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Leading with Six Sigma : Understand the Process

Six sigma is a method of quality assurance that helps in managing the variations in a production process that cause defects. It also helps us to methodically develop ways of overcoming those defects. In Six Sigma, a defect is defined as a deviation from the mean target or specification. The aim of six sigma is to attain a high level of performance and reliability.

The process of six sigma was first developed by Bill Smith of Motorola in 1986. It was first defined as a scale for measurement of defects with an aim of improving the quality. Six sigma seeks to reduce the levels of defects in a process below 3.4 defects per million opportunities( DPMO). Six sigma is a registered trademark of Motorola inc. Besides, Motorola, many other companies such as Honeywell International, General Electric etc practice it today.

The name Six Sigma is derived from the Greek alphabet sigma which is used to denote standard deviation in statistics. The number six is derived from the idea that if there are six standard deviations existing between the mean o and the closest specification limit, there will be nothing that exceeds the specifications.

Software Tools used in Six Sigma implementation can be broadly classified into two types. They are 

Analysis tools: These are tools, which, are used in the analysis of statistics and process values. 

Program Management Tools: These were used in the management and monitoring of the six sigma organization.

There are two important methods in Six Sigma. They are DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) and DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify). The DMAIC technique can be used when an existing process needs improvement. DMADV, on the other hand, is used to create new designs of products and process.


The basic technique involved in DMAIC has the following steps

Define: Formal definition of the goals of process improvement in line with the demands of the customer and the strategy of the organization.

Measure: Definition of baseline measurements on the process values of today for comparison in the future. The subject process needs to be mapped and required process data needs to be collected.

Analyze: Verification of the relationship of the factors involved. Ensuring that all the factors that can possible influence the outcome have been considered.

Improve: Optimization of the process depending on analysis.

Control: Pilot runs are initiated. The transition to production is made and then the process is continually measured. Variances are rectified before they can cause defects

The next technique DMADV, consists of the following five steps

Define: Formal definition of the goals of process improvement in line with the demands of the customer and the strategy of the organization.

Measure: Measurement of CTQs (critical to qualities), capability of the production process, risk assessment etc.

Analyze: Development and designing of alternative processes, creation of high quality designs. The design capability is evaluated to identify the best design.

Design: Development of design and its optimization along with a plan to verify the design. This step may involve simulations.

Verify: Design and installation of pilot runs is carried out. This phase involves the implementation of the production process and the handover to the process owners.

For a successful implementation of six sigma, five key roles have been identified. They are:

Executive leadership: This includes the CEO and other important members of the management team. The responsibility for creating a vision for the implementation lies with them. They grant power to other roles in addition to the resources needed for developing improvements.

Champions: They are charged with the implementation of six sigma throughout the organization in a systematic manner.

Master Black Belts: These people are chosen by the Champions. They function as coaches for the organization.

Experts: Experts concern themselves with improving services, products, services etc for their customers, for the employees in the organization and the suppliers.

Black Belts function under the Master Black Belts. They are involved in the application of six sigma methodology to a particular project. Their primary focus is on execution of the project.

Green Belts: These are people who take up their implementation in addition to their job responsibilities. They work under the Black Belts.

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