How to Solve Your Problems With Lean Six Sigma (Free DMAIC Checklist)
Elisabeth Swan is the co-author of “The Problem-Solver’s Toolkit” and co-host of “The Just-in-Time Cafe Podcast.” She’s been a process improvement consultant, speaker, and innovator for over 30 years. She’s the Chief Learning Experience Officer for GoLeanSixSigma.com, a former cast member of ImprovBoston, and – if asked – may still be able to ride a unicycle.
Surgeon Atul Gawande made headlines when he told the world that a simple checklist could drastically reduce unnecessary deaths in The Checklist Manifesto .
Yet, checklists conjure images of forklift drivers on loading docks with clipboards counting boxes. How could they transform healthcare?
“ He has… produced a 90-second checklist which reduced deaths and complications by more than one-third in eight hospitals around the world – at virtually no cost and for almost any operation. ” – James Clarke, reviewing The Checklist Manifesto, Ulster Med J. 2011 Jan; 80(1): 54.
Aviation was transformed decades earlier when management and engineers at Boeing Corporation created the pre-flight checklist after the 1935 crash of the prototype Boeing B-17 at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. Checklists have become so essential to the airline industry that most crashes can be traced to the misuse or failure to complete a checklist.
A New York Times reviewer noted, “no matter how expert you may be, well-designed checklists can improve outcomes”. Since the purpose of process improvement is improving outcomes, Lean Six Sigma and checklists are natural companions.
To prove that, this Process Street blog post will show the relationship between checklists and lean six sigma, and provide you with a free DMAIC Improvement Project Tollgate Checklist that you can use right now.
Use the links below to jump to that section of the post:
Lean Six Sigma and the role of problem-solving
Lean six sigma & the checklist, introduction phase, define phase, measure phase, analyze phase, improve phase, control phase, checklists and lean six sigma, use process street to reduce error.
Or, if you just want the checklist, check it out below!
Let’s get started.
For those unfamiliar with Lean Six Sigma and process improvement, it is a structured approach for organizations to scrutinize how things are done, poke at data and processes to uncover waste and then cut out things like extra forms, out-dated approvals and other time-wasting steps.
It’s a customer-focused, 5-step problem-solving model that engages entire workforces to constantly seek a better way of doing things.
Proof of Lean Six Sigma’s influence is evident in today’s hiring practices. A poll by GoLeanSixSigma highlights that hiring managers prefer a person who is “ Green Belt Certified ” – having substantial Lean Six Sigma skills – by an almost 80% margin. In an interview with the former head of Twitter, problem-solving emerged as the top skill sought by today’s most influential hiring managers.
In other words, problem-solving (especially via Lean Six Sigma) is an absolutely vital skill.
If problem-solving is a must-have skill and checklists are key to good outcomes, then combining the two makes sense.
DMAIC – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve & Control – is the 5-Step model for Lean Six Sigma and there’s a set of required tollgates at the end of each phase. These tollgates outline what has to be done in order to move the problem-solving process forward.
Using the tollgates as an outline, we created a dynamic Process Street template that you can use for free and run checklists from to track your progress!
Before you can start solving problems, you need a problem to solve.
Picking a process issue – and finding someone in leadership to support you – are two required tasks in this first tollgate. Scoping the project is important (bigger than a “just-do-it” and smaller than “solving world hunger”) but even more critical is finding a Sponsor.
Finding a Sponsor
In a poll asking Lean Six Sigma practitioners what they considered the biggest obstacle to process improvement success, “Getting Leadership Support” accounted for almost a third.
When we coach team leads who tell us they can’t find someone to back their project, we let them know, “No Sponsor, no project”. If nobody in charge has any skin in the game, there’s no point in attempting the process fix. Find a different project that leadership supports.
One thing that helps when searching for leadership backing is being able to explain what Lean Six Sigma is and why it makes a difference. Since the checklist template is dynamic we inserted a video in the Define Phase within the checklist item, “Enlist a Project Champion/Sponsor who will support you and the project”. The team lead can share the video with managers or directors who they consider Sponsor candidates.
There’s also a Project Selection Guide Template embedded in the checklist so users can take a project idea and put it through a few screening questions. Is it a repeating problem? Is there a way to measure it? The checklist serves as a reminder, a source of templates, supporting videos and other just-in-time guidance.
The next set of tollgate tasks cover the Define Phase of DMAIC. This is where problem-solvers clarify the problem, the process impacted and customers of the process.
There is a journey of discovery during this phase as everyone agrees on the issue to solve. One of the big challenges is the tendency of ambitious team leads—or equally ambitious Sponsors—to try to “shoot the moon.”
Shooting the moon
They might want to reduce cycle time, reduce defects , improve margins, and increase customer satisfaction all by next Tuesday. But a project that focuses on everything accomplishes nothing. It’s okay to measure the cost reduction that results from reducing defects. But pick one of those to be the goal. Success is more possible if you focus on one goal at a time .
It takes practice and discipline to develop a manageable goal statement. Another moon shot is aiming for perfection out of the starting gate. When we see a goal statement that claims the team will, “reduce defects from 25% to 0%” then we know there is a sizable risk of failure and disappointment.
That’s why the Define Phase of the checklist includes a Goal Builder Template along with a blog providing tips on how to create well-crafted goal statements.
The primary focus of the Measure Phase is to baseline the process. If you’re trying to reduce defects, you need to know how you’re doing at that now. What’s your track record? You need to know the baseline of the process in order to measure whether or not you made a difference with your improvement when you get to the Improve Phase.
You need to know the gap, so you can close the gap.
The data’s in the system, somewhere…
One of the issues we run into in this phase is problem solvers assuming that data is sitting in a system somewhere waiting to be accessed. If they simply run a report, they’ll have the baseline. Check that off the list. But that rarely goes according to plan.
Maybe there’s system data, but was it entered with care? Is it reliable? We’ve seen teams struggle to use data that didn’t make sense. They could access cycle time data, but it didn’t take into account that the workday ended at 5:00. I had another team looking at why healthcare invoices had to be manually adjusted. They looked up the defect codes and the biggest category was “Other”. System data existed, but it was useless.
Most of the time, it helps to collect some data manually. In order to think through your approach, you need a Data Collection Plan. That involves listing the data you want and considering things like stratification factors—the “who, what, when, where” of data. If you’re looking at defects, should you collect data on defects by product? Defects by the fields on a form? Defects by customer type?
Within the task: “Develop a Data Collection Plan with Operational Definitions and create Check Sheets as Needed”, we’ve embedded a template (The Data Collection Plan) and a video to guide the process.
You’ll learn a lot by collecting the data firsthand, so if the perfect data set is not magically sitting in the system, it helps to have a plan.
Analyze is the crux of the DMAIC method. This is where learners drill down and discover the root cause of the process problem they’ve been chasing. Once you do that, you can solve the problem for good.
But if you have not determined the root cause then you might be solving a “symptom,” putting a bandaid on the problem or implementing a change based on a hunch. All of this means there’s a high likelihood the problem will remain and the efforts will have been in vain.
Finding the smoking gun
If you’ve always been told, “don’t bring me a problem, bring me a solution,” that’s an encouragement to jump right past this step into the fun of solutions. I’ve seen teams go with their assumptions regardless of what the data says or the process analysis reveals. I’ve seen Sponsors who tell teams what solutions they want to be implemented right from the get-go.
How do you stick with analysis long enough to find the smoking gun? The trick is to keep collecting the clues in the Cause & Effect Diagram , aka The “Fishbone Diagram”. It’s an aptly named tool, popularized by Dr. Ishikawa , which resembles a fish skeleton. Its construction allows teams to develop root cause theories around a problem as they build their knowledge of the process.
Each time they collect data, interview process participants on a Gemba Walk or map the process steps, they uncover potential reasons for defects. Making the most of the Fishbone Diagram is key but, during a poll, users reported where they fell short.
Solutions masquerading as problems
Over a third of respondents reported the issues of “listing solutions” on the Fishbone instead of causes. What we hear are phrases like, “the root cause is a lack of training”.
The problem with “lack of” anything is that it’s a sneaky way of putting a solution on the Fishbone.
The question is, “what is the training addressing?” Is it lack of user knowledge? If that’s the problem, could it be solved with helpful visuals, a simpler process? There are a lot of ways to address user knowledge before jumping to more employee training.
This is when you want to behave like the persistent detective – think Columbo, the classic 70’s TV icon. Every question helps you accumulate clues. People working through the process may have the answer without knowing it. The trick is to keep looking upstream until you find potential culprits. Dig past the symptoms.
To help with this phase, the checklist includes both a Fishbone Diagram Template as well as a video on how to get the most out of the Fishbone.
The Improve Phase is a long-anticipated step in the journey. It’s the step teams generally want to jump to from the start. Testing countermeasures, piloting solutions, watching the problem disappear, that’s the fun of process improvement. If you’ve done a proper job of Define, Measure, and Analyze, this phase falls nicely into place.
The ripple effect
The catch? Unintended consequences.
If you toss a stone into a lake you can see the ripples flow out from the center. The same principle holds true for process change. If you remove a step, change a form, skip an approval , will things fall apart? For that, we look to the Failure Modes & Effects Analysis or FMEA for short.
It’s a methodical way of assessing the potential for things to go wrong. It Involves deciding the potential severity and frequency of future problems and then mistake-proofing the process to prevent them. The technique originated at NASA since they couldn’t risk trial and error when sending men to the moon. By thinking through the risks of change they developed the kind of contingency plans you saw on display in movies like Apollo 13.
That’s why there’s an FMEA Template and a video on how to use it tucked into the main checklist from this post.
It’s okay to make changes. It’s simply key to think through the impact of those changes on other parts of the business.
Process Improvement can happen quickly and have a dramatic impact, but it’s critical to “stick the landing.” The Control Phase exists to see the improvement through to stability.
If teams move on and everyone takes their eyes off the ball, things may start to slip. What they need is the ability to continuously see the performance of the new process.
Sticking the landing
Have you ever tried to watch a game without a scoreboard? How would you know who was winning? Or how much time was left?
It’s the same with process work.
How does your team know how they’re doing? How do you stay aware of how the new process is performing?
By making the data visible.
Keeping an eye on Process Performance can be done with a single metric — you need to focus on one thing. If the goal was to reduce defects, then the single metric would be tracking the daily percentage of defects. A great way to measure success is with a Control Chart.
Control Charts are time charts. You might know them as Line Charts or Run Charts. They include a measure of variation so they are often referred to as “Run Charts that went to college”. They can be created in Excel , but they can also be drawn by hand.
Teams often set up whiteboards in the shared workspace to track things like defects. People can rotate responsibility for updating the chart. If people can see the measure and are responsible for it—they pay attention to it. What gets measured gets managed.
The Control Chart Template is embedded in the checklist for the Control Phase.
Process Improvement is a mainstay of Operational Excellence and checklists are simple but effective ways to make sure you get the outcomes you want. The following quote comes from the interim CEO/President of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence ( AME ).
“ I am a big fan of checklists for ensuring quality at the source. They serve an important purpose in reminding us of all that’s needed in a particular process or project. Without checklists, we risk missing or overlooking something by mistake. Checklists work best when ticking off items as they are completed, not en masse once the entire project is done. The key point is to use and follow them, not “pencil-whip” them from memory after the fact. While not foolproof, checklists can help us cover the details and result in more thorough, successful improvement efforts. ” – Jerry Wright , President, AME
Checklists have transformed healthcare, aviation, and countless other industries. Run this Process Street DMAIC Tollgate Checklist and make sure your next improvement effort gets great results.
Process Street is a powerful piece of workflow software that lets you crush the human error in your organization.
By creating process templates (like the free DMAIC checklist in this post) you can give your whole team a central location for them to see what they have to do, and how exactly they should do it.
No more confusion, no more errors.
Take advantage of our powerful feature set to create superpowered checklists, including:
- Form fields
- Conditional logic
- Variable user permission levels
- Exporting and printing templates
- And much, much more!
Check out our intro webinar to see the app in action!
Stop leaving the success of your processes up to chance. Get started with a free trial of Process Street today!
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Ben Mulholland is an Editor at Process Street , and winds down with a casual article or two on Mulholland Writing . Find him on Twitter here .
Thanks for sharing this great information.
Glad you enjoyed it Marcos
Lean six sigma is the technique to solve problems but if you have a problem related to your branding what will you do with that?
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Lean Six Sigma: Step by Step (DMAIC Infographic)
Lean Six Sigma is simply a process for solving a problem. It consists of five phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, & Control. This process is also known as DMAIC (“duh-may-ik”), its acronym. DMAIC is a five-step method for improving existing process problems with unknown causes.
Phase 1: define.
Define the problem. What problem would you like to fix? The Define Phase is the first phase of the Lean Six Sigma improvement process. In this phase the project team creates a Project Charter, a high-level map of the process and begins to understand the needs of the customers of the process. This is a critical phase in which the team outlines the project focus for themselves and the leadership of the organization.
- Define the Problem by Developing a “Problem Statement”
- Define the Goal by Developing a “Goal Statement”
- Define the Process by Developing Process Maps
- Define the Customer and Their Requirements
- Inform Others of Project Progress
Phase 2: Measure
Quantify the problem. How does the process currently perform? Or in other words, what is the magnitude of the problem? Measurement is critical throughout the life of the project. As the team starts collecting data they focus on both the process as well as measuring what customers care about. That means initially there are two focuses: reducing lead time or improving quality. In the Measure Phase, the team refines the measurement definitions and determines the current performance or the baseline of the process.
- Determine How the Process Currently Performs
- Create a Plan to Collect the Data
- Ensure the Data is Reliable
- Gather the Baseline Data
- Update Your Project Charter
Phase 3: Analyze
Identify the cause of the problem. What is causing the problem? The Analyze Phase is often not given enough attention and, without analysis, teams jump to solutions before knowing the true root causes of the issues. The result is teams who implement solutions but don’t resolve the problem! These efforts waste time, consume resources, create more variation and, often cause new problems. The ideal is for teams to brainstorm potential root causes (not solutions), develop hypotheses as to why problems exist and then work to prove or disprove their hypotheses. Verification includes both process analysis and data analysis and has to be completed before implementing solutions. This is the crux of the Analyze Phase!
- Closely Examine the Process
- Graphically Display the Data
- Look for What Might be Causing the Problem
- Verify the Cause(s) of the Problem
Phase 4: Improve
Implement and verify the solution. How will the team mitigate the root causes of the problem? Once the project teams have determined the root causes it’s time to develop solutions. The Improve Phase is where the team brainstorms solutions, pilots process changes, implements solutions and lastly, collects data to confirm there is measurable improvement. A structured improvement effort can lead to innovative and elegant solutions that improve the baseline measure and, ultimately, the customer experience.
- Brainstorm Solutions That Might Fix the Problem
- Select the Practical Solutions
- Develop Maps of Processes Based on Different Solutions
- Select the Best Solution(s)
- Implement the Solution(s)
- Measure to Ensure Improvement
Phase 5: Control
Maintain the solution. How do you sustain the improvement? Now that the process problem is fixed and improvements are in place, the team must ensure that the process maintains the gains. In the Control Phase the team is focused on creating a Monitoring Plan to continue measuring the success of the updated process and developing a Response Plan in case there is a dip in performance. Once in place, the team hands these plans off to the Process Owner for ongoing maintenance.
- Ensure the Process Is Properly Managed and Monitored
- Document the Improved Process
- Apply Improvements to Other Areas
- Share and Celebrate Your Success
- Continuously Improve the Process Using Lean Principles
Start Your Free Training
Check out our free yellow belt training to start your improvement journey today, what’s next.
- Free Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt Training
- Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Training & Certification
- What Is Lean Six Sigma?
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Everything You Need to Know About Six Sigma Certifications: A U.S. News Guide
Earning a six sigma certification can boost your problem-solving skills..
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The Six Sigma methodology uses data to improve processes and performance in a range of industries.
According to Lee Campe, president and owner of consulting service Performance Excellence Inc., this methodology is primarily “about solving problems by: 1. Proving they exist, 2. Identifying the root cause and 3. Making them stay fixed.”
Six Sigma-certified professionals can use statistical analysis to increase efficiency and reduce waste. Consequently, this methodology can save organizations money, improve morale and performance, and elevate product quality.
Here’s a closer look at what Six Sigma is and what certifications you can earn.
Six Sigma Overview
Six Sigma, which Motorola created in the 1980s and General Electric adopted in the 1990s, refers to the bell curve in statistics. One standard deviation from the mean, or the highest part of the bell curve, is known as “sigma.” If a process falls within three standard deviations above or below the mean, the defect rates are low. Those standard deviations add up to six, or six sigmas, of acceptable defect rates.
While Six Sigma was originally developed to find process variations, or inconsistencies, such as wear and tear on a machine that affects product quality, Six Sigma users learned that the methodology could also apply to improving areas like profitability.
Certification holders, for example, can collect data, such as the number of system outages or errors in a newscast. Other Six Sigma projects can include trying to reduce transportation costs or customer complaints or even correcting mistakes in payroll processes.
“Whether needing to improve business processes to better serve customer needs, address an issue impacting the morale of the workforce or reduce costs, Lean Six Sigma tools and methods can be applied,” says Mike Ungar, executive coach with business coaching provider FocalPoint and former competency manager for progress profession at Michelin.
What to Know About DMAIC and DMADV
DMAIC and DMADV are different strategies for tackling projects under the Six Sigma philosophy. They’re the “backbones of Lean Six Sigma,” Ungar says. “They are a systematic approach to problem-solving and design.”
DMAIC is an acronym for define, measure, analyze, improve and control. “In a DMAIC problem, there is an existing process in which to implement the identified improvements and then measure the results,” Ungar explains.
Meanwhile, DMADV stands for define, measure, analyze, design and verify. “In a DMADV problem, the process does not exist, so the new process is designed and trialed and verified to ensure it meets the objectives of the project,” Ungar says.
Lean Six Sigma Certification
Lean Six Sigma combines the Six Sigma and Lean methodologies. Traditionally, Six Sigma calls on black belt engineers to use statistics to find solutions to process problems, Ungar says. The Lean philosophy, on the other hand, emphasizes teams working together to find ways to reduce waste in a particular process.
Some certifying organizations consider Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma interchangeable terms. Others might have separate Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma belt certification tracks. The Council for Six Sigma Certification, for example, recommends Six Sigma training for “most people” and Lean Six Sigma for military and public sector employees.
If you’re considering between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma certifications, research the course content to decide which is best for you.
Six Sigma Certification Levels
Six Sigma certification is divided into six levels, each indicating a professional’s skills, experience, knowledge of Six Sigma principles and role in a project. The levels, which correspond to martial arts belts, start with white and advance to master black belt. There are no prerequisites, except for the master black belt, so you can start at whichever level feels best suited to your background.
Six Sigma White Belt
The white belt focuses on the fundamentals of the Six Sigma approach. White belts come to understand team members’ roles and how those members can improve a company’s efficiency. They learn about the DMAIC process and related tools and typically concentrate on waste reduction.
Depending on the program, this level may require up to eight hours of classes and an exam.
Six Sigma Yellow Belt
The Six Sigma yellow belt builds on the basics of the white belt. Yellow belts understand how to use Six Sigma in their workplaces, and they may work to improve processes or create process maps, which outline parameters and necessary steps in a process.
They also understand the principles behind information collection. Yellow belts may be subject matter experts, and while they may not lead a team, they can play a supporting role to green or black belt project leaders.
The yellow belt requires more of a time investment than the white belt, and courses average around 20 hours, plus an exam.
Six Sigma Green Belt
The Six Sigma green belt is designed for professionals charged with creating, identifying or improving processes. They master the ins-and-outs of not only Lean Six Sigma principles but also DMAIC, and they can lead teams on smaller-scale projects or assist black belt leaders.
Green belts’ projects may focus on quality improvement, such as preventing errors, reducing waste, and collecting and analyzing data. They may dedicate 25% to 50% of their time to Six Sigma projects.
This level of certification, which can require two to five weeks of courses and an exam, may be a good choice for midlevel managers or professionals who work in fields such as quality assurance, project management , financial management, structural or manufacturing engineering, or health care administration.
Six Sigma Black Belt
Unlike green belts, Six Sigma black belts are experts, capable of leading or training teams of green, yellow or white belts. For these leaders, managing Six Sigma projects is their full-time job. They may lead complicated projects, including organizationwide modifications and efforts to improve quality, productivity and revenue.
Black belts also need a thorough understanding of statistical analysis and process improvement. In addition, because their responsibilities extend to mentorship and assigning roles to team members, they should have top-notch leadership and people skills.
Six Sigma black belt certification training tends to last at least four weeks, according to Campe. The third and fourth weeks focus on organization-specific information and projects. Some programs, however, offer up to 16 weeks of training. Black belts also need to take an exam.
Looking for more course options?
Six Sigma Master Black Belt
At the top of the Six Sigma hierarchy, a master black belt mentors Six Sigma project team members and black and green belts. Master black belts, who must have at least five years of Six Sigma black belt experience, are also typically viewed as internal consultants; they solve problems and provide guidance on technological issues.
Master black belts guide strategy, identify projects, and communicate with senior or executive-level employees. They also teach Lean Six Sigma principles to others and may develop or update training information.
Depending on the program, you could earn a master black belt certification in about seven weeks. You also need to take an exam.
Why Six Sigma Certification?
Becoming Six Sigma-certified gives you tools to tackle complex problems in many industries. According to Campe, learning about Lean Six Sigma, and DMAIC in particular, prepares you to take on three roles: detective, doctor and mechanic. You can investigate, diagnose and fix problems.
Employees with these skills can initiate and complete projects that not only improve quality and efficiency but also affect the bottom line.
Six Sigma Certification for Employees
Problem-solving, Ungar says, is a learned skill, and Lean Six Sigma green and black belt certification programs can teach you how to effectively solve problems.
If your company values Six Sigma, earning a certification and applying Six Sigma principles can raise your profile. Professionals who can show tangible results from their projects may attract the attention of leadership, Campe says. You may also develop extensive knowledge about your organization, and you could build a reputation as an expert.
Six Sigma Certification for Enterprises
Lean Six Sigma certification has two main benefits for organizations, according to Ungar: The methodology aims to create a “culture of continuous improvement” and offers design and process tools that can help an organization achieve better results.
As a tool for maximizing efficiency and quality, the Six Sigma methodology can also give companies an edge. In a case study by ASQ – which provides Six Sigma-related training, certification and resources – Crown Equipment Corp. saved more than $1 million after combining Six Sigma and Lean techniques. The company’s savings offset the cost of training a dozen green belts.
Six Sigma Certification FAQs
Six sigma certification costs.
The cost for Six Sigma certifications depends on which organization you’re certified through, whether you receive training or complete a project before taking an exam, and the belt level.
White belt certification, for example, can be free or, with training, may cost up to $599. Yellow belt certification can range from $99 to $1,099. Those pursuing green belts can pay just over $150 for the primary certification or $450 with the addition of a project. You can also take coursework for up to 10 weeks and pay between $2,200 and $3,200.
Lean Six Sigma black belt and master black belt certifications can require more time or money. Black belt certification options vary based on the requirements of the body providing the exam, training and project but may cost as little as $229 for the primary certification. Some black belt certifications, however, can cost a few thousand dollars, with a peak of around $7,900.
Master black belt certifications range between $650 and about $5,000.
Six Sigma Certified Professionals’ Salaries
Salaries for professionals with a Lean Six Sigma certification may increase based on the belt level. According to The Council for Six Sigma Certification , white belts earn an average annual salary of $42,000 while the average master black belt might earn as much as $135,000.
Is Certification Worth It?
To decide whether a Six Sigma belt is worth pursuing, you should think about whether your industry values this type of certification and whether the skills you’d learn would benefit you in your career.
If you’re thinking about this certification and others, such as the Project Management Professional certification, consider your end goal. A Six Sigma certification indicates that you can use data to solve problems, smooth out defects in processes and reduce waste. A PMP certification , on the other hand, gives you tools to work under a set deadline with a goal of successfully implementing and completing a project.
As you’re evaluating certifications providers, Campe advises looking at the strength of the brand, instructor and curriculum.
Also consider completing a project as part of your certification. Whether a project is personal – Campe uses weight loss as an example – or professional, it could be an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to apply Lean Six Sigma principles. These projects can showcase your leadership and analytical skills, the techniques you’ve mastered, and how you articulate potential financial benefits.
Will These Certifications Help Me Get a Job?
Regardless of your field, having problem-solving skills that apply to areas such as quality improvement may be valuable. You can use data to articulate why a solution is needed and speak in cost-benefit terms. Some fields now expect their existing or potential employees to have this certification, experts say.
Job applicants without Six Sigma on their resumes can seek certification once they’re hired. According to Campe, research has indicated that 85% of Lean Six Sigma certification happens through employers. The remaining 15% is provided by universities and online services.
If you decide certification is the right choice for you, Ungar recommends pursuing certification in school, going through your employer as a second choice or a credible public program while you’re employed as a third option.
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Reviewed and fact-checked by Sayantoni Das
The term "Six Sigma" refers to a statistical measure of how far a process deviates from perfection. A process that operates at six sigma has a failure rate of only 0.00034%, which means it produces virtually no defects. Six Sigma was developed by Motorola in the 1980s, and it has since been adopted by many other companies around the world, including General Electric, Toyota, and Amazon. It is used in industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, finance, and service industries to improve customer satisfaction, reduce costs, and increase profits.
Check out this video to know more about Six Sigma:
What is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a set of methodologies and tools used to improve business processes by reducing defects and errors, minimizing variation, and increasing quality and efficiency. The goal of Six Sigma is to achieve a level of quality that is nearly perfect, with only 3.4 defects per million opportunities. This is achieved by using a structured approach called DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) to identify and eliminate causes of variation and improve processes.
Six Sigma is a disciplined and data-driven approach widely used in project management to achieve process improvement and minimize defects. It provides a systematic framework to identify and eliminate variations that can impact project performance.
The etymology is based on the Greek symbol "sigma" or "σ," a statistical term for measuring process deviation from the process mean or target. "Six Sigma" comes from the bell curve used in statistics, where one Sigma symbolizes a single standard deviation from the mean. If the process has six Sigmas, three above and three below the mean, the defect rate is classified as "extremely low."
The graph of the normal distribution below underscores the statistical assumptions of the Six Sigma model . The higher the standard deviation, the higher is the spread of values encountered. So, processes, where the mean is minimum 6σ away from the closest specification limit, are aimed at Six Sigma.
Credit: Cmglee , via Wiki Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Operations Manager or Auditor? Your Choice
What Is Lean Six Sigma?
Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that combines two powerful process improvement techniques: Lean and Six Sigma.
Lean focuses on minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency by identifying and eliminating non-value-adding activities. This involves streamlining processes, reducing defects, improving quality, and optimizing resources to deliver more value with less effort.
On the other hand, Six Sigma is a statistical approach to process improvement that aims to reduce variation and defects by using data-driven decision making. It involves defining, measuring, analyzing, improving, and controlling processes to achieve consistent and predictable results.
By combining the strengths of these two methodologies, Lean Six Sigma provides a comprehensive approach to process improvement that can be applied to any industry or sector. It is widely used in manufacturing, healthcare, finance, and service industries to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and enhance customer satisfaction.
The 5 Key Principles of Six Sigma
The concept of Six Sigma has a simple goal – delivering near-perfect goods and services for business transformation for optimal customer satisfaction (CX).
Goals are achieved through a two-pronged approach:
Six Sigma has its foundations in five key principles:
Focus on the Customer
Measure the value stream and find your problem, learn six sigma and get upto usd 114600 pa.
Get Rid of the Junk
Keep the ball rolling, ensure a flexible and responsive ecosystem.
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The Six Sigma Methodology
The two main Six Sigma methodologies are DMAIC and DMADV. Each has its own set of recommended procedures to be implemented for business transformation.
DMAIC is a data-driven method used to improve existing products or services for better customer satisfaction. It is the acronym for the five phases: D – Define, M – Measure, A – Analyse, I – Improve, C – Control. DMAIC is applied in the manufacturing of a product or delivery of a service.
DMADV is a part of the Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) process used to design or re-design different processes of product manufacturing or service delivery. The five phases of DMADV are: D – Define, M – Measure, A – Analyse, D – Design, V – Validate. DMADV is employed when existing processes do not meet customer conditions, even after optimization, or when it is required to develop new methods. It is executed by Six Sigma Green Belts and Six Sigma Black Belts and under the supervision of Six Sigma Master Black Belts. We'll get to the belts later.
The two methodologies are used in different business settings, and professionals seeking to master these methods and application scenarios would do well to take an online certificate program taught by industry experts.
The Six Sigma Process of Business Transformation
Although what is Six Sigma uses various methods to discover deviations and solve problems, the DMAIC is the standard methodology used by Six Sigma practitioners. Six Sigma uses a data-driven management process used for optimizing and improving business processes. The underlying framework is a strong customer focus and robust use of data and statistics to conclude.
The Six Sigma Process of the DMAIC method has five phases:
Each of the above phases of business transformation has several steps:
Six Sigma Techniques
The Six Sigma methodology also uses a mix of statistical and data analysis tools such as process mapping and design and proven qualitative and quantitative techniques, to achieve the desired outcome.
Fig: Key Six Sigma Techniques in use
Brainstorming is the key process of any problem-solving method and is often utilized in the "improve" phase of the DMAIC methodology. It is a necessary process before anyone starts using any tools. Brainstorming involves bouncing ideas and generating creative ways to approach a problem through intensive freewheeling group discussions. A facilitator, who is typically the lead Black Belt or Green Belt, moderates the open session among a group of participants.
Root Cause Analysis/The 5 Whys
This technique helps to get to the root cause of the problems under consideration and is used in the "analyze" phase of the DMAIC cycle.
In the 5 Whys technique, the question "why" is asked, again and again, finally leading up to the core issue. Although "five" is a rule of thumb, the actual number of questions can be greater or fewer, whatever it takes to gain clarity.
Voice of the Customer
This is the process used to capture the "voice of the customer" or customer feedback by either internal or external means. The technique is aimed at giving the customer the best products and services. It captures the changing needs of the customer through direct and indirect methods. The voice of the customer technique is used in the "define' phase of the DMAIC method, usually to further define the problem to be addressed.
The 5S System
This technique has its roots in the Japanese principle of workplace energies. The 5S System is aimed at removing waste and eliminating bottlenecks from inefficient tools, equipment, or resources in the workplace. The five steps used are Seiri (Sort), Seiton (Set In Order), Seiso (Shine), Seiketsu (Standardize), and Shitsuke (Sustain).
Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)
The Kaizen technique is a powerful strategy that powers a continuous engine for business improvement. It is the practice continuously monitoring, identifying, and executing improvements. This is a particularly useful practice for the manufacturing sector. Collective and ongoing improvements ensure a reduction in waste, as well as immediate change whenever the smallest inefficiency is observed.
Benchmarking is the technique that employs a set standard of measurement. It involves making comparisons with other businesses to gain an independent appraisal of the given situation. Benchmarking may involve comparing important processes or departments within a business (internal benchmarking), comparing similar work areas or functions with industry leaders (functional benchmarking), or comparing similar products and services with that of competitors (competitive benchmarking).
Poka-yoke (Mistake Proofing)
This technique's name comes from the Japanese phrase meaning "to avoid errors," and entails preventing the chance of mistakes from occurring. In the poka-yoke technique, employees spot and remove inefficiencies and human errors during the manufacturing process.
Value Stream Mapping
The value stream mapping technique charts the current flow of materials and information to design a future project. The objective is to remove waste and inefficiencies in the value stream and create leaner operations. It identifies seven different types of waste and three types of waste removal operations.
The Six Sigma Tools
- Cause and Effect Analysis
- Pareto Chart
- Check Sheet
- Scatter Plot
- Control Chart
Six Sigma Levels
The Six Sigma training levels conform to specified training requirements, education criteria, job standards, and eligibility.
This is the simplest stage, where:
- Any newcomer can join.
- People work with teams on problem-solving projects.
- The participant is required to understand the basic Six Sigma concepts.
Here, the participant:
- Takes part as a project team member.
- Reviews process improvements.
- Gains understanding of the various methodologies, and DMAIC.
This level of expertise requires the following criteria:
- Minimum of three years of full-time employment.
- Understand the tools and methodologies used for problem-solving.
- Hands-on experience on projects involving some level of business transformation.
- Guidance for Black Belt projects in data collection and analysis.
- Lead Green Belt projects or teams.
This level includes the following:
- Minimum of three years of full-time employment
- Work experience in a core knowledge area
- Proof of completion of a minimum of two Six Sigma projects
- Demonstration of expertise at applying multivariate metrics to diverse business change settings
- Leading diverse teams in problem-solving projects.
- Training and coaching project teams.
Master Black Belt
To reach this level, a candidate must:
- Be in possession of a Black Belt certification
- Have a minimum of five years of full-time employment, or Proof of completion of a minimum of 10 Six Sigma projects
- A proven work portfolio, with individual specific requirements, as given here , for instance.
- Have coached and trained Green Belts and Black Belts.
- Develop key metrics and strategies.
- Have worked as an organization's Six Sigma technologist and internal business transformation advisor.
Fig: The five-tiered levels of Six Sigma Certification
What are the Six Sigma Career Choices and Salary Prospects?
Six Sigma is widely adopted by many industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, finance, and retail, and offers a range of career opportunities with attractive salary prospects. Here are some career choices and salary prospects in Six Sigma:
- Six Sigma Consultant: A Six Sigma consultant advises organizations on process improvements, identifies areas for cost savings, and develops strategies for implementation. The average salary for a Six Sigma consultant is around $96,000 per year.
- Six Sigma Project Manager: A Six Sigma project manager oversees Six Sigma projects, manages project teams, and ensures successful implementation of process improvements. The average salary for a Six Sigma project manager is around $107,000 per year.
- Six Sigma Black Belt : A Six Sigma Black Belt is responsible for leading Six Sigma projects, training team members, and ensuring sustained process improvements. The average salary is around $110,000 per year.
- Six Sigma Master Black Belt: It is the highest level of Six Sigma certification and is responsible for leading organizational Six Sigma initiatives, coaching and mentoring Six Sigma Black Belts and Green Belts, and driving business transformation. The average salary for a Six Sigma Master Black Belt is around $140,000 per year.
- Quality Manager: A Quality Manager ensures that an organization's products or services meet customer expectations, industry standards, and regulatory requirements. Six Sigma certification can be valuable for this role, and the average salary for a Quality Manager is around $91,000 per year.
Overall, Six Sigma offers various career opportunities with competitive salary prospects. Individuals with Six Sigma certification can expect higher salaries and better job prospects than those without certification.
Six Sigma Learning Resources
So whether you are a graduate in any stream, an engineer, or an MBA professional, if you want to enhance your career prospects and salary gains, then make sure to get certified in Six Sigma courses. Begin with a Green Belt and climb your way up to Master Black belt to command your salary. As a fresher, you can start learning Six Sigma principles by enrolling into Simplilearn's Green Belt certificate program , and then avail the higher certificate levels as you gain work and project experience.
1. How Can You Get Six Sigma Certification?
Understanding the Management Philosophy of Your Organization, selecting between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma, determining which Level Suits You, learning about the Tests Associated with it, Enrolling in a Training Course, and obtaining Your Certification are the steps to obtaining Six Sigma Certification.
2. What Does Six Sigma Mean?
Six Sigma is a quality improvement methodology for businesses that counts the number of flaws in a process and aims to systematically fix them. Businesses utilize it to get rid of flaws and enhance any of their procedures in an effort to increase earnings.
3. What Is the Difference Between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma?
Lean and Six Sigma vary primarily in that Lean frequently affects all aspects of an organization rather than being solely focused on production. These two strategies are combined by Lean Six Sigma to produce a potent toolkit for dealing with waste reduction.
4. What Are the Steps of Six Sigma?
Six Sigma's five steps adhere to a methodology known to business insiders as DMAIC. The words "define, measure, analyze, enhance, and control" are all spelled out in this acronym.
5. What is Lean Six Sigma?
Lean Six Sigma is a method for improving performance by systematically removing waste and reducing variation that relies on a collaborative team effort. Increased performance and decreased process variation contribute to defect reduction and improvements in profits, employee morale, and product or service quality.
6. What is continuous improvement?
Continuous improvement (also known as "rapid improvement") is a Lean improvement technique that aids in workflow optimization. The Lean method of working allows for efficient workflows that save time and money, allowing you to cut down on wasted time and effort.
7. What is Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt?
A Certified Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt from the Council for Six Sigma Certification (CSSC) is someone who has a basic understanding of Six Sigma but does not lead projects on their own. They are frequently in charge of creating process maps to support Six Sigma projects.
8. What is Lean Six Sigma Green Belt?
Six Sigma Green Belt is a certification course that provides you with hands-on experience with over 100 tools and techniques. These techniques are required for participation in DMAIC improvement projects. DMAIC is an acronym that stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.
9. What is Lean Six Sigma Black Belt?
A Lean Six Sigma Black Belt has a thorough understanding of all aspects of the Lean Six Sigma Method, including a high level of competence in the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC) phases as defined by the IASSC.
10. What are the Five Key Six Sigma Principles?
The success of Six Sigma relies on five fundamental principles:Customer Focus, Data-Driven Analysis, Proactive Improvement, Cross-Functional Collaboration, and Thoroughness and Flexibility.
11. What are Six Sigma steps?
The Six Sigma Methodology consists of five stages driven by data — Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (DMAIC).
12. What is Six Sigma with an example?
Six Sigma is a data-driven methodology used to improve processes by minimizing defects and variations. For example, a manufacturing company may use Six Sigma to reduce the number of defective products produced by optimizing their production process.
13. What are Six Sigma tools?
14. what is the six sigma formula.
Utilizing the equation Y = f(x) aids in identifying cause and effect relationships within a project, enabling performance measurement and the discovery of areas for enhancement.
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About the author.
Pankaj Kumar is an Associate Product Manager at Simplilearn, with 5+ years of experience. He is a transformation leader with rich experience in Project Management, Account Management, Business Development and Product Management.
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Six Sigma: The Definitive Guide
What is Six Sigma
Six Sigma (6σ, 6 sigma) is a data-driven and customer-focused approach to improving the quality and efficiency of business processes. It aims to reduce variation and defects in products or services and to achieve near-perfection in meeting customer expectations.
Six Sigma was developed by Motorola in the 1980s and popularized by General Electric in the 1990s. Since then, it has been adopted by many organizations across various sectors and domains.
The overarching premise of Six Sigma is that variation in a process leads to opportunities for error which then leads to risks for product defects. Product defects, whether in a tangible process or a service, lead to poor customer satisfaction. By working to reduce variation and opportunities for error, the Six Sigma method aims to reduce process costs and increase customer satisfaction.
When applied to business processes, Six Sigma allows companies to drastically improve their bottom line by designing and monitoring everyday business activities in ways that minimize waste and resources while increasing customer satisfaction.
Six Sigma and Statistics
At the most basic definition, Six Sigma is a statistical representation of what many experts call a “perfect” process. 
Technically, in a Six Sigma process, there are only 3.4 defects per million opportunities. In percentage terms, it implies that 99.99966 percent of the products from a Six Sigma process are without defects.
Six Sigma is both a methodology for process improvement and a statistical concept
that seeks to define the variation inherent in any process.
Importance of Six Sigma
According to the ATO Fact Book, the US Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic management system handled a total of 15,416,640 flights in FY2022.  The table below shows the defect occurrence per million for various σ levels:
Based on a 5σ air traffic control process, errors of some type would have occurred in the process of handling approximately 3,592 flights in FY2022. With a 6σ process, that risk drops to 52.42 errors!
While most people accept a 99.9 percent (5σ) accuracy rate in even the most critical services on a daily basis, the above examples highlight how wide the gap between Six Sigma and Five Sigma really is.
For organizations, it’s not just about the error rate, it’s also about the costs associated with each error.
Consider the example of Amazon which shipped an estimated 7.7 billion packages globally in 2021 amounting to about $470 billion in sales.  If each erroneous order costs the company an average of $20 (a very conservative number), the cost of error for Amazon at various Sigma levels is as below:
The cost difference between a 5σ (99.99% accuracy) and a 6σ would mean over $35 million in annual savings for Amazon. From the above table, it is also evident how a drop in sigma level exponentially increases the cost a company incurs.
Origin of Six Sigma
The roots of statistical process control (SPC), which provide a backbone for Six Sigma methods, began with the development of the normal curve by Carl Friedrich Gauss  in the 19th century.
In the early part of the 20th century, SPC received another big boost due to several contributions from Walter Shewhart  , an engineer and scholar. Among his numerous contributions, two specifically stand out when speaking of Six Sigma:
First, Shewhart closely related sigma level and quality and showed that three sigma from the mean is the point where a process requires correction. Second, he introduced Control charts, which are a critical component of SPC that lets organizations maintain improved performance after a Six Sigma initiative.
During the same time, W. Edwards Deming  introduced the Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle (PDCA) that stressed the importance of continuous improvement – a core tenet of Six Sigma.
Following World War II, Deming worked as a consultant to Japanese manufacturing companies and planted the ideas and concepts that would soon become the Toyota Production System or Lean Six Sigma.
In the 1980s, Bill Smith  moved to Motorola as the company was intensifying its quality initiatives to catch up with Japanese competitors. Bill had been brought in to share Japanese quality methods that he had learned while in the country with Motorola.
It was there that Bill Smith along with Mikel Harry  invented the Six Sigma improvement methodology, sharing the concept and theory with the CEO and going on to develop it thereafter.
Motorola registered Six Sigma as a service mark  in 1991, and as a trademark in 1993.  Six Sigma helped the company realize powerful bottom-line results. Motorola claims to have achieved more than $16 Billion in savings because of its Six Sigma efforts. 
Since then, companies as diverse as Allied Signal (now Honeywell), General Electric, Sony, Honda, Maytag, Raytheon, Texas Instruments, Bombardier, Canon, Hitachi, Lockheed Martin, and Polaroid have all adopted Six Sigma.
America’s greatest business leaders such as Larry Bossidy of Allied Signal, and Jack Welch of General Electric Company have praised Six Sigma. General Electric’s implementation of Six Sigma which took five years, reportedly resulted in $12 billion savings. 
Common Six Sigma principles
Organizations can impact their Sigma level by integrating the core principles of Six Sigma into leadership styles, process management, and improvement endeavors. These core principles are: 
Customer Focused improvement
Companies launching Six Sigma are often shocked to find out how little they understand about their customers. In Six Sigma, customer focus becomes the top priority. The measures of Six Sigma performance begin with the customer with improvements defined by their impact on customer satisfaction and value.
Six Sigma positions the process as the key vehicle of success. From designing products and services to measuring performance to improving efficiency and customer satisfaction, Six Sigma advocates that mastering processes is the way to build a competitive advantage in delivering value to customers.
Data and fact-driven management
Six Sigma promotes the “management by fact” approach. It begins by clarifying what measures are key to gauging business performance and then gathers data and analyzes key variables. Thus, problems can be effectively defined, analyzed, and permanently resolved.
At a more down-to-earth level, Six Sigma helps managers answer two essential questions to support data-driven decisions and solutions.
- What data/information do we really need?
- How do we use that data/information to maximum benefit?
Six Sigma encompasses tools and practices that replace reactive habits with a dynamic, responsive, and proactive style of management. By defining ambitious goals that are reviewed frequently, priorities become clear and the focus shifts to problem prevention rather than firefighting and questioning. This often becomes a starting point for creativity and effective change.
Six Sigma promotes boundarylessness collaboration that breaks down across organizational lines to improve teamwork. This unlocks opportunities through improved collaboration among companies, vendors, and customers. Billions of dollars are lost every day because of disconnects and outright competition between groups that should be working for a common cause: providing value to customers.
Drive for perfection and tolerate failure
A company that makes Six Sigma its goal will have to keep pushing to be ever more perfect while being willing to accept and manage occasional setbacks. Six Sigma techniques that improve performance also include risk management tools that limit the downside of setbacks or failures. No company will get even close to Six Sigma without launching new ideas and approaches that always involve some risk.
The Six Sigma problem-solving process: DMAIC and DMADV
Six Sigma projects that are meant to improve an existing process follow a roadmap for success known as the DMAIC process (pronounced duh-MAY-ick).
DMAIC is broken into five phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. The main activities of a DMAIC project include identifying the critical inputs or causes that are creating the problem, verifying those causes, brainstorming and selecting solutions, implementing solutions, and creating a control plan to ensure the improved state is maintained.
In some cases, teams realize that fixing an existing process may not achieve sustained improvement, instead, a process might need to be completely redesigned. In such cases, teams employ the DMADV method.
DMADV stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, and Verify. The principles governing the method are similar to DMAIC, but the last two phases are geared toward rolling out and testing a completely new process.
In DMAIC define phase, the project requirements are identified, and goals for success are set. Requirements and goal setting might relate to a variety of factors and are dependent on guidance from the leadership and expected budgets.
In a DMADV project, the define phase is more rigid. The teams must also define customer requirements to create a measuring stick to which the process development can be compared.
In both DMAIC and DMADV, teams create a project charter and a basic work plan. A charter is a synopsis of the project and provides common information and a summary of what the team hopes to accomplish. The charter also features a list of team members, names of those responsible for outcomes, a problem statement, a goal, and some basic definitions of scope and metrics for success.
Tools like the SIPOC diagram and Stakeholder Analysis(discussed later) can be used to understand processes and key stakeholders.
The bulk of the measure phase in DMAIC is occupied with gathering data and formatting it in a way that can be analyzed. Teams build tools to capture data, create queries for digital data, sift through enormous amounts of data to find relevant information or capture data by hand in some manual process.
The Measure stage validates assumptions from the Define stage with actual data. It might be required to revisit problem statements, goals, and other process-related definitions. The define stage creates a “rough draft” while the measure converts that into a final one.
In DMADV, the approach is similar, but activities are typically more targeted. Teams collect data and measurements that help define performance requirements for the new process.
Deciding what to measure can be challenging and requires strong observation skills, an understanding of the reasons behind the measure, knowledge of data types such as discrete and continuous, tools for measurement assessment, and a strong background in statistical analysis.
In the Analyze phase of DMAIC, hypotheses are developed about causal relationships between inputs and outputs. Causations are narrowed down to the vital few using methods such as the Pareto analysis (discussed later). Using statistical analysis and data, hypotheses and assumptions are validated.
In a DMAIC project, Analyze phase tends to flow into the Improve phase. Hypothesis testing, assumption validation and possible solutions might begin in Analyze and continue into the Improve phase.
Likewise, in a DMADV project, teams also identify cause-and-effect relationships, but they are more concerned with identifying best practices and benchmarks by which to measure and design the new process.
Teams begin the process design work by identifying value-added and non-value-added activities, locating areas where bottlenecks or errors are likely, and refining requirements to meet the needs and goals of the project.
The lines between Measure and Analyze are often blurrier than the lines between Define and Measure. In some cases, a team must measure, analyze, and then measure some more, particularly if metrics aren’t already in place for a process.
During the Analyze phase, teams use a variety of tools like Pareto Charts, Run Charts, Histograms, Cause-And-Effect Diagrams, Scatter Diagrams, Process Maps, and Value Analysis (all of which are discussed later).
Improve or Design
Six Sigma teams start developing the ideas that began in the Analyze phase during the Improve phase of a project by using statistics and real-world observation to test hypotheses and solutions.
Solutions are standardized in preparation for rolling improved processes to daily production and non-team employees. Teams also start measuring results and laying the foundation for controls that will be built in the last phase.
In the Improve phase, the DMADV project begins to diverge substantially. New processes are designed, which does involve some solutions testing (as in DMAIC), but also mapping workflow principles and actively building new infrastructures.
This might mean putting new equipment in place, hiring and training new employees, or developing new software tools.
As solutions are narrowed down, more than one might appear compelling and it can get challenging to determine which of the solutions improve a process. In such cases, changes are implemented one at a time and verified before moving on to the next.
Tools like the Solutions Selection Matrix (discussed later) can be used to evaluate and choose the best solutions.
Control or Verify
Control/Verify phase is where loose ends are tied and the project is transitioned to a daily work environment. Controls and standards are established so that improvements can be maintained and the responsibility for those improvements is transitioned to the process owner.
In DMAIC, teams usually handle four tasks:
- creating the foundation for process discipline
- finalizing documents related to the improvement
- establishing ongoing metrics to evaluate the process
- and building a process management plan that lets the team transition the improvement to the process owner.
Tools during the Control phase include documentation checklists, control charts, response plans, process maps, and process dashboards.
Verify phase of DMADV is like the Control phase, but with the exception that teams might perform further critical-to-quality (CTQ) analysis (discussed later) at the end of a project to identify new CTQ factors.
This is essential as the process/product could be different from when the team started working. At the end of the Verify phase, the final product or a process that meets the needs first identified in the Define stage is delivered.
When to use DMAIC and DMADV?
Why are the dmaic and dmadv models effective.
The DMAIC/DMADV model provides seven key advantages:
- Measuring the problem: In DMAIC, teams just don’t assume that they understand the problem, they are required to prove (validate) it with facts.
- Focus on the customer: The process always considers the external customer’s interests which is important, especially when an organization is trying to cut costs in a process.
- Verifying root cause: Teams agreeing on a cause is not proof enough. Teams must prove their cause with facts and data.
- Breaking old habits: DMAIC/DMADV projects have proven to go beyond minor changes in crusty old processes and drive real change and results through creative new solutions.
- Managing risks: Testing and perfecting solutions is embedded within the process which mitigates risks.
- Measuring results: Solutions and their impact are verified through facts with goals and metrics clearly defined.
- Sustaining change: Even the best of new “best practices” developed by a DMAIC team can die quickly if not nurtured and supported. Making change is the final key and part of this problem-solving approach.
The Six Sigma toolkit
Any technique that helps better understand, manage, and improve a business or a process can qualify as a Six Sigma tool, but some of them are key to planning and executing Six Sigma projects.
Understanding these tools gives a clearer perspective on how Six Sigma works. These tools are bunched into four categories:
Tools for generating ideas and organizing information
Tools for data gathering, tools for process and data analysis, tools for statistical analysis.
The goal of this article is to provide a quick overview of each of these tools. More details and how-to information can be found in a variety of other books and websites.
Many Six Sigma methods have brainstorming, or idea generation, as a starting point. Brainstorming is an idea-creation method for generating many creative ideas in a short period. Brainstorming can be used when:
- A broad range of options is to be generated
- Creative, original ideas are required
- Group participation is desired
During a brainstorming session, all ideas are to be treated as valid and worthy of consideration. At this stage, ideas are not criticized or evaluated. They are to be recorded as-is without discussion. Even combining, modifying, and expanding on others’ ideas is encouraged.
Methods like the “Sticky Storm Technique”  that combines individual and group brainstorming can be used.
2. Affinity Diagramming
The Affinity Diagram  (also known as Affinity Chart, Affinity Mapping, K-J Method, or Thematic Analysis) groups ideas according to their natural relationships. It usually follows the brainstorming stage to help organize the output.
It can be used to organize and consolidate information related to a product, process, complex issue, or problem. Ideas are grouped according to their affinity or similarity.
Teams creating affinity diagrams record each idea on a note or a card. They then look for relationships between individual ideas and have team members simultaneously sort the ideas into five to ten related groupings. The process is repeated until all ideas are grouped.
It is okay to have “loners” that don’t seem to fit a group. It is also okay to move a note someone else has already moved. If a note seems to belong to two groups, a second note can be made.
It is important to avoid talking during this process. The focus should be on looking for and grouping related ideas without attaching any priority or importance to them.
Multivoting  narrows a large list of possibilities to a smaller list of top priorities. Each participant gets a certain number of votes (unlike a single vote in straight voting). This allows an item that is favored by all, but not the top choice of any, to rise to the top.
Multivoting can be used:
- After brainstorming generates a long list of possibilities
- When a list must be narrowed down
- When a decision must be made by group judgment
4. Structure Tree (Tree Diagram)
A Structure Tree  (also known as Systematic Diagram, Tree Analysis, Analytical Tree, or Hierarchy Diagram) is used to depict the hierarchy of tasks and subtasks needed to complete an objective.
The tree diagram starts with one item that branches into two or more, each of which branches into two or more, and so on. The finished diagram bears a resemblance to a tree, with a trunk and multiple branches.
As seen from the figure above, a tree diagram breaks down broad categories into finer levels of detail. Developing the tree diagram helps teams to think step by step from generalities to specifics.
A tree diagram can be used when:
- An issue, that is known in broad generalities must move to specific details
- Developing actions to carry out a solution or a plan
- Analyzing processes in detail
- Probing for the root cause of a problem
- Evaluating implementation issues for several potential solutions
- After an affinity diagram or interrelationship diagram has uncovered key issues
- As a communication tool, to explain details to others
5. High-level process map (SIPOC diagram)
SIPOC  (pronounced “sye-pahk”) is an acronym for Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer. SIPOC is used in the Define phase of DMAIC and is often a preferred method for diagramming major business processes and identifying possible measures.
SIPOC shows the major activities or sub-processes in a business in a systematic framework represented by the Suppliers, Inputs, Processes, Outputs, and Customers. This helps identify the boundaries and critical elements of a process without losing sight of the big picture.
In a SIPOC diagram, suppliers are the sources for the process, inputs are the resources needed for the process to function, the process constitutes the high-level steps that the system/organization undertakes, outputs are the results of those processes and customers are the people who receive outputs or benefit from the process.
Creating a SIPOC diagram helps answer the following questions:
- How can a process be made easier?
- Is a quality product delivered to the customers?
- Can supplier management be improved?
- Are suppliers delivering as per need?
- Are the customer persona and the demographics they fall into known?
- Are there any inefficiencies that can improve when creating the product?
Sometimes, a variation of the SPCIF diagram called SIPOC+CM  is used that also maps the Constraints (C) and the Measures (M).
A Flowchart  is used to show details of a process, including tasks and procedures, alternative paths, decision points, and rework loops. While simple flowcharts can be constructed with a bunch of stickies on a wall, complex ones are developed using advanced software  that offers extensive capabilities.
A flowchart is a visual representation of distinct steps of a process in sequential order. Elements that may be included in a flowchart are a sequence of actions, materials or services entering or leaving the process (inputs and outputs), decisions that must be made, people who become involved, time involved at each step, and/or process measurements.
Flowcharts can be used:
- To develop an understanding of how a process is done
- To study a process for improvement
- To communicate to others how a process is done
- For better communication among people involved with the same process
- To document a process
- When planning a project
7. Fishbone diagram
A Fishbone diagram  (also known as Cause-And-Effect Diagram, Ishikawa Diagram) is used to brainstorm possible causes of a problem (or effect) and puts the possible causes into groups or affinities. Causes that lead to other causes are linked similarly to a structure tree.
The fishbone diagram helps gather collective ideas from the team on where a problem might arise and enables the team members to think of all possible causes by clarifying major categories.
While a fishbone diagram does not reveal the right cause, it helps develop educated guesses, or hypotheses, about where to focus measurement and further root cause analysis.
A fishbone diagram can be used:
- When identifying possible causes for a problem
- When a team’s thinking tends to diverge
8. Critical to Quality (CTQ) tree
A CTQ tree  is a visual tool to identify and prioritize the critical quality characteristics (CTQs) that are most important to customers. It helps map the relationship between customer requirements and specific product or process characteristics for improvement focus.
A CTQ tree starts by identifying the customer needs and then branches into drivers and requirements. Building a CTQ tree requires identifying:
- The Need: This is the actual product or service that a customer wants.
- The Drivers: These are quality drivers that must be present to fulfil customer needs.
- The Requirements: These are the list of the requirements for each driver. In other words, recording measurable performance metrics for each driver.
In Six Sigma, once an organization has completed the Voice of Customer (VOC) process, it is useful to build a CTQ tree to:
- Bring more clarity in understanding customer needs
- Identifying current issues and improving the product or service
- Help design or develop a product or service during the early stages of the process
- Stand out from competitors
Sampling  is the selection of a set of elements from a target population or product lot. Sampling is used frequently as gathering data on every member of a target population or every product is often impossible, impractical, or too costly.
Sampling helps draw conclusions or make inferences about the population or product lot from which the sample is drawn.
When used in conjunction with randomization  (randomly selecting factors, measurements, or variables to eliminate the effects of bias or chance), samples provide virtually identical characteristics relative to those of the population or product grouping from which the sample was drawn.
Teams must be careful to avoid sampling errors which are primarily of three kinds:
- Bias (lack of accuracy)
- Dispersion (lack of precision)
- Non-reproducibility (lack of consistency)
2. Operational Definitions
An Operational Definition  is a clearly defined description of some characteristic. It should be specific and describe not only what is being measured but how. An operational definition needs to be agreed upon by all parties, whether that is a customer or an internal function of the organization.
For example, an Amazon search for “blue shirt” will yield the following result:
This is the key purpose of an operational definition. Everyone must define, measure, and interpret things the same way.
3. Voice Of The Customer (VOC) Methods
Voice Of the Customer (VOC)  is the direct input and expression of the wants, needs, and expectations that the customer has for the organization with which the customer conducts business.
In Six Sigma, VOC is the structured process of directly soliciting and gathering the specifically stated needs, wants, expectations and performance experiences of the customer about the products and/or services that an organization provides.
There are several ways an organization can capture the VOC, such as:
- Direct observations
- Focus groups
- Complaint data
- Customer service reps
- Existing company data
- Industry data
Unintended miscommunication between an organization and its customers is a common reason why organizations lose customers and their business. It is critical for an organization to understand the VOC and customer requirements.
A Checksheet  (also called a defect concentration diagram) is a structured, prepared form for collecting and analyzing data. It is a generic data collection and analysis tool that can be adapted for a wide variety of purposes and is considered one of the seven basic quality tools.
A checksheet can be used when:
- Data can be observed and collected repeatedly by the same person or at the same location.
- Collecting data on the frequency or patterns of events, problems, defects, defect location, defect causes, or similar issues.
- Collecting data from a production process.
Checklists have two key objectives:
- Ensure that the right data is captured, with all necessary facts included, such as when it happened, how many, and what customer. These facts are called stratification factors. 
- To make data gathering as easy as possible for the collectors.
Checksheets can vary from simple tables and surveys to diagrams used to indicate where errors or damage occurred. Spreadsheets are the place where checksheet data is collected and organized. A well-designed spreadsheet makes it much easier to use the data.
5. Measurement Systems Analysis (MSA)
A measurement systems analysis (MSA)  is an umbrella term covering various methods used to ensure that measures are accurate and reliable. MSA evaluates the test method, measuring instruments, and the entire process of obtaining measurements to ensure the integrity of data used for analysis and to understand the implications of measurement error for decisions made about a product or process.
An MSA considers the following:
- Selecting the correct measurement and approach
- Assessing the measuring device
- Assessing procedures and operators
- Assessing any measurement interactions
- Calculating the measurement uncertainty of individual measurement devices and/or measurement systems
Common tools and techniques of measurement systems analysis include calibration studies, fixed effect ANOVA  , components of variance, attribute gage study, gage R&R, ANOVA gage R&R  , and destructive testing analysis.
The goals of MSA are:
- Quantification of measurement uncertainty, including the accuracy, precision, repeatability, reproducibility, and discrimination
- Quantifying the stability and linearity of these quantities over time and across the intended range of use of the measurement process.
- Development of improvement plans, when needed.
- Deciding if a measurement process is adequate for a specific engineering or manufacturing application.
Checking on people performing the measurements is also a part of MSA.
1. Process-Flow Analysis
A process flow analysis uses the process map or a flowchart as input to scrutinize the process for redundancies, unclear hand-offs, unnecessary decision points, and so on. Process data can reveal problems such as delays, bottlenecks, defects, and rework.
A process flow analysis can be one of the quickest ways to find clues about the root causes of problems.
2. Value and Non-Value-Added Analysis
Activities usually fall under three kinds:
- Value-added activities
- Non-value-added activities
- Business value-added activities
Value-added activities are those activities for which the customer is willing to pay for and non-value-added activities are those for which the customer is not willing to pay.
Business value-added activities are those for which the customer is not willing to pay but are necessary for the running of processes and the business. These could include work performed for audits, controls, risk management, regulatory requirements, etc.
In Six Sigma, both non-value-added and business value-added activities are considered “wastes” but are segregated and treated differently.
Wastes can be identified using the following questions:
- Does the activity transform the form, feature, feeling and function that the customer is willing to pay for?
- Is it being done right the first time?
- Is this something the customer expects to pay for?
A positive answer or a “yes” to all of them indicates that it is a value-added activity. Even a single “No” indicates that it is either a non-value-added activity or a business value-added activity.
It’s never possible to eliminate all non-value-adding activities, especially Business value-added activities, But this approach helps in reducing the non-essential aspects of a process that are a drain on resources.
3. Charts and Graphs:
The first and best way to analyze measures of a process is to create a picture of the data and charts and graphs help accomplish just that. Visual representation of data becomes a lot more meaningful and convenient to read than a table of numbers.
Charts and graphs help make discoveries that the numbers themselves would hide. Charts and graphs are of various types, each offering a bit different picture of the data.
Following are some of the most used types of charts and graphs:
A Pareto is a specialized bar chart that breaks down a group by categories and compares them from largest to smallest. It’s used to look for the biggest pieces of a problem or contributors to a cause. Learn more about Pareto analysis .
Histogram (Frequency Plot)
A histogram is a type of bar chart that shows the distribution or variation of data over a range: size, age, cost, length of time, weight, and so on. (A Pareto chart, by contrast, slices data by category)
In analyzing histograms, teams can look for the shape of the bars or the curve, the width of the spread, or range, from top to bottom, or the number of “humps” in the bars. When customer requirements are plotted on a histogram, it reveals how much what’s being done meets or does not meet customers’ needs.
Run (Trend) Chart
Pareto charts and histograms don’t reveal the time dimension, i.e. how things change over time. A run chart accomplishes just that.
Consider the below example of a chemical process that is sensitive to ambient temperature. It can be visually inferred that the temperatures during the months of April through July have a negative bearing on the process leading to defects.
A control chart is also used to study how a process changes over time. Data are plotted in time order. But unlike a Run Chart, a Control Chart always has a central line for the average, an upper line for the Upper Control Limit (UCL), and a lower line for the Lower Control Limit (LCL). These lines are determined from historical data.
Any data point falling between the UCL and the LCL is considered as safe. The data points falling outside the LCL and the UCL are called ‘Outliers’. All outliers are candidates for Root Cause Analysis.
Control charts are used for:
- Controlling ongoing processes by finding and correcting problems as they occur
- Predicting the expected range of outcomes from a process
- Determining whether a process is stable (in statistical control)
- Analyzing patterns of process variation from special causes (non-routine events) or common causes (built into the process)
- Determining whether a quality improvement project should aim to prevent specific problems or to make fundamental changes to the process
Scatter Plot (Correlation) Diagram
A Scatter plot looks for direct relationships between two factors in a process, usually to see whether they are correlated, meaning that a change in one is linked to a change in the other.
When an increase in one factor matches an increase in the other, it’s a “positive correlation” and likewise the reverse is a “negative correlation”. If two measures show a relationship, one may be causing the other.
However, a correlation does not necessarily mean causation. The underlying connection may be hidden. For example, there is a statistical correlation between eating ice cream and drowning incidents, but ice cream consumption does not cause drowning. They are connected by a third common cause which is warm summer weather.
A scatter plot helps a DMAIC team visualize the relationship between process output (Y) and suspected cause/input factors (X). As a practice, X is plotted on the horizontal axis (independent variable), while Y is plotted on the vertical axis (dependent variable).
In some cases, collected data is not accurate enough. Analysis of such data requires a level of proof beyond what visual tools can offer. Six Sigma teams apply more sophisticated statistical analysis tools in such cases.
The statistical part of the toolkit contains many different tools and formulas. Some of the broad families of statistical methods are:
Tests of statistical significance
These tools look for differences in groups of data to see whether they are meaningful. These tests include Chi-square, t-tests, and analysis of variance. 
Correlation and regression
These tools are similar to a scatter plot but can get a lot more complex, including regression coefficients, simple linear regression, multiple regression, surface response tests, and so on. These tools test for the presence, strength, and nature of the links among variables in a process or a product, such as how tire pressure, temperature, and speed would affect gas mileage. 
Design Of Experiments (DOE)
DOE deals with planning, conducting, analyzing, and interpreting controlled tests to evaluate the factors that control the value of a parameter or group of parameters. DOE is a powerful data collection and analysis tool that can be used in a variety of experimental situations.
It allows for multiple input factors to be manipulated, determining their effect on a desired output (response). DOE can identify important interactions that may be missed when experimenting with one factor at a time.[ 41]
Tools for implementation and process management
1. project management methods.
Six Sigma companies recognize early on the importance of strong project management skills: planning, budgeting, scheduling, communication, and people management. Technical project management tools such as Gantt chart scheduling can be used for implementation and process management.
2. Potential Problem Analysis (PPA) and Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
PPA is a systematic method for determining what could go wrong in a plan under development. The problem causes are rated according to their likelihood of occurrence and the severity of their consequences. Preventive actions are taken, and contingency plans are developed. The process helps to create a smooth, streamlined implementation process. 
Similarly, FMEA is a step-by-step approach for identifying all possible failures in a design, a manufacturing or assembly process, or a product or service. It is a common process analysis tool. FMEA begins during the earliest conceptual stages of design and continues throughout the life of the product or service. 
3. Stakeholder Analysis
Complex change can affect a lot of people. Six Sigma teams recognize that for change to be successful, it is important to consider the needs and perspectives of various parties involved, i.e. the stakeholders.
The Stakeholder Analysis  process is used to determine who the stakeholders are, what are their wants, goals, and concerns and how best to understand mutual interests.
Stakeholders are grouped based on their interest in the project outcome and the power they hold in influencing the change. They usually fall under four categories, each of which needs a different approach to drive successful change:
4. Force Field Diagram
A Force Field Diagram is a result of a force field analysis that shows the relationship between factors that help promote a change vs. those that oppose or create resistance. Like stakeholder analysis, the force field is used to develop plans to build support for a critical change.
A force field diagram helps the team to focus on improving the driving forces and weakening the resisting forces through education or refinements.
5. Balanced Scorecards
The balanced scorecard  is a strategic management tool that views the organization from different perspectives, usually the following:
- Financial: The perspective of shareholders
- Customer: How customers experience and perceive an organization
- Business process: Key processes used to meet and exceed customer/shareholder needs
- Learning and growth: How to foster ongoing change and continuous improvement
A balanced scorecard provides feedback on both internal business processes and external outcomes to continuously improve strategic performance and results.
6. Solution Selection Matrix
A Solution Selection Matrix (SSM), also known as a Decision Matrix or a Criteria Matrix, is a tool used to objectively assess the strengths and weaknesses of each option and determine the best course of action.
SSM consists of a table or a grid of options and criteria. Each criterion represents a specific aspect or attribute that is important in evaluating the options. The evaluator assigns a rating or score to each option for each criterion.
Once the ratings are assigned, they are often weighted (by assigning a numerical value) to indicate the relative importance. A weighted score is then calculated for each option by multiplying the rating by the corresponding weight.
The option with the highest overall score indicates the most favorable choice. SSM provides a structured and systematic approach to decision-making, helping to eliminate bias and subjectivity.
7. Process Dashboards
A Process Dashboard is a vital decision management tool that showcases essential information about process performance to process participants and owners. It provides high-maturity, metrics-intensive data necessary for process analysis and decision-making.
8. Process Documentation
As a DMAIC project reaches a conclusion with solutions in place and results in hand, the Six Sigma team must turn over responsibility to those who will manage the process on an ongoing basis.
Creating effective, clear, not overly complex process documentation that includes process maps, task instructions, measures, and more is the last and most important element of the DMAIC Control step.
Note on Six Sigma tools
While Six Sigma is rich with tools that help make better decisions, solve problems, and manage change, Six Sigma and the tools are one and the same.
Using too many tools can complicate things. Demanding that they be used when they aren’t helpful can undermine the goals of Six Sigma just as easily as not using tools.
The following are important considerations when selecting a Six Sigma tool:
- Use only the tools that help in getting the job done.
- Keep it as simple as possible.
- When a tool isn’t helping, stop and try something else.
Six Sigma breakthrough equation
Six Sigma looks at every process through what is known as the breakthrough equation shown below:
- Y is the outcome(s) or result(s) desired or needed.
- X represents the inputs, factors, or pieces necessary to create the outcome(s). There can be more than one Xs.
- ƒ is the function, the way or process by which the inputs are transformed into the outcome.
- ε (epsilon) is the presence of error or uncertainty surrounding how accurately the Xs are transformed to create the outcome.
In any process, a set of input variables are transformed by a function (or process) and combined with error to form the output. The Y results from, or is a function of, the Xs.
In the bread-making example above, bread is the Y (output). Inputs like the dough, salt, yeast etc., are the Xs while the process of dough making and baking are the ƒ. Errors like wrong temperature leading to improper baking represent the epsilon (ε).
Basic Metrics in Six Sigma
When applying Six Sigma to processes and improvements, the below metrics are used to access and measure process accuracy levels:
Defects Per Unit (DPU)
DPU is a measure of how many defects there are in relation to the number of units tested.
It is concerned with total defects, and one unit could have more than one defect.
For example, if a publisher printed 1,000 books and pulled out 50 books for quality checks,
- 3 books are missing pages
- 1 book is missing pages and has a torn cover
- 2 books have loose spines
- 1 book has incorrect printing and incorrect alignment
There are 9 total errors in a sample size of 50 books, hence the DPU is calculated as:
DPU provides an average level of quality. It tells how many defects on average each unit can be expected to have. In this case, that is 0.18 defects on average.
Defects per Opportunity (DPO)
DPO is the number of defects in a sample divided by the total number of defect opportunities.
In the above example, each book has a possibility of 5 types of errors (missing page, torn cover, loose spine, incorrect printing, and incorrect alignment). Hence the opportunity for error in each book is 5 and DPO is calculated as:
Defects per Million Opportunities (DPMO)
This represents a ratio of the number of defects in one million opportunities. In other words, how many times did a flaw or mistake (defect) occur for every million opportunities there were to have a flaw or a mistake?
DPMO is also the same as DPO multiplied by a million. By scaling the sample size to a common value (1 million), DPMO allows to compare accuracy levels of different processes.
In the book example, DPMO is calculated as:
First-Time Yield (FTY)
FTY is the ratio of units produced to units attempted to produce.
For example, if 100 cookies were put in the oven, but only 95 came out edible, then:
Most products or services are created via multiple processes, in which case FTY for each process needs to be multiplied to calculate an overall FTY.
Rolled Throughput Yield (RTY)
RTY provides a probability that a unit will be generated by a process with no defects.
One of the main differences between RTY and FTY is that RTY considers whether rework was needed to generate the number of final units. This is valuable as organizations don’t always think about the rework that is inherent in a process, which means they often measure a process and deem it successful even if waste is present.
Consider the following process chain:
The RTY is calculated as follows:
RTY for Process A: 100 – (5 + 5) = 90, 90/100 = 0.9
RTY for Process B: 95 – (10 + 5) = 80, 80/95 = 0.84
RTY for Process C: 85 – (5 + 15) = 65, 65/85 = 0.76
Overall RTY = 0.9 * 0.84 * 0.76 = 0.574
While RTY does not indicate final production or sales, a low RTY indicates that there is waste in the process in the form of rework.
Six Sigma vs. Lean Six Sigma
While Six Sigma focuses on eliminating defects and reducing variation, Lean Six Sigma (LSS) focuses on eliminating waste and improving speed. LSS combines Lean Management and Six Sigma to increase the velocity of value creation.
During the 2000s, Lean Six Sigma forked from Six Sigma and became its own unique process. LSS developed as a specific process of Six Sigma, incorporating ideas from lean manufacturing, which was developed as a part of the Toyota Production System in the 1950s.
Lean Six Sigma is more specifically used to streamline manufacturing and production processes, while Six Sigma methodologies can benefit any business.
Six Sigma Training Levels and Roles
Possessing a Six Sigma certification proves that an individual has demonstrated practical applications and knowledge of Six Sigma. These certification levels are differentiated by belt level.
The belt color someone holds will help to determine what role they will play in a given project and how they will be spending their time. Broadly they are shown as below:
In addition to the above levels, there is Six Sigma Champion which is not a belt per se but plays a crucial role in Six Sigma projects and organizations.
The primary function of the Champion is to ensure that all operational projects align with strategic business objectives.
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13. “What Is Six Sigma?”. Peter S. Pande, Lawrence Holpp, https://books.google.co.in/books/about/What_Is_Six_Sigma.html?id=vBzaUJuH8hYC&redir_esc=y . Accessed 10 Sep 2023
14. “BRAINSTORMING”. American Society for Quality, https://asq.org/quality-resources/brainstorming . Accessed 08 Jul 2023
15. “WHAT IS AN AFFINITY DIAGRAM?”. American Society for Quality, https://asq.org/quality-resources/affinity . Accessed 08 Jul 2023
16. “WHAT IS MULTIVOTING?”. American Society for Quality, https://asq.org/quality-resources/multivoting . Accessed 08 Jul 2023
17. “WHAT IS A TREE DIAGRAM?”. American Society for Quality, https://asq.org/quality-resources/tree-diagram . Accessed 08 Jul 2023
18. “Tree Diagram: All you need to know about it”. Qidemy, https://qidemy.com/tree-diagram-all-you-need-to-know-about-it/ . Accessed 08 Jul 2023
19. “What is a SIPOC diagram? 7 steps to map and understand business processes”. Asana, https://asana.com/resources/sipoc-diagram . Accessed 08 Jul 2023
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21. “SIPOC+CM DIAGRAM”. American Society for Quality, https://asq.org/quality-resources/sipoc . Accessed 08 Jul 2023
22. “WHAT IS A FLOWCHART?”. American Society for Quality, https://asq.org/quality-resources/flowchart . Accessed 08 Jul 2023
23. “Comparison of Business Process Model and Notation modeling tools”. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Business_Process_Model_and_Notation_modeling_tools . Accessed 08 Jul 2023
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- © 2020
Six Sigma for Students
A Problem-Solving Methodology
- Fatma Pakdil 0
Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, USA
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Gives students opportunities to practice on examples, practice, and discussion questions
Gives students opportunities to take a role as a decision-maker in Six Sigma process
Teaches students to apply the tools and methods of Six Sigma in each phase of the DMAIC process using a step by step approach
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Table of contents (11 chapters)
Front matter, organization of six sigma, overview of quality and six sigma.
Organization for Six Sigma
Cultural considerations for effective six sigma teams.
- Karen Moustafa Leonard
Define Phase: D Is for Define
Measure phase: m is for measure, measurement system analysis: gage r&r analysis, analyze phase: a is for analyze, analyze phase: other data analysis tools, control charts, improve phase: i is for improve, control phase: c is for control, back matter.
- quality management
- project management
- process improvement
- International Organization for Standardization
- organizational culture
- Gage R&R Analysis
“This textbook provides students with a thorough understanding of the Six Sigma approach through practical examples, utilizing a statistical perspective in problem-solving and decision-making processes.” — Dan Tenney , Board of Directors, The Child and Family Guidance Center
Book Title : Six Sigma for Students
Book Subtitle : A Problem-Solving Methodology
Authors : Fatma Pakdil
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-40709-4
Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan Cham
eBook Packages : Business and Management , Business and Management (R0)
Copyright Information : The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020
Softcover ISBN : 978-3-030-40708-7 Published: 22 December 2020
eBook ISBN : 978-3-030-40709-4 Published: 21 December 2020
Edition Number : 1
Number of Pages : XXVII, 492
Number of Illustrations : 161 b/w illustrations
Topics : Operations Management , Management , Operations Research/Decision Theory , Business Mathematics
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Five Phases of Lean Six Sigma: A Complete Guide
- Written by Contributing Writer
- Updated on March 21, 2023
Customer expectations and behavior are constantly changing. Competition in nearly every industry seems to be intensifying. Profitability and growth now depend in large part on the efficiency of products and services and their speed to market.
Six Sigma is a process that organizations employ to optimize business processes for the most efficient and cost-effective approach while producing continuous product improvements.
In this article, we’ll explain the Six Sigma methodology, explore its benefits and challenges, and detail the five phases of Lean Six Sigma with examples.
What is the Six Sigma Methodology?
The Six Sigma methodology identifies defects and roadblocks that hinder performance, enabling companies to use strategies to streamline processes, decrease production variation, and improve the quality of products and services.
Six Sigma is a data-driven approach to establishing a culture committed to continuous process improvement. When implemented effectively and consistently, Six Sigma provides a framework for repeatable and systematic problem-solving.
Also Read: Six Sigma Methodologies for Process Improvement
What Is the Difference Between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma?
Six Sigma focuses on creating rigid consistency to reduce process variation and enhance process control. Lean Six Sigma eliminates processes that do not add value to promote more streamlined workflows.
In short, Six Sigma emphasizes reduction in variation using processes such as:
- Statistical data analysis
- Design of experiments
- Hypothesis testing
Lean Six Sigma focuses on reductions in waste using processes such as:
- Workplace organization
- Visual controls
In most cases, organizations today incorporate both methodologies into their Six Sigma quality management practices.
What Are the Benefits of Six Sigma?
The benefits of Six Sigma and the DMAIC process include:
Improvements in Quality
By focusing on identifying and eliminating defects and wasted steps in processes, organizations can improve the quality of operations and products or services.
Increases in Efficiency
Six Sigma identifies roadblocks and inefficiencies in systems. Efficiency and productivity gains provide significant results in many cases. In manufacturing, for example, these efficiencies can improve quality, turnaround times, and cycle times for equipment.
More Efficient Decision Making
By putting quantifiable data at the heart of decisions, organizations can reduce making decisions based on intuition or assumptions. Instead, decisions are made based on facts and evidence and are measured against baselines for continuous improvement.
Improved Customer or End-User Satisfaction
When organizations can streamline processes to produce faster or higher-quality results, it improves customer satisfaction. This, in turn, can generate more loyal customers and higher customer retention levels.
There can be significant financial benefits from implementing a Six Sigma methodology. Increased efficiency reduces waste and defects, creates efficiencies and streamlines processes, and produces better customer satisfaction.
Organizations that utilize the five phases of Lean Six Sigma methodology can gain a competitive advantage in several ways, including delivering higher-quality products or services more efficiently and cost-effectively than their competitors.
Not to be overlooked in the five phases of Six Sigma are the benefits to employee engagement. Project teams typically include employees from various disciplines. Working together to understand problems and develop solutions encourages teamwork and is fundamental to creating a culture of continuous improvement.
Involving team members in the process also creates buy-in since team members have a stake in the success of the Six Sigma process.
Also Read: Six Sigma Principles: A Comprehensive Guide to Implementing and Optimizing Your Processes
What is DMAIC?
DMAIC is an acronym for the five phases of Six Sigma.
The DMAIC phases are an iterative process used to seek quality improvement by focusing on the process to create more efficient and permanent solutions. DMAIC provides the structure to the process, enabling project teams to use specific tools and deliverables that lead to process improvements. While most teams work through DMAIC in a linear fashion, it isn’t mandatory to do it this way. The process itself encourages team members to backtrack to previous steps, especially when additional information or insight is needed.
The Five Phases of Lean Six Sigma
Each of the five phases of Six Sigma is data-driven and focuses on standardizing an organization’s approach to problem-solving. So, let’s dig deeper into the DMAIC phases.
Phase 1: Define
In the define stage, team members work together to identify the information they’ll need to break down components of a problem or process and create smaller actionable terms. Rather than focusing on abstract goals, it seeks quantifiable and qualifiable data to clearly identify the objective of the project.
Teams will identify the Critical to Quality (CTQ) attributes as determined by the end-user or customer — called the voice of the customer (VOC) — and create a process map, including process inputs and process outputs.
For example, a manufacturing company has identified a problem somewhere in their production process that is leading to product defects outside of acceptable ranges but doesn’t know where or why these defects occur. In the define phase, they would design the project scope and establish objectives, such as reducing the number of acceptable defects in the production process to a specific number.
Phase 2: Measure
The measure step of the DMAIC phases of the Six Sigma process assesses current processes and capabilities. While the goal is to make process improvements, teams need a clear understanding of the current conditions to judge the effectiveness of any future changes. Without a baseline, it’s hard to measure if you’ve made any progress.
In this phase, team members will measure the current process and create a baseline for future comparison.
For example, this phase would identify the frequency of the defects and information about potential causes, such as production line speed or equipment breakdowns, deviations in material or suppliers, or other mitigating factors.
Phase 3: Analyze
The analysis phase of the Six Sigma methodology takes a deep dive into the data that’s been gathered to isolate root causes of inefficiencies and identify defects. Teams in this phase often create detailed subprocess maps for every step with the goal of eliminating and streamlining steps to improve performance and quality.
Teams might deploy several analysis tools, such as Pareto charts or fishbone diagrams, to analyze the root causes of the high defect rate.
Teams also analyze the performance and financial benefits of solving a problem or improving a process.
Phase 4: Improve
After identifying the root cause of any issues, this phase focuses on finding the solution or improvement. Common methods include deploying a design of experiment model to isolate variables and test hypotheses until obstacles are uncovered.
Once process improvements are identified, teams create a proposed solution and then implement pilot programs to test, ensuring solutions meet project objectives and are financially viable.
As an outcome of analyzing the data, teams might redesign the production process, recommend upgrading equipment or maintenance procedures, or provide additional training to operators.
Phase 5: Control
The final step of the five phases of Lean Six Sigma involves documentation of the solutions created for process owners. This includes actionable steps, timelines, and milestones for implementation. In this phase, the control plan details the daily workflow.
The project team then monitors the project for a prescribed period to make sure the process meets performance expectations in real-world environments before turning it over to process owners.
In the control phase, organizations might implement control charts to tightly monitor production output and defect rates, the impact of operator training, and any other solutions deployed.
Each of the five phases of Six Sigma works together to create a repeatable template for improving business processes. When fully integrated into an organization’s culture, it enables teams to innovate new solutions, measure effectiveness and efficiency, and create quantifiable process improvements.
Also Read: Six Sigma vs. Lean Six Sigma: Which Methodology Is Right for Your Business?
Challenges with Implementing Six Sigma
Even though Six Sigma can help your team become more efficient and cost-effective, there are implementation challenges when it comes to DMAIC phases.
The five phases of Lean Six Sigma examine increasingly minute details and micro-steps in every aspect of task completion. This can be challenging for team members to accomplish without experienced project managers that are trained in Six Sigma methodologies. Organizations need team members that understand statistical training and quantifying data points effectively in order to successfully implement this methodology — it’s not something you can pick up on the fly.
Implementing Six Sigma Tools
There’s also a learning curve for the diverse set of tools required to uncover root causes and validate potential solutions. Throughout the DMAIC process, teams may need to be proficient in using tools such as:
- Pareto charts
- Gage R&R
- Process capability upper and lower bounds
- Attribute agreement analysis
- ANOVA statistical modeling
- Regression equations
- Control charts
- Statistical process control (SPC)
- Value stream mapping
Other tools may also be needed depending on industry and functionality. As you can see, some of these tools are incredibly specific and scientific, so it can be tricky to implement if someone on your team isn’t familiar enough with them while going through the five phases of Lean Six Sigma
Effective Six Sigma implementation required buy-in across the wider organization, starting at the very top. Without proper funding, resources, and continued support, the process can be ineffective. In some cases, this leads to incomplete solutions, lack of follow-through, or failure to embrace workplace changes.
To be successful, Six Sigma needs to be embraced and become part of the company culture.
Also Read: Value Stream Mapping in Six Sigma
Fast Track Your Career in Quality Management
Efficiently deploying Six Sigma methodologies and DMAIC phases requires training and expertise. Professionally-trained and certified Six Sigma professionals can make substantive contributions to organizational improvement and earn a lucrative career as a Six Sigma expert.
If you are looking to fast-track your career in Quality Management, an accredited Six Sigma course can help. You can get hands-on experience and mentoring as you solve real-world business processes and learn about:
- Agile management
- Lean management
- Six Sigma Green Belt
- Lean Six Sigma Black Belt
- Quality management
- Digital transformation
Become a Lean Six Sigma Expert with the post graduate program delivered by Simplilearn in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts. Download the program brochure to learn more about the Lean Six Sigma course. This program is accredited by the International Association for Six Sigma Certification (IASSC) and has professors who can share real-world experiences to help bring these complicated concepts to life.
You might also like to read:
The Top 24 Lean Six Sigma Interview Questions for 2023
Six Sigma Methodologies for Process Improvement
Ultimate Guide to Six Sigma Control Charts
Process Mapping in Six Sigma: Here’s All You Need to Know
What Are the Elements of a Six Sigma Project Charter?
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What Is Six Sigma?
Understanding six sigma, the five steps of six sigma, what is lean six sigma, six sigma certification and belt rankings.
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What Is Six Sigma? Concept, Steps, Examples, and Certification
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Six Sigma is a methodology for process improvement developed by a scientist at Motorola in the 1980s. Six Sigma practitioners use statistics, financial analysis, and project management to achieve improved business functionality and better quality control by identifying and then correcting mistakes or defects in existing processes. The five phases of the Six Sigma method, known as DMAIC, are defining, measuring, analyzing, improving, and controlling.
- Six Sigma is a quality-control methodology that businesses use to significantly reduce defects and improve processes.
- The model was developed by a scientist at Motorola in the 1980s.
- Companies often use the Six Sigma model to increase efficiency and boost profits.
- Six Sigma practitioners can earn certifications modeled on the color belts used in martial arts.
Six Sigma is based on the idea that all business processes can be measured and optimized.
The term Six Sigma originated in manufacturing as a means of quality control. Six Sigma quality is achieved when long-term defect levels are below 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO).
Six Sigma has since evolved into a more general business concept, focusing on meeting customer requirements, improving customer retention, and improving and sustaining business products and services. Among its best-known proponents was the longtime General Electric CEO Jack Welch .
Six Sigma certification programs confer belt rankings similar to those in the martial arts, ranging from white belt to black belt.
The Six Sigma method uses a step-by-step approach called DMAIC, an acronym that stands for define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. According to Six Sigma adherents, a business may solve any seemingly unsolvable problem by following these five steps:
A team of people, led by a Six Sigma expert, chooses a process to focus on and defines the problem it wishes to solve.
The team measures the initial performance of the process, creating a benchmark, and pinpoints a list of inputs that may be hindering performance.
Next the team analyzes the process by isolating each input, or potential reason for any failures, and testing it as the possible root of the problem.
The team works from there to implement changes that will improve system performance.
The group adds controls to the process to ensure it does not regress and become ineffective once again.
Lean Six Sigma is a team-focused managerial approach that seeks to improve performance by eliminating waste and defects while boosting the standardization of work. It combines Six Sigma methods and tools and the lean manufacturing/ lean enterprise philosophy, striving to reduce the waste of physical resources, time, effort, and talent while assuring quality in production and organizational processes. Any use of resources that does not create value for the end customer is considered a waste and should be eliminated.
Individuals can obtain Six Sigma certification to attest to their understanding of the process and their skills in implementing it. These certifications are awarded through a belt system similar to karate training. The belt levels are:
- White belt. Individuals with a white belt have received some instruction in the basics of Six Sigma, but have not yet gone through any formal training or certification program. This gives them enough knowledge to become team members.
- Yellow belt. This level can be attained after several training sessions, and equips participants with the knowledge to lead small projects and assist managers who hold more advanced belts.
- Green belt. To achieve this level, individuals take a more comprehensive course that prepares them to become project leaders.
- Black belt. After reaching the green belt level, participants can move on to black belt certification, preparing them for leadership roles in larger and more complex projects.
People with black belts can become masters and champions. Someone with a master black belt is considered an expert and strong leader with excellent problem-solving skills. A champion is a lean Six Sigma leader trained in maximizing profits through the elimination of waste and defects.
These certifications, and the courses required to obtain them, are offered by a variety of companies and educational institutions and can differ from one to another.
Real-World Examples of Six Sigma
Six Sigma is used by many companies, local governments, and other institutions. Here are two examples of how Six Sigma improved operational efficiency, saved money, and increased customer satisfaction.
Microsoft (MSFT) is one of the largest software producers in the world. It used Six Sigma to help eradicate defects in its systems and data centers and systematically reduce IT infrastructure failures.
The company first established standards for all of its hardware and software to create a baseline measurement for detecting defects. It then used root-cause analysis, including collecting data from past high-priority incidents, server failures, and recommendations from product group members and customers, to pinpoint potential problem areas.
Large amounts of data were collected on a daily and weekly basis from various servers. The incidents were prioritized based on how severely the defects affected the business and the company's underlying services. Data analysis and reporting identified the specific defects, after which remediation steps for each defect were established.
As a result of Six Sigma, Microsoft says it improved the availability of its servers, boosted productivity, and increased customer satisfaction.
Ventura County, California, Government
Ventura County, California, credited the use of Lean Six Sigma for a savings of $33 million. The county government began to use the program in 2008 and has trained more than 5,000 employees in the methodology. The county says the savings are due in part to the introduction of more efficient new systems and by eliminating unnecessary, but time-consuming, steps from its prior processes.
For example, the VC Star newspaper reported in 2019 that the county saved "$51,000 with an appointments system that reduced labor costs and rates for maintenance of county vehicles [and] almost $400,000 annually by implementing a new system to track employee leaves of absence."
How Can You Get Six Sigma Certification?
You can receive Six Sigma certification through private companies, associations, and some colleges. Keep in mind, though, that there is no single governing body that standardizes the curriculum. This means that courses can vary based on where you take them.
Can You Get Six Sigma Certification Online?
Yes, many of the universities and organizations that offer Six Sigma certification have both classroom and online offerings.
What Is the Basic Difference Between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma?
Lean Six Sigma uses the Six Sigma methodology (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) with the specific goal of eliminating waste in a company's, or other organization's, processes or use or materials—that is, making it "leaner." It derives in part from the principles of lean manufacturing.
Six Sigma has become a widely used quality-improvement methodology in both the private and public sectors. Anyone who wishes to learn it can take courses that lead to various levels of certification.
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DMAIC Model | The 5 Phase DMAIC Process to Problem-Solving
- 5 mins to read
- July 1, 2020
- By Reagan Pannell
Summary: An Introduction to DMAIC
Dmaic – the dmaic model.
The 6 Sigma DMAIC model remains the core roadmap for almost all Lean Six Sigma problem-solving approaches that drive quality improvement projects. It is used to ensure a robust problem-solving process is followed to give the best chance of the best solution being found.
A note about the structure and the approach used in this article.
Our approach to DMAIC follows Quentin Brook’s book “Lean Six Sigma & Minitab” which for anyone wishing to study Lean Six Sigma is a must for the Green Belt Course and the Black Belt Course .
What is the dmaic model.
DMAIC is short for: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. These are the key phases that each project must go through to find the right solution. This flow is the concept behind DMAIC Analysis of an issue and its the DMAIC cycle all projects must go through.
As you can quickly see from the 5 DMAIC phases they follow a logical sequence as we will go through in more detail below. But they also make sure you do not try to jump to implementing a solution before you have properly, defined and measured what you are going to be an improvement.
We all love to jump to solutions, but the DMAIC problem-solving structure helps us have a more rigorous approach so that we do not short cut the process and perhaps miss the best solution or perhaps implement the wrong solution as well. It can help companies better structure their problem-solving approaches and be more robust in their approach.
DMAIC – The 5 DMAIC Process Phases
The phases throughout the DMAIC model have and can be broken down in many different ways. One of the best approaches we have found is from Opex Resources which shows how to examine the existing processes, and with a project team, and the sigma improvement process, we can solve complex issues.
DMAIC Define Phase
The purpose of the Define phase is ultimately to describe the problems that need to be solved and for the key business decision-makers to be aligned on the goal of the project. Its about creating and agreeing the project charter .
All too often, teams have identified solutions without actually defining what it is they will actually be trying to do or perhaps not do. This can lead to internal confusion and often solutions which completely miss the business requirements and needs.
- Define the Business Case
- Understand the Consumer
- Define The Process
- Manage the Project
- Gain Project Approval
DMAIC Measure Phase
In the measure phase, the goal is to collect the relevant information to baseline the current performance of the product or the process. In this stage, we want to identify the level of “defects” or the errors that go wrong and use the baseline to measure our progress throughout the project.
The key goal of this phase is to have a very strong and clear measure/baseline of how things are performing today so that we can always monitor our progress towards our goals. We need to understand our cycle times , process times, quality metrics.
Many projects are delivered without clear benefits being shown because the team never fully baseline the current status before making changes.
The Measure phase can be broken down into 5 key areas:
- Develop Process Measures
- Collect Process Data
- Check the Data Quality
- Understand Process Behaviour
- Baseline Process Capability and Potential
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DMAIC Analyse Phase
The goal of the DMAIC Analyse phase with the lean six sigma improvement process is to identify which process inputs or parameters have the most critical effect on the outputs. In other words, we want to identify the root cause(s) so that we know what critical elements we need to fix.
During this phase, the teams need to explore all potential root causes using both analytical approaches, statistical approaches or even graphical tools such as VSM’s and Process maps to uncover the most important elements which need to be changed/fixed.
The Analyse phase can be broken down into:
- Analyse the Process
- Develop Theories and Ideas
- Analyse the Data
- and finally, Verify Root Causes
DMAIC Improve Phase
The goal of the improvement phase is to identify a wide range of potential solutions before identifying the critical solutions which will give us the maximum return for our investment and directly fix the root cause we identified.
During this phase, the team brainstorm, pilot, test and validate potential improvement ideas before finally implementing the right solutions. With each pilot, the team can validate how well it improves the key measures they identified back in Define and Measure. When the team finally roll out the solution, the results should be seen if the right solution has been found and implemented correctly.
The Improve phase can be broken down into:
- Generate Potential Solutions
- Select the Best Solution
- Assess the Risks
- Pilot and Implement
DMAIC Control Phase
The final part of the DMAIC Model is the Control phase where we need to ensure that the new changes become business as normal and we do not revert to the same way of working as before.
During this phase, we want to ensure that we close the project off by validating the project savings and ensuring the new process is correctly documented. We also need to make sure that new measures and process KPI’s are in place and, finally that we get the business champion to sign off on both the project and the savings. We may need to redesign the workplace following the 5S principles .
The Control phase can be broken down into:
- Implement Ongoing Measurements
- Standardise Solutions
- Quantify the Improvement
- Close The Project
The key closing documents of the Control Phase is a Control Plan that documents all the changes and process steps with key risks, standard work instructions and the Project Close-Out document signed by the business owners to accept the change and the validated benefits.
The DMAIC Model vs. A3 Management vs. 8D Problem Solving
The DMAIC model is not the only project management roadmap. Two others which are important is the A3 format which originally comes from Toyota and is very Lean focused and the 8D which draws more of the DMAIC structure but with the 1-page idea of the A3.
Everyone has their own preference but each method is interchangeable. The DMAIC Structure lends its self naturally to a multi-slide Powerpoint presentation. Whereas the A3 is a single-page document which is perfect for internal communication and adding into War Rooms and Control Towers.
What’s important is that every problem-solving approach follows the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check and Act) Scientific Problem Solving format. The reset is just a preference or using the right tool in the right circumstances.
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The Easy Guide to Solving Problems with Six Sigma DMAIC Method
The most commonly used methodology in Six Sigma is the DMAIC process. Many use it to solve problems and identify and fix errors in business and manufacturing processes.
In this post, we will look at how to use the DMAIC process to solve problems. You will also find useful and editable templates that you can use right away when implementing DMAIC problem-solving in your organization.
- What are 5 the Steps of Six Sigma
DMAIC Process and Problem-Solving
Common mistakes to avoid when using six sigma dmaic methodology, how to use the dmaic methodology for problem solving in project management, what are the 5 steps of six sigma.
DMAIC is one of the core methodologies used within the Six Sigma framework. It is a data-driven method used to systematically improve the process. The approach aims to increase the quality of a product or service by focusing on optimizing the process that produces the output. This way DMAIC seeks to provide permanent solutions when it comes to process improvement.
It provides a structured problem-solving framework to identify, analyze, and improve existing processes. DMAIC guides practitioners through a series of steps to identify the root causes of process issues, implement solutions, and sustain the improvements over time.
Following we have listed down the 5 phases of the DMAIC process along with the steps you need to take when using it to solve problems. Different tools for each phase is provided with editable templates.
Step 1: Define the Problem
So there’s a problem that affects your customer or your company processes. In this first step of the DMAIC problem solving method , you need to focus on what the problem is and how it has affected you as a company.
There are a few steps you need to follow in this phase.
• Create a problem statement which should include a definition of the problem in quantifiable terms and the severity of the problem.
• Make sure necessary resources such as a team leader and competent team members, and funds etc. are available at hand.
• Develop a goal statement based on your problem statement. It should be a measurable and time-bound target to achieve.
• Create a SIPOC diagram which will provide the team with a high-level overview of the process (along with its inputs, outputs, suppliers, and customers) that is being analyzed. You can also use a value stream map to do the same job.
• Try to understand the process in more in-depth detail by creating a process map that outlines all process steps. Involve the process owners when identifying the process steps and developing the map. You can add swimlanes to represent different departments and actors responsible.
Step 2: Measure the Problem
In this step, you should measure the extent of the problem. To do so you need to examine the process in its current state to see how it performs. The detailed process map you created in the ‘Define’ phase can help you with this.
The baseline measurements you will need to look into in this phase, are process duration, the number of defects, costs and other relevant metrics.
These baseline measurements will be used as the standards against which the team will measure their success in the ‘Improve’ phase.
Step 3: Analyze the Problem
The analyze phase of the DMAIC process is about identifying the root cause that is causing the problem.
• Referring to the process maps and value stream maps you have created, further, analyze the process to identify the problem areas.
• Visualize the data you have collected (both in the ‘Measure’ phase and the analyze phase) to identify signs of problems in the processes.
• Use Pareto charts, histograms, run charts etc. to represent numerical data. Study them with team leaders and process owners to identify patterns.
• With the results of your process analysis and your data analysis, start brainstorming the root causes of the problem. Use a cause and effect diagram/ fishbone diagram to capture the knowledge of the process participants during the session.
• Using a 5 whys diagram, narrow down your findings to the last few causes of the problem in your process.
Step 4: Improve (Solve the Problem)
In this phase, the focus is on mitigating the root cause identified and brainstorming and implementing solutions. The team will also collect data to measure their improvement against the data collected during the ‘Measure’ phase.
• You may generate several effective solutions to the root cause, but implementing them all would not be practical. Therefore, you will have to select the most practical solutions.
To do this you can use an impact effort matrix . It will help you determine which solution has the best impact and the least effort/ cost.
• Based on different solutions, you should develop new maps that will reflect the status of the process once the solution has been applied. This map is known as the to-be map or the future-state map. It will provide guidance for the team as they implement changes.
• Explore the different solutions using the PDCA cycle and select the best one to implement. The cycle allows you to systematically study the possible solutions, evaluate the results and select the ones that have a higher chance of success.
Step 5: Control (Sustain the Improvements)
In the final phase of the DMAIC method , the focus falls on maintaining the improvements you have gained by implementing the solutions. Here you should continue to measure the success and create a plan to monitor the improvements (a Monitoring plan).
You should also create a Response plan which includes steps to take if there’s a drop in the process performance. With new process maps and other documentation, you should then proceed to document the improved processes.
Hand these documents along with the Monitoring plan and the response plan to the process owners for their reference.
Insufficiently defining the problem can lead to a lack of clarity regarding the problem statement, objectives, and scope. Take the time to clearly define the problem, understand the desired outcomes, and align stakeholders' expectations.
Failing to engage key stakeholders throughout the DMAIC process can result in limited buy-in and resistance to change. Ensure that stakeholders are involved from the beginning, seeking their input, addressing concerns, and keeping them informed about progress and outcomes.
Collecting insufficient or inaccurate data can lead to flawed analysis and incorrect conclusions. Take the time to gather relevant data using appropriate measurement systems, ensure data accuracy and reliability, and apply appropriate statistical analysis techniques to derive meaningful insights.
Getting caught up in analysis paralysis without taking action is a common pitfall. While analysis is crucial, it’s equally important to translate insights into concrete improvement actions. Strive for a balance between analysis and implementation to drive real change.
Failing to test potential solutions before implementation can lead to unintended consequences. Utilize methods such as pilot studies, simulation, or small-scale experiments to validate and refine proposed solutions before full-scale implementation.
Successful process improvement is not just about making initial changes ; it’s about sustaining those improvements over the long term. Develop robust control plans, standard operating procedures, and monitoring mechanisms to ensure the gains achieved are maintained and deviations are identified and corrected.
Applying DMAIC in a one-size-fits-all manner without considering the organization’s unique culture, context, and capabilities can hinder success. Tailor the approach to fit the specific needs, capabilities, and culture of the organization to enhance acceptance and implementation.
In the project management context, the Define phase involves clearly defining the project objectives, scope, deliverables, and success criteria. It entails identifying project stakeholders, understanding their expectations, and establishing a project charter or a similar document that outlines the project’s purpose and key parameters.
The Measure phase focuses on collecting data and metrics to assess the project’s progress, performance, and adherence to schedule and budget. Key project metrics such as schedule variance, cost variance, and resource utilization are tracked and analyzed. This phase provides insights into the project’s current state and helps identify areas that require improvement.
The Analyze phase involves analyzing the project data and identifying root causes of any performance gaps or issues. It aims to understand why certain project aspects are not meeting expectations. Techniques such as root cause analysis, Pareto charts, or fishbone diagrams can be used to identify factors impacting project performance.
In the Improve phase, potential solutions and actions are developed and implemented to address the identified issues. This may involve making adjustments to the project plan, reallocating resources, refining processes, or implementing corrective measures. The goal is to optimize project performance and achieve desired outcomes.
The Control phase focuses on monitoring and controlling project activities to sustain the improvements made. It involves implementing project control mechanisms, establishing performance metrics, and conducting regular reviews to ensure that the project remains on track. Control measures help prevent deviations from the plan and enable timely corrective actions.
What are Your Thoughts on DMAIC Problem Solving Method?
Here we have covered the 5 phases of Six Sigma DMAIC and the tools that you can use in each stage. You can use them to identify problem areas in your organizational processes, generate practical solutions and implement them effectively.
Have you used DMAIC process to improve processes and solve problems in your organization? Share your experience with the tool with us in the comment section below.
Also, check our post on Process Improvement Methodologies to learn about more Six Sigma and Lean tools to streamline your processes.
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FAQs about Six Sigma and DMAIC Approaches
DMAIC and DMADV are two methodologies used in Six Sigma. DMAIC is employed to enhance existing processes by addressing issues and improving efficiency, while DMADV is utilized for creating new processes or products that meet specific customer needs by following a structured design and verification process.
- Used for improving existing processes
- Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control
- Identifies problem areas and implements solutions
- Focuses on reducing process variation and enhancing efficiency
- Used for developing new products, services, or processes
- Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify
- Emphasizes meeting customer requirements and creating innovative solutions
- Involves detailed design and verification through testing
Problem identification : When a process is not meeting desired outcomes or experiencing defects, DMAIC can be used to identify and address the root causes of the problem.
Process optimization : DMAIC provides a systematic approach to analyze and make improvements to processes by reducing waste, improving cycle time, or enhancing overall efficiency.
Continuous improvement : DMAIC is often used as part of ongoing quality management efforts. It helps organizations maintain a culture of continuous improvement by systematically identifying and addressing process issues, reducing variation, and striving for better performance.
Data-driven decision making : DMAIC relies on data collection, measurement, and analysis. It is suitable when there is sufficient data available to evaluate process performance and identify areas for improvement.
Quality control and defect reduction : DMAIC is particularly useful when the primary objective is to reduce defects, minimize errors, and enhance product or service quality. By analyzing the root causes of defects, improvements can be made to prevent their occurrence.
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Amanda Athuraliya is the communication specialist/content writer at Creately, online diagramming and collaboration tool. She is an avid reader, a budding writer and a passionate researcher who loves to write about all kinds of topics.
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Home / Six Sigma / The Six Sigma Approach: A Data-Driven Approach To Problem-Solving
The Six Sigma Approach: A Data-Driven Approach To Problem-Solving
If you are a project manager or an engineer, you may have heard of the 6 Sigma approach to problem-solving by now. In online Six Sigma courses that teach the Six Sigma principles , you will learn that a data-driven approach to problem-solving , or the Six Sigma approach, is a better way to approach problems. If you have a Six Sigma Green Belt certification then you will be able to turn practical problems into practical solutions using only facts and data.
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This approach does not have room for gut feel or jumping to conclusions. However, if you are reading this article, you are probably still curious about the Six Sigma approach to problem-solving.
What is the Six Sigma Approach?
Let’s see what the Six Sigma approach or thinking is. As briefly described in free Six Sigma Green Belt Certification training , this approach is abbreviated as DMAIC. The DMAIC methodology of Six Sigma states that all processes can be Defined, Measured, Analyzed, Improved and Controlled . These are the phases in this approach. Collectively, it is called as DMAIC. Every Six Sigma project goes through these five stages. In the Define phase, the problem is looked at from several perspectives to identify the scope of the problem. All possible inputs in the process that may be causing the problem are compared and the critical few are identified. These inputs are Measured and Analyzed to determine whether they are the root cause of the problem. Once the root cause has been identified, the problem can be fixed or Improved. After the process has been improved, it must be controlled to ensure that the problem has been fixed in the long-term.
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Every output (y) is a function of one or multiple inputs (x)
Any process which has inputs (X), and delivers outputs (Y) comes under the purview of the Six Sigma approach. X may represent an input, cause or problem, and Y may represent output, effect or symptom . We can say here that controlling inputs will control outputs. Because the output Y will be generated based on the inputs X.
This Six Sigma approach is called Y=f(X) thinking. It is the mechanism of the Six Sigma. Every problematic situation has to be converted into this equation. It may look difficult but it is just a new way of looking at the problem.
Please remember that the context of relating X and Y to each other would vary from situation to situation. If X is your input, then only Y becomes your output. If X is your cause, Y will not be regarded as the output. If X is your input, Y cannot be called as an effect.
Let’s go further. The equation of Y=f(X) could involve several subordinate outputs, perhaps as leading indicators of the overall “Big Y.” For example, if TAT was identified as the Big Y, the improvement team may examine leading indicators, such as Cycle Time; Lead Time as little Ys. Each subordinate Y may flow down into its own Y= f(X) relationship wherein some of the critical variables for one also may affect another little Y. That another little variable could be your potential X or critical X.
A practical vs. a statistical problem and solution
In the Six Sigma approach, the practical problem is the problem or pain area which has been persisting on your production or shop floor. You will need to c onvert this practical problem into a statistical problem. A statistical problem is the problem that is addressed with facts and data analysis methods. Just a reminder, the measurement, and analysis of a statistical problem is completed in Measure and Analyze phase of the Six Sigma approach or DMAIC.
In this approach, the statistical problem will then be converted into a statistical solution. It is the solution with a known confidence or risk levels versus an “I think” solution. This solution is not based on gut feeling. It’s a completely data-driven solution because it was found using the Six Sigma approach.
A Six Sigma approach of DMAIC project would assist you to convert your Practical Problem into Statistical Problem and then your Statistical Problem into Statistical Solution. The same project would also give you the Practical Solutions that aren’t complex and too difficult to implement. That’s how the Six Sigma approach works.
This approach may seem like a lot of work. Wouldn’t it be better to guess what the problem is and work on it from there? That would certainly be easier, but consider that randomly choosing a root cause of a problem may lead to hard work that doesn’t solve the problem permanently. You may be working to create a solution that will only fix 10% of the problem while following the Six Sigma approach will help you to identify the true root cause of the problem . Using this data-driven Six Sigma approach, you will only have to go through the problem-solving process once.
The Six Sigma approach is a truly powerful problem-solving tool. By working from a practical problem to a statistical problem, a statistical solution and finally a practical solution, you will be assured that you have identified the correct root cause of the problem which affects the quality of your products. The Six Sigma approach follows a standard approach – DMAIC – that helps the problem-solver to convert the practical problem into a practical solution based on facts and data . It’s very important to note that the Six Sigma approach is not a one-man show. Problem solving should be approached as a team with subject matter experts and decicion makers involved.
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Six Sigma Basics: DMAIC Like Normal Problem Solving
Published: February 26, 2010 by Chew Jian Chieh
What is the usual way most people go about solving problems? Most people and organizations consciously or unconsciously use this method, as illustrated in Table 1 below.
This is not a bad method, provided what one thinks is causing the problem is really causing the problem. In this case, if a person is fat simply because they do not exercise enough and eat too much, then by exercising and eating less, they should weigh less. And if they do lose weight after taking such action, then the theory is validated. People solve a fair number of problems in this manner – using conventional wisdom and gut theories that also happen to be correct. In those cases, there is little need for Six Sigma – it is just a waste of time. Just do the above.
How Six Sigma Problem Solving Is Different
How is the Six Sigma problem-solving methodology different? Actually it is really not so different from how people normally go about solving day-to-day problems, except in Six Sigma, nobody knows what is really causing the problem at the beginning of the project. And because all attempts to solve the problem in the past have failed, largely because conventional wisdom and gut theories were wrong about the cause of that problem, people conclude that the problem cannot be solved.
These types of problems are really the best candidates for Six Sigma. The Six Sigma DMAIC methodology differs from conventional problem solving in one significant way. There is a requirement for proof of cause and effect before improvement action is taken. Proof is required because resources for improvement actions are limited in most organizations. Those limits preclude being able to implement improvement actions based on 100 hunches hoping that one hits the mark. Thus, discovering root causes is at the core of the methodology.
Here are the steps in the DMAIC process:
- Define phase: Understand what process is to be improved and set a goal.
- Measure phase: Measure the current state.
- Analyze phase: a) Develop cause-and-effect theories of what may be causing the problem; b) Search for the real causes of the problem and scientifically prove the cause-and-effect linkage
- Improve phase: Take action.
- Control phase: a) Measure to verify improvement has taken place; b) Take actions to sustain the gains.
Using a More Mathematical Language
The above steps can be phrase in another way – using more mathematical language (Table 2). (This kind of mathematical language should not put anyone off. If it is a concern initially, a person just needs to remember than whenever a Y shows up in any sentence, just replace it with word “effect,” or the phrase “outcome performance measure.” And whenever an X shows up , just replace it with the word “cause.”)
The key assumption in Six Sigma is this: If the true causes of any problem can discovered, then by controlling or removing the causes, the problem can be reduced or removed. Now is that not just common sense?
A Series of Common Sense Questions
In summary, Six Sigma DMAIC methodology is really just a series of common sense questions that one asks in order to solve any problem and eventually sustain the gains that come from solving the problem.
- Define: What is the Y that is not doing well?
- Measure: What is Y’s current performance?
- Analyze: What are the potential Xs? What are the real Xs?
- Improve: How can the real Xs be controlled or eliminated?
- Control: How can the Xs continue to be controlled to sustain the gains in Y?
Six Sigma’s DMAIC methodology is nothing but a search for the real causes of problems. With this understanding, what remains for those learning Six Sigma are the various tools and techniques used to answer these questions.
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Chew Jian Chieh
The Six Sigma Strategy's DMAIC Problem-Solving Method
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Six Sigma is a business management strategy that was initially developed by Motorola in the 1980s and is used by many Fortune 500 companies today. It is primarily used to identify and rectify errors in a manufacturing or business process.
The Six Sigma system uses a number of quality methods and tools that are used by Six Sigma trained professionals within the organization. The DMAIC problem-solving method can be used to help with any issue that arises, usually by professionals in the organization who have reached the "green belt" level.
The DMAIC Method
The DMAIC problem-solving method is a roadmap that can be used for any projects or quality improvements that need to be made. The term DMAIC stands for the five main steps in the process: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.
- Define: It is important in Six Sigma to define the problem or project goals. The more specific the problem is defined, the greater the chance of obtaining measurements and then successfully completing the project or solving the problem. The definition should describe the issue accurately with numeric representation. For example, “damaged finished goods from the production line have increased 17 percent in the last three months." The definition of the problem or project should not be vague, such as, “quality has fallen.” As part of the definition stage, the scope of the project or issue should be defined, as well as the business processes involved.
- Measure: When the project or problem has been defined, decisions should then be made about additional measurements required to quantify the problem. For example, if the definition of the problem is “damaged finished goods from the production line have increased 17 percent in the last three months,” then additional measurements might need to be looked at. This includes what finished goods are being damaged, when they are being damaged, and the level of damage.
- Analyze: Once the measuring stage has defined the additional measurements, the data is then collected and analyzed. At this point, it is possible to determine whether the problem is valid or whether it is a random event that does not have a specific cause that can be corrected. The data that has been collected can be used as a base level to compare against measurements after the project has been completed to ascertain the success of the project.
- Improve: After measurements have been taken and analyzed, possible solutions can then be developed. Test data can be created and pilot studies launched to find which of the solutions offers the best improvements to the issue. The team should also look at the results to ensure that there are no unanticipated consequences to the selected solution. When the most appropriate solution is selected, then the team can develop an implementation plan and a timeline for the completion of the project.
- Control: After the implementation of the solution or project, a number of controls must be put in place so that measurements can be taken to confirm that the solution is still valid and to prevent a recurrence. The control measurements can be scheduled for specific dates, e.g., monthly, daily, and yearly. The solution should also be well documented and any other related process documentation updated.
The DMAIC problem-solving method can produce significant improvements for an organization that is using the Six Sigma methodology and tools. The method offers a five-step plan that gives organizations a roadmap to follow so that issues can be resolved using a structured methodology.
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Six Sigma Problem Solving
...is alive, but is Lean Six Sigma dead?
Six Sigma problem solving has been used by quality improvement professionals across the manufacturing industry for several decades. But the Lean Six Sigma variation has polarized opinion, with several groups speaking for and against its feasibility and return on investment (ROI).
This methodology combines Lean manufacturing concepts with the data-centric approach to problem solving that is the cornerstone of good Six Sigma. But there are some who think its effectiveness is in dispute or in decline.
Before we plunge headlong into the question of whether Lean Six Sigma is ‘dead’ or not, let us consider these situations:
- A large European investment bank must decide about the continuation of a Lean and Six Sigma program that costs about $4.5 million a year and yields benefits of about $1.8 million a year.
- A medium-sized outsourcing firm from India has practiced Lean Six Sigma for nearly a decade and spends about half a million dollars every year on quality improvement while delivering benefits of nearly $14 million during the same period.
- A large manufacturing firm shut down its Lean Six Sigma program on the grounds that it generated ‘too much paperwork’ and conflicted with its existing quality improvement methods.
So why is there such a vastly polarized opinion about a methodology that has been around for over a half a century now? What is it that makes writers, management gurus and practitioners around the world celebrate or eulogize it?
Understanding the Back Story
The truth is that corporations around the world have been practising Six Sigma problem solving under another name – reliability engineering – for over half a century. Since the late years of the Second World War, the ideas of Kaizen and the elimination of waste have found their way into the finance and service industries too.
When Motorola announced their multi-million dollar method that would transform their business, they were in fact stating and documenting a systematic methodology to problem-solving that had been in existence for several decades. GE and Lockheed soon followed suit. Over a span of nearly three decades and millions of dollars invested in Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma was the next logical step to address the problem of eliminating waste in products and processes as well as reducing the cost and time required to complete projects.
Why the obituary for Six Sigma problem solving?
- Some of the larger firms abandoned the initiative because of the immense (and sometimes frustrating ) training required and the cost of deployment.
- Others had already adopted the principles of Lean into their quality improvement program and saw no need to adopt the ‘fad’.
- Unlike Six Sigma, being trained and certified in Lean Six Sigma did not add enough to a practitioner’s résumé justifying the cost of training and certification.
- The senior management teams of certain industries did not see the benefits of Lean in an already Six Sigma-rich environment.
Of course, these are just some of the general factors that have contributed to the less than ready acceptance of Lean Six Sigma. This by no means indicates that Lean Six Sigma as a discipline is dead.
More often than not, ‘Lean’ may be found hiding behind a host of organizational names for Lean Six Sigma under the umbrella of the organization’s existing Six Sigma culture. Whatever the case, Lean concepts are practiced and are alive and well today.
If Lean Six Sigma is alive, where can it be found? For every manufacturing company that seems to have set aside Lean principles for their own in-house improvement methodology, you will find banks, retail, and pharmaceutical industries using Six Sigma problem solving to optimize processes and eliminate waste. They do so without announcing it to the world. Outsourcing firms around the world invest millions of dollars in Lean Six Sigma to be able to deliver quick, sustainable productivity gains to their clients – many of whom are manufacturing companies.
The Verdict? Lean Six Sigma is alive, well and growing in emerging markets like never before. Don’t write it off just yet.
More problem solving techniques
- Tool 1: When you don’t know what to do
- Tool 2: Defining questions for problem solving
- Tool 3: Finding the right problems to solve
- Tool 4: Problem solving check-list
- Tool 4a: Using the question check-list with your team
- Tool 5: Problem analysis in 4 steps
- Tool 5a: Using 4 Step problem analysis with your team
- Tool 6: Questions that create possibilities
- Tool 6a: Using the 5 questions with your team
- Tool 6b: Putting creativity to work – 5 alternate questions
- Tool 6c: Workshop outline
- Tool 7: Evaluating alternatives
- Tool 8: Creative thinking techniques A-Z
- Tool 9: The 5 Whys technique
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Six Sigma Solutions International
Getting the information you need to make better decisions
Senior Vice President – Johnson & Johnson
Six Sigma Solutions provided our Black Belts with the hands on experiences of practitioners who have used the Six Sigma toolset in real world situations. This has been a discriminator in closing projects on schedule and driving true bottom line results.
As practitioners, the consultants at Six Sigma Solutions International have found that understanding statistical tools alone is not sufficient for a successful business improvement program.
The training focuses on application of the methodology and achieving results that return value to the business vs. developing an academic understanding of the mechanics of the statistical methods.
Everyone who attends the Black Belt and Green Belt training sessions are provided free email and phone support on their current and future projects.
All of the consultants at Six Sigma Solutions International have extensive experience applying the methodolgy in a variety of industries.
This program teaches participants the skill-set required to rapidly acquire knowledge so that better decisions can be made regarding the product design and manufacturing processes.
This training is intended for individuals who are working to improve processes that are transactional in nature.
Upper management play a key role in developing the deployment strategy and monitoring the impact of the improvement efforts.
Six Sigma Solutions International occasionally offers open enrollment classes for smaller organizations or individuals who want to get certified as Green Belts or Black Belts.