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Must-Know Six Sigma Tools and Techniques

Six sigma tools

In this post, we will look at a few of the most important Six Sigma tools that are used by practitioners of this methodology.

The effective use of these tools can help not only Six Sigma experts, but other business professionals interested in process improvement.

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First, however, let’s distinguish Six Sigma from other business improvement methodologies.

Six Sigma: A Definition

Six Sigma is a business process improvement methodology that focuses on certain key areas:

  • Minimizing deviation, process variability, errors, and defects. Reducing process variation is the primary aim of Six Sigma. By decreasing variation in business processes, it is possible to reduce errors and lower the number of defects in a process or output. 
  • Improving quality and business outcomes. One of the primary outcomes of decreasing errors and defects is improvements in quality. Those quality improvements can be felt across the entire organization, both in the business itself and in products and services.
  • Raising customer satisfaction. Six Sigma is also focused heavily on the customer experience and customer satisfaction.
  • Using data and statistics to achieve results. Another key characteristic of Six Sigma is its emphasis on data and statistics. Using data and statistics, it is possible to achieve mathematically precise measurements and improvements in processes.

Since Six Sigma began in manufacturing and engineering, it should be unsurprising that this is a data-driven process. 

It has been widely adopted by certain organizations that rely on statistically sound manufacturing processes, such as Honeywell and IBM. But Six Sigma has expanded and spread to other disciplines besides manufacturing.

Benefits of Six Sigma

Here are just a few reasons why companies adopt this. Six Sigma method:

  • Reduced error rates and inefficiencies in business processes
  • Enhanced customer experiences 
  • Increased customer satisfaction
  • Higher employee productivity
  • Higher quality products
  • Reduced costs

Naturally, to achieve these benefits, it is necessary to have a deep understanding of Six Sigma and to use this methodology’s tools properly.

Six Sigma Tools and Techniques

Here are a few of the most common and well-known tools and techniques in this methodology:

  • DMAIC. DMAIC stands for define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. This is the core tool used in Six Sigma to enhance and improve business processes. It is designed to be applied continuously in order to continually optimize processes and outcomes.
  • DMADV. Like DMAIC, DMADV is intended to optimize process performance, ideally to the six sigma level. This process, however, is intended to create new processes and services, rather than improving existing ones.
  • Business process mapping. Business process mapping is the act of diagramming or graphically representing business processes. The purpose is to create a reference that offers insights into key process variables, such as resources, costs, labor, time, and so forth. 
  • Benchmarking. Benchmarking sets targets that are used for measuring processes through metrics, KPIs, and analytics. It is a standard process in any data-driven approach, such as Six Sigma.
  • 5S. This concept came from Japan and is a systematic approach to continual improvement. It stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain, which are the English derivations of the original Japanese terms. By continually applying this system, it is possible to organize and improve the efficiency of a workplace.
  • Root cause analysis. Root cause analysis is a technique designed to trace the source of a problem. Repeatedly asking the question “why” through the 5 Why’s technique, for instance, can lead Six Sigma practitioners from a problem to its underlying cause.
  • Brainstorming. Brainstorming is intended to generate a number of ideas. In business, this is often undertaken as a group activity and it can generate new and unexpected outcomes, improve innovation, help managers identify problems, develop new solutions, and more.
  • Kanban. Kanban has become popularized in project management tools, such as Zoho Projects, and task management tools, such as Trello. As it is used in these applications, it is a system of organizing tasks into a workflow or pipeline. Originally, however, it was a more complex system that dictated the transportation of supplies and resources through a production pipeline. 
  • Continual improvement. Continual performance improvement is less a tool and more a principle. This underlying value, or principle, is based on the concept of embedding improvement methods into the organization. The tools covered above, such as DMAIC, are examples of continual improvement in action.

These are just a few examples of the tools used in Six Sigma. 

Some of them are also used in other business process improvement methodologies, such as lean. The effective use of techniques such as these can have a dramatic and positive impact on the organization’s performance, its efficiency, and its profits.

The more diligently an organization utilizes these best practices, the better its outcomes will be.

Other Tools and Resources

Six Sigma is an excellent business methodology for enhancing process efficiency and performance. There are, however, other tools and methods that are equally popular.

Lean, for instance, is a business process improvement methodology that is perhaps even more widespread than Six Sigma. Or, perhaps even more widespread than both of these individual systems is Lean Six Sigma, a hybrid approach that combines both lean and Six Sigma.

Also, in recent times, agile has become a popular approach as well.

Ultimately, every business will utilize the system that is most suitable for its circumstances. In many cases this means combining more than one system and using a set of tools from each.

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