One of the strengths of Six Sigma is its versatility. It has improved processes in industries ranging from healthcare and manufacturing, to transportation and hospitality. Six Sigma has benefited these various sectors because the tools it uses can be easily modified to meet the needs of different organizations.
While Six Sigma uses dozens of tools to improve processes, some of the most common and most essential ones for project success are listed below.
Team Charter – One of the first things that a project team does is create a team charter. This critical document determines how the team functions and how it will tackle process improvement.
The charter requires members to define who is on the team, identify what process the team will be working on and state the team’s objective. The charter also calls for a written business case that explains why the project is necessary and to estimate its financial benefits.
This charter acts as a compass to guide teams through the choppy waters of process improvement. When done correctly, the charter helps the team understand: who they are, what they are doing and how they help the company.
Process Map – This is a diagram that breaks the current process down into a step-by-step display of the actions that produce a product. The map uses shapes and colors to visually represent how the process works from start to finish.
Even if a process map already exists, project teams benefit from creating their own map by literally walking through the process. Drawing their own map gives teams a solid understanding of how the process works. Once the team captures the workings of the current process on a map, they have a common starting point for performing analysis and making improvements.
Design of Experiments (DOE) – As the project advances, teams will become more concerned with how process inputs affect its outputs; this is where DOE comes in. Design of Experiments helps teams identify controllable and uncontrollable factors that determine output. It then allows teams to test controllable factors at different levels to determine the optimal combination of inputs for quality output.
Control Chart – These charts help monitor a process over time and detect variation. The team takes samples of the process’s output and plots them on a control chart to determine if the samples are within control limits. When the sampled performance fits inside the control limits it is functioning properly. Samples that fall outside the control limits indicate unacceptable variation in the process and require additional analysis.
Pareto Chart – This tool helps teams separate the few significant problems from the trivial many. A Pareto chart helps teams see the most significant problems at a glance.
The chart plots the causes of defects on the horizontal line of a graph in descending order from left to right. Problem occurrences are listed on the vertical line, and it is illustrated with a bar. Problems with the longest bars demonstrate the areas for greatest potential improvement.
A project team that uses these tools well will gain a better understanding of the process and will produce better results.