DMAIC: A five-step program Six Sigma style
This stage makes clear what the problem is and how you measure it. Now’s the time to set the boundaries of the study and explain how the defect impacts customer perceptions. Here are the steps you take to define: 1. Clearly state the problem to keep your effort focused. One method of defining a problem is describing exactly what’s meant by the term “defect” Here are some questions you should ask: • How many defects can the item or service have? If it has just one, is the whole product or service bad, or is it acceptable to customers? • How do you measure defects? Each type of defect likely has a different cause, and you must identify each separately. 2. Investigate the process to understand how it should be working. A Six Sigma expert asks questions of everyone involved with the process in order to look for the problem’s obvious solution. Each worker has an opinion on the cause, which is referred to as tribal knowledge. If the tribal-knowledge approach fixes the problem, the entire effort is a success. Go on to the next Six Sigma project. If the tribal-knowledge approach fails, you must dig further into the process. A Six Sigma maxim is, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” In other words, you don’t know the right question to ask at this stage, so you can’t find the right answer. 3. Identify the value the process adds from the customer’s point of view. For example, does the process add paint to an item? Put an order confirmation into the mail? How does the process transform the item (or service) that the customer is willing to pay for? 4. Mark out the project boundaries (so you don’t try to solve all the world’s problems at once).
Six Sigma uses a five-phase approach for attacking a quality problem: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control (better known as DMAIC).
After you define the problem within the process you select, the Six Sigma experts on staff should validate that the process is repeatable and capable of delivering what your customers need. This validation points toward fixing the process or looking for variation in the inputs. If the expert determines that the problem is in the process, you look for variation there. Your process’s tooling, design, and materials may not be capable of consistently delivering what your customers desire. When a correct product appears, it may be more of an accident than something your company can rely on. If the expert determines that the process is capable and repeatable, however, the variation must be in the inputs. In that case, you follow these steps:
Consider all the process inputs (men, machines, methods, environment, or materials) to identify variations (see the sections “Measuring variation with x’s and Y’s” and “Organizing process inputs with Ishikawa’s Fishbone
Variation may be one of the following types:
• • •
Positional: Variation within the part in question or between machines or operators. Make several measurements on the same piece. Cyclical: Variation from part to part in the same batch or between batches. Make measurements on different pieces. Temporal: Changes that happen over time. Maybe the parts are worse on Mondays, you see variation between shifts, or you notice an hour-by-hour difference. Map the process and measure its overall performance. Review the process to find a point to begin collecting data
The team begins zeroing in on where the problem may be. Up to now, the analysis has been on the process in general to identify these points for in-depth review.
Gather information on previous defects.
Look for inspection records for this part of the process. You’re constantly trying to tighten the point where the defect may occur while remaining flexible enough to chase the problem wherever the data takes your team.
Verify that the way you detect defects is correct and consistent.
In some cases, the defect either exists or it doesn’t (like a dent or a missed field in an order form). In other cases, the defect is that a product is too short, too long, not strong enough, and so on. You identify each of these defect types through measuring something. You must confirm that the way you detect a defect (or measure it) is valid. If you detect the defect by inspection, you can provide pictures of good and bad results. If you detect the defect with a measuring device (micrometer, voltmeter, and so on), you should prove that the device making the measurement is accurate.
During the analyze phase, you examine your collected data and, in many cases, collect even more. Sometimes, your data leads you to believe that other process steps require data collection and analysis. And just like an old detective story, sometimes data leads to a dead end. The final goal of this phase is to identify the cause of the defect. In general, the defect will be a variation in one of the inputs. Here, we lay out the analyze phase: 1. Analyze the data you collect during the measuring stage to identify the cause of the variation. When one of the inputs changes, what happens to the output? Look for statistical interactions between the inputs. 2. Pinpoint any areas of improvement.
During the improve phase, you form ideas about how to fix the problem in your process. This can be the most fun (or the most frustrating) part of the Six Sigma experience. Based on the data you’ve collected, your team proposes one or more ways to change the process to eliminate the problem. If a proposed change is cheap (such as changing the sequence of process steps), you can easily test it. If the change requires an expensive piece of equipment, the team must prove that the purchase will fix the problem (a tough but not impossible task). Here are the steps you go through in the improvement phase: 1. Begin improving the guilty process step(s) by identifying ways to fix it Based on the data you’ve collected; create a list of actions for correcting the problem. One or two major things and many minor things generally cause a defect. Focus on correcting the major issues, and if the minor causes are obvious and easy to fix, clean them up also. 2. Experiment with various solutions, and propose the one that solves the problem with the least amount of cost or complexity.
Often, this step requires additional measurement. When you give attention to a process, it isn’t unusual to identify small improvements you can make that aren’t a part of the Six Sigma investigations.
This step can be fun. It involves purposely varying the input you think causes the problem to prove your theory. If you find the right cause, everyone can watch as your team makes the elusive defect appear and disappear at will by varying the guilty input. 3. Obtain approval and install the solution.
With the true problem’s identity proven, your team proposes a solution to eliminate the problem. Draft a proposal for changing the process for approval by the project’s Sponsor 4. Look for mistake-proofing opportunities When eliminating the problem, look for ways to reduce the chance that it will ever appear again. 5. Statistically demonstrate the amount of improvement in the process after you implement the solution After you implement the fix, compare the result to the original defect level — the true test that the process is really repaired.
An important part of Six Sigma is controlling the process you improve so that it stays fixed. After you take steps to improve the process, implement a control process that alerts you if the process changes back to its dysfunctional ways. A control process also ensures that workers don’t go back to the “old way” of doing something.
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