efficient. Process Improvement is designed to create better customer satisfaction along with invested capital.
One of the more popular quality control methods used today is Six Sigma. The basis for the system is to increase a company’s process improvement. It has both benefits and drawbacks but most companies that successfully use it have seen improvement in areas where Six Sigma has been implemented.
What Is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a quality control process that improves production by finding and removing variables that can cause defects. This removal of defects eliminates waste and helps to lower overall costs associated with production. Six Sigma is used in a variety of industries but is particularly popular among manufacturers.
Six Sigma uses data that is gathered and analyzed. This data can predict variables that hinder the production process. Six Sigma, if implemented properly, will increase quality. When quality rises, so does customer service.
If used with lean manufacturing methods, Six Sigma can also increase on speed and performance. Even small details that offer a chance for process improvement are detected and corrected.
What Is Six Sigma Process Improvement?
Six Sigma process improvement is a continuous cycle and approach to eliminate defects. When we say “continuous cycle”, we mean that it is a constantly ongoing process throughout every level of production. Process improvement is a disciplined way to solve common problems associated with any sort of production or manufacturing.
Originally, there were two main systems for process improvement. One was Six Sigma and the other was lean manufacturing, or just lean. Each had its own methods and principles but eventually the two merged into lean Six Sigma. This new methodology offered the best of each system.
Lean focuses on speed by reducing cycle times and bottlenecking (where there are too many products or services to complete at one time). Six Sigma focuses on identifying and removing of variables that can cause defects. When the two systems are merged, companies can experience much better results.
Six Sigma process improvement is based on facts and is data-driven. By analyzing collected data, employees can make fact-based decision on how to improve company processes. Other systems rely more on guesswork and hunches which can lead to inaccurate decisions that will ultimately hurt the company’s bottom line.
By properly utilizing Six Sigma principles, employees can understand where a problem in production may occur, how and why it occurs, and how to fix it. Six Sigma process improvement tools are not difficult to use but can be expensive to implement. This is why it is so important to correctly identify problems and the best way to eliminate them. Otherwise, you will end up wasting company money and resources.
Six Sigma process improvement can achieve the following:
- Can maintain stable production outcomes
- Achieves higher levels of quality essential for customer satisfaction
- Able to measure workflows and processes of a business so that they can be analyzed and improved upon
- Allows an advantage over competitors only when principles are implemented company-wide
How Does Six Sigma Process Improvement Work?
Six Sigma process improvement involves several stages for it to be effective. The first stage relies on identifying the problem. Employees must figure out what the problem is, why it is occurring, how to fix it, and who is responsible for fixing it. The more the problem is identified and defined, the easier it will be to fix. Factors such as time and cost are taken into consideration.
The second stage to process improvement is to measure a process to see how well it is performing. This is all about understanding how a process works. If you don’t know how it works, you can’t measure it to see how ell it is performing. Some tools to use to do this are process mapping, collecting data, and process outputs versus inputs.
Analyzing statistics is the next stage in the Six Sigma process improvement methodology. When there is a particular problem that keeps occurring and you don’t know why, it is time to analyze it. This is where all that data that has been collected comes in. While collecting data is the responsibility of Six Sigma Green Belts, analyzing it to find a solution falls on Six Sigma Black Belts.
Once the problem in production has been identified and analyzed, it is time for improvements. This involves eliminating the problem in the system to improve it. The solution may be the addition of another process or taking one out completely. The idea is to get the process running smoothly and more efficiently.
Another stage after the process in question has been improved on is to get it back under control. Often this means that new tools must be used to control and monitor a situation to make sure the problem does not occur again. While a team was responsible for fixing the problem, the running of the normal process or production now falls back to the employees who operate it on a daily basis.
Common Problems With Six Sigma Process Improvement
As successful as Six Sigma process improvements normally are, they do have some problems that draw criticism. The problems usually occur in either of two areas: upper management whose job is to monitor the overall Six Sigma principles that are implemented company-wide or the selection of separate improvement projects.
The problems with levels of management involve poor leadership in deploying company strategies using Six Sigma. This also includes little to no support from other departments such as financing, maintenance, or human resources. Sometimes there are poor lines of communication between management and lower Six Sigma levels of employees. Paralysis of a project’s progress can result from these problems.
When it comes to selection of projects, one of the most common problems is that some projects may not be tied closely enough with a company’s goals and objectives. Sometimes a project’s goals are not defined well enough and team members may not understand the best way to improve on the project. Other drawbacks are not enough time to work on projects, poor selection of team members, and too many projects that require too much time and resources to complete.