Key components of the Six Sigma process

For many of the uninitiated, Six Sigma has taken on an almost mystical quality, and truth be told, on many levels, you’ve got to do it to understand it. Visit Six Sigma chat rooms and web sites, and one of the toughest challenges often cited is the difficulty of explaining Six Sigma "in 25 words or less."

At many companies, Six Sigma is no more or no less than a measure of quality that strives for near perfection, and there are many different frameworks in use. However, there are two major submethodologies: DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) and DMADV (define, measure, analyze, design, verify). The DMAIC process, the most common approach to Six Sigma, is an improvement model for existing processes that fall below specified levels, while DMADV is used to develop new processes or products. Both processes are executed by Six Sigma black belts and green belts and overseen by Six Sigma master black belts.

At the web site, QPR, a Six Sigma consulting firm, further breaks down some of the key process components as follows:

  • Define: Define the core process.
  • Measure: Measure the existing system and establish reliable and valid measures.
  • Analyze: Analyze findings, define the gap between as-is state and should-be state.
  • Improve: Create new ways to do things; re-engineer the process; validate improvements by simulations and statistical methods; create project plans; instigate changes through contemporary communication (i.e., intranet/Internet).

Another firm, Advanced Systems Consultants (ASC) of Scottsdale, AZ, outlines its Six Sigma process with what it calls a "phased approach":

Phase I: Executive strategy. Presentation of an overview of the Six Sigma program to the executive leadership of the organization, to help them crystallize their vision and lead them through the strategy to implement it within their particular organization.

Phase 2: Performance indices. Identify the critical business issues and their respective performance indices for their organization. Establish a baseline, goals, and the impact of the Six Sigma performance indices.

Phase 3: Process classification. Classify the processes according to their impact on the critical business issues and Six Sigma performance indices and define projects and studies.

Phase 4: Resource designation. Designate teams, their leaders (black belts) and members (green belts), and assign them to specific projects and studies.

Phase 5: M/PCpS standardization. Training, standardization, and deployment of ASC’s proprietary five-stage methodology for process characterization, optimization and control — for all team members and leaders.

Phase 6: Program review. Periodic review of the projects and studies assigned to the teams and their impact on the Six Sigma performance indices and critical business issues.

(See Perez-Wilson M. "Six Sigma strategies: Creating excellence in the workplace." Web: Go to December 1997 issue.)