The House of High Quality Articles for Everyone in the World

Dec 27, 2010

Six Sigma Process Mapping

Process mapping is a valuable and widespread lean manufacturing tool, but few realise it is also a vital strategic weapon in the fight for Six Sigma quality. Executive rhetoric frequently focuses on instilling a "quality mind-set", where kaizen or continuous improvement is an embedded feature of the organisation. Typically, words are easy but genuine cultural change is problematic. Deming's "Fourteen Points" analysis, regarded by many as the seminal text of the quality movement, was unsparing in its commitment to lasting and permanent cultural change.

Deming's statistical insights fused seamlessly with existing Japanese philosophy, the reality of team decision making and an organic commitment to excellence. Some concluded that lean processes were therefore culturally contingent and could not be easily transplanted to Western business models. Deming believed that excellence had universal applicability but that true quality could, paradoxically, only be achieved by the abandonment of exhortation and numerical targets. Quality had to become a reflex and an internalised value rather than a mere box-ticking exercise.

Executives peer through a limited window onto the organisation. To use the language of the Johari window, a popular trope in cognitive psychology, the "known factors" that leaders can influence and control are limited. They hold some insights that are not known to others on the strengths and opportunities of their organisations. Equally, others such as Wall Street analysts may perceive insights into their business that the managers are unaware of. Yet the great unknown, whether defined on a macro-economic, competitive or organisational level, forms a vast and troubling canvas. Hence the widespread focus on incremental, progressive improvement - as exemplified in the process improvement discipline of Six Sigma which is specifically designed to optimise stable and repeatable processes.

This is where process mapping can be used at all levels of the organisation to bridge the divide between the tactical and the strategic. It has at least four main uses:

1) Identification of bottlenecks.

Process analysis, in its most basic and fundamental form, is a simple visual depiction of business activity. This may be in the form of a classic "swim-lane" diagram with arrows to represent data or activity flow and with boxes to define discrete activities. Bright red "D" emblems may be used to signify a delay. This form of classic process map is perfectly placed for identifying roadblocks or bottlenecks. The root cause of these problems can then be assessed and specific Six Sigma tools used to "elevate" these bottlenecks according to the steps described in Eli Goldratt's Theory of Constraints.

2) Imagining the future.

A "future state" process map starts from a blank canvas and attempts to create a streamlined business process from first principles. This adopts the philosophy of zero-based budgeting - namely, that every activity or step has to be justified on a "line item" basis and its utility to the end product and consumer requirement must be analysed. The critical path from the current to the future state process map can then be determined and actions assigned. The ideal state process map should however be a "living document" as the ideal is a permanently evolving concept.

3) Multi-dimensional mapping.

Process maps are ideal tools for illustrating multiple dimensions on a single page. A complex business process - for example, the distribution and sale of agricultural machinery - will reveal extraordinary complexity on several axes. Legal changes (flow of title), accounting actions (invoicing and floor plan financing) can be mapped alongside logistics processes (delivery of tractors) and IT processes (data flows). The entire process can then be "stretched" geographically to visualise on a map. The resulting structure can offer a transformational insight into how the business operates.

4) Analysis of trade-offs.

Trade-offs in any system inevitably exist between quality, cost and time. The opportunity cost of any action or process is rarely considered but is perhaps the most fundamental question of all. While outside the scope of this article, the mapping of the alternatives, options and compromises inherent in any process can be linked to decision analysis to guide business action.

In summary, we can see how process maps bridge the divide between the operational and the strategic, from a microscopic focus on enhancing the quality of a widget to the grander applications of business design. People are largely visual animals and Six Sigma process mapping can energize a lasting cultural commitment to quality, just as Deming once imagined.

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Dec 26, 2010

Six Sigma Project Timelines

Many factors will influence the length of time that it takes to complete Six Sigma Projects. However, you should have a general idea in mind through the development of your project charter to determine how long you will spend on a particular process improvement.

You should never rush Projects, but you should also never drag them out for longer than they need to be going on. ultimately, the length of time that it will take to complete an entire Six Sigma Process is the length of time it takes you to complete all the steps and improve the process. In actuality, the goal of process improvement is to keep it going. Therefore, even when you have completed the process improvement, it is important to ensure that it stays as efficient as it started out to be.

This results in two answers to the question at hand. The first answer is that Projects will be done when the desired results have been achieved. Essentially, the team will no longer have to work on that specific process improvement because they have developed a solution and a continuous improvement plan to take care of it. However, you could look at it from the perspective that since process improvements are continuous projects, that they will never be completely done.

It doesn't matter which way you look at it, because both of these are essentially the right answer to the question. If you have a process that you set out in your project charter to complete in less than a month, you should beat your deadlines unless unknown road blocks come up at some point that prohibit you from finishing. If you are new to Six Sigma Projects, they may take you a little longer to complete than someone who has been doing them for a period of time. However, you should still be realistic in your deadlines and work as quickly and effectively as you can to get the process improvements than it should. The more efficient your process improvement projects are, the more quickly your company will be operating better and adding more to the bottom line.

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Dec 11, 2010

Analytic Tools for Successful Lean Manufacturing Implementation

A lean manufacturing implementation has as one of its major goals reducing and eliminating waste. The waste that Lean solutions seek to eliminate takes several forms. And for each form of waste there is a specific tool that lean manufacturing consultants use for identification and analysis and, ultimately, elimination. Let's look at just a couple.

Because the goal of Lean implementation is, among other things, to eliminate waste, the first object is to identify the areas or forms of waste in a particular company. Generally, though, here's what lean manufacturing examines first with respect to waste: unnecessary human motion, non-value-added conveyance of product, over-production, excess inventory, under-utilized space, over-processing, unneeded waiting, and poor utilization of talent. Two of the most easily addressed and corrected involve human motion and conveyance of product.

Unnecessary Human Motion

Whenever employees are engaged in non-value-added motion, within the context of production, waste occurs. Very often, both managers and employees are unaware when this kind of wasteful activity occurs. And that's why a spaghetti diagram can be so useful.

This is a tool/technique used to identify and so eliminate the waste of unnecessary human motion. It involves, in the initial stage, a consultant's following an employee for between 30 minutes to two hours. In order for this to work properly, consultants have to explain to the employees, in order to obtain accurate data, exactly what is being done and why, making sure to emphasize that processes and layouts-not individual employees-are being evaluated. What happens is that that the work path taken by the employee(s) during this period is mapped out to determine efficiency and contribution to value-added activity.

Here, then, are the well defined steps in producing a spaghetti diagram to eliminate unnecessary human motion:

The date, the time(s), and the specific process being mapped must be noted.
The group should be informed about what is going on and a volunteer called for.
The actual work paths of this volunteer taken throughout his shift are traced out on the map.
Any stops are noted and sequentially numbered, as well as the time duration for each stop.
Anything involving over-reaching or "non-comfort" motion is noted.
Any inherent disruptions in the work path and flow should be especially noted.
The reason for trips must be recorded.

By means of this spaghetti diagram consultants can determine where motion is wasted and formulate a plan to eliminate that waste.

Non-value-added Conveyance of Product

The analytic tool used in a lean manufacturing implementation to find and eliminate the waste that results from the non-value-added conveyance of product is most often a "process walk." In this, the movement of a product is followed across all processes-from initial quality inspection through compounding through filling through all successive segments of the process to the final product ready for shipment. And here's what the process walk entails:

Literally walking at a brisk pace to follow the product through its production processes.
Asking questions of the people involved to find out origin of the part/ingredient, its next destination, and the means of conveyance.
Having employees assist in the observation of processes.
Recording delays for preparation and meeting requirements in moving the product from one location to the next.
Making a point to mark on the record material-handling delays.

With this tool consultants can locate waste and bottlenecks and propose Lean solutions to promote process efficiency. The right lean manufacturing consultants with the right analytic tools can make your lean manufacturing implementation a profitable success.

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Jobs of Six Sigma

The demand for people with Six Sigma expertise is constantly increasing. Alot of organizations are discovering the many ways that the Six Sigma methodology can help them grow and improve. As Six Sigma spreads to many different industries beyond its genesis in manufacturing, you can now find many service and government organizations advertising for Six Sigma help. Plus, it is no longer the largest corporations looking for Six Sigma help. Smaller companies also are taking on Six Sigma projects and hiring people as consultants or permanent staff. The need for full-time Six Sigma professionals will only increase.

Types of Six Sigma Jobs

There are many Six Sigma jobs in many industries at junior and senior levels. The positions have descriptions and requirements unique to that organization and its requirements. It is true that many Six Sigma positions are filled internally as organizations train their own people already familiar with the organization's culture in Six Sigma skills. However, organizations frequently reach outside to add personnel with Six Sigma expertise to lead Six Sigma projects or even the full-scale implementation of Six Sigma throughout the organization. These positions are usually dedicated full-time to Six Sigma projects.

Six Sigma jobs are advertised under many titles, not always as obvious as "Six Sigma Black Belt," "Six Sigma Consultant," or "Six Sigma Analyst." Other possible titles include things like "Functional Project Lead" "Six Sigma Program Manager," "Lead Analyst/Project Manager," "Director of Operational Excellence," "Business Process Manager," or "Senior Projects Manager." Whatever the exact title, the organization is looking for someone with the skills of a Six Sigma Black Belt. A Black Belt is an individual trained in the Six Sigma methodology and experienced leading cross-functional process improvement teams. They will lead individual Six Sigma projects.

Very senior Six Sigma positions are sometimes advertised. These are Master Black Belts, individuals trained in the Six Sigma methodology who acts as the organization-wide Six Sigma program manager. They will lead Six Sigma implementation at the organization and will oversee Black Belts and process improvement projects and provides guidance to Black Belts as required. Master Black Belt positions understandably demand the highest level of Six Sigma experience and qualifications.

Qualifying for Six Sigma Jobs

To be considered for a Six Sigma job, you need a combination of relevant academic and work experience. The first and foremost qualification is to be trained in Six Sigma, ideally as a certified Six Sigma Black Belt. This means formal training from qualified Six Sigma consultants who have extensive experience in training and implementation of Six Sigma. Specific training in Six Sigma DMAIC and/or DFSS methodology is often requested. The best teacher is, of course, experience and organizations will strongly prefer, if not insist, on people who have completed at least one Six Sigma project.

In addition to possessing Six Sigma training and project experience, organizations will ask that you have experience working in the industry of the organization's business. So if the company is a manufacturer, they will usually want you to have direct experience in a manufacturing environment. Organizations will ask that you have a certain minimum period of experience (often five years) in that particular industry.

Management experience is a huge plus and will almost certainly be a requirement for a Six Sigma project team leader. Having on your resume proven project management success within a structured environment and being able to demonstrate good managerial skills will take you a long way. That's because leading and facilitating Black Belts, Green Belts, and business teams through a Six Sigma project is often the role organizations are seeking to fill.

There are also essential personal skills. You need to be able to demonstrate a good understanding of processes and quality methodologies and a willingness to take an initiative and lead change. Another crucial skill is the ability to link strategy to execution. The aptitude to look beyond the surface and be creative to think conceptually about strategic business issues and develop creative but practical solutions is key.

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