In any organization, there will always be problems and issues. It’s a part of the overall process of doing work, and so are the responses put in place to address them. This is why many popular improvement methods and systems abound because they are available for any organization that might need them. One of the favored process improvement methods is Six Sigma, a set of procedures developed two decades ago by Motorola.
The Six Sigma initiative is used in many industrial sectors today, aiding various companies in the identification and removal of the root causes of defects in their processes. More specifically in lean manufacturing, Six Sigma helps minimize variability by using a group of quality management methods and tools. When implemented, each Six Sigma project follows a clearly defined order of activity, and at all times, has specific value targets. These targets could be decreasing how long an activity takes, reducing costs, achieving higher customer satisfaction or profits, or waste or pollution elimination.
Selecting the project is the key responsibility of the business’ leadership. As resources need to be used in the most cost-efficient manner, it is important to set priorities on choosing Six Sigma projects, specifically when they are needed for process improvement.
With its unique and specific purpose, the question at hand is: how should an organization select a good Six Sigma project?
The general rule here is if the problem’s solution is known or identified, it cannot be a Six Sigma project. For example, periodic replacement of computers or implementing new safety measures are problems for which responses are already identified. Innovation projects such as the need to improve a product or create a new one would also not need the Six Sigma project. Basically, issues where answers are readily available would not need the Six Sigma approach. For it to be implemented, the solutions should be unknown, unlike in general improvement projects.
Now we come to the selection of a good Six Sigma project – and how to go about the process.
First, the proposed project should provide a direct connection to the organization’s strategic goals. If some ideas cannot be linked to any of these goals, then it’s not going to be a viable project. Expect that many concerns will come out in the open during the selection of projects. The team would, no doubt, put forward their area’s problems and their proposed course of action to get them solved. Remind everyone that projects should be linked strongly and directly to the company goals.
Second, the pitched ideas should have a strong and direct impact on the organization’s objectives. Some suggestions will be within the bounds of the “instant solutions are available” type, or they could be more like innovation projects. While each would have an impact, they could be very specific to one small area of the business. Other suggestions like creating a new product would mean less than actually improving the current product that is doing well in terms of sales. So as it’s likely to happen, there will be a good list of proposals, but each one must come with a specific impact on key business aims, otherwise, they would not qualify as a good Six Sigma project.
Third, the suggested project must be quantifiable. What must be done at this point is to list all critical-to-quality (CTQ) processes and evaluate instances where defects take place. The occurrences should come in statistical measurements, and the organization should agree on what level to attain at addressing the defects. This third criterion will likely come with immediate identification of which tolls to use in measuring defects, solutions and results. As it is, an experienced company statistician or accountant would be very helpful to the team’s discussion.
Fourth, consider the financial contribution of the project once it is completed. It should meet the company or business’ top-line growth or bottom-line profitability. Otherwise, the Six Sigma project proposed could be very costly, but the financial returns would be at a loss. Dig deeper into the other cost benefits, such as having a project that would cut expenses related to accidents, procurement of newer, safer equipment, etc. At the same time, consider that the Six Sigma project will result in a more efficient production process so that it helps boost monetary gains for the company. Hence, it’s important then that the organization chooses a project that could both have a strong impact on savings and profits.
Fifth, and last, consider the advantages it will bring to the pursuit of customer or traffic increase and retention. In the end, the project should satisfy the customers’ ever-changing needs and wants, so it would mean addressing issues related to process, production output, deliveries, etc.
A very good approach for selecting a good Six Sigma project is to brainstorm with the team involved, with the main goal of having a list of potential projects to thoroughly discuss and then rate. The results could then be presented to the executive for their approval, with the team highlighting the highest-rated proposals as the priority Six Sigma project. There should be criteria for selection, and it could be based on the five points mentioned above. At the same time, a scoring system and evaluation of potential projects should also be in place. In scoring, it would be easier and more reliable if each member of the team actually gives a score, instead of trying to achieve a consensus.
As for the team composition, note that there should be a good mix of representatives from all critical aspects of the involved processes. This means each should possess relevant knowledge and be well versed at discussing issues they want resolved. Ideally, those at supervisory and management levels for each important division would be good agents for the brainstorming.