Improving Business Processes with Six Sigma

Developing efficient, cost-effective business processes that ensure the quality of a company’s manufactured product is essential to sustain competitive advantage in the market. Six Sigma is a recognized, widely used methodology for the implementation of improvements in business processes to reduce operating costs and increase profitability.

Six Sigma is a defect-reduction program, born at Motorola from the ideas of Joseph M. Juran and W. Edwards Deming. It consists of applying statistical techniques to the management of business processes with the aim of eliminating defects. Most of the world’s companies operate at the “3 Sigma” level, which equates to 35,000 defects per million operations. A “6-Sigma” company generates only 3.4 defects per million manufactured units.

The implementation of the Six Sigma program is a challenging task that results in important productivity gains.

The implementation of the program has five main steps:

Step 1 – Sensitize and train senior management

Sensitize and train the company’s senior management on the principles and methodologies necessary to prepare the company for the Six Sigma program. Properly sensitized and trained, senior executives guide the development of a management infrastructure to support the program. At the same time, actions are defined to prepare the company and create an environment conducive to innovation and creativity, without which the program will have little chance of success.

Step 2 – Align communication

In this stage systems are developed to establish more effective communication with suppliers, customers, and employees. This includes the development of rigorous methods to obtain and evaluate information about these actors. Studies are also developed to establish the “6 Sigma” threshold and identify possible political, cultural, and organizational obstacles to the program.

Step 3 – Assess training needs

Training needs are accurately assessed. Gaps in understanding are then filled through instruction to ensure that all employees of the company possess adequate levels of verbal and numerical knowledge. Top-down training is provided in improvement tools for systems, techniques, and philosophies.

Step 4 – Develop the continuous improvement framework

At this stage it is essential to develop a structure of continuous process improvement, together with a system of indicators to monitor the performance and evaluate the progress of the program. The measurement of “6 Sigma” includes main processes, strategic goals, and business drivers.

Step 5 – Prioritize processes and develop projects

The business processes that must be improved are chosen by management and employees with knowledge of the process at all levels of the company. Six Sigma projects are driven to improve business performance related to measurable financial results, and this requires knowledge of the company’s gaps. These projects are conducted individually by trained team members, and the teams are led by “Green Belts,” who in turn are supported and assisted by “Black Belts.” The Green Belt is the professional who is actively involved in process improvement projects, usually under the guidance of a Black Belt, who completely masters sustainable process improvement at all levels. They are the leaders and mentors in any process improvement project. 

The implementation of a Six Sigma program is a challenging project; however, the results justify the effort. Several surveys show that companies capable of implementing Six Sigma perform better in most business indicators, including increased sales volume, return on investment, job creation, and increased value of stock market shares.

Is your company ready to deploy Six Sigma?

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