Six Sigma made Simple

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If there is a problem at hand and the solution is known, one should just go fix it, but if the solution is not clear, we can use a six sigma approach to solve the same.

‘Six Sigma’ can be defined as a disciplined methodology of defining, measuring, analyzing, improving and controlling the quality of products, processes and transaction with a goal of eliminating virtually all defects. The words to be noted are defining, measuring, analyzing, improving, and controlling which forms the acronym DMAIC. The meaning is very simple, look at any process and identify the improvement required, i.e. define; collect data by measurement; analyze the data; make improvements and bring in controls to sustain the improvements.

 

It is said that if we look at any process, the non-value adding activities would be normally as high as 95% and the focus of six sigma projects are to bring down the non-value adding steps and the defects that normally occur. If we would like to reach the true six sigma levels the defects in products, processes and transactions should be as low as 3.4 per million normally stated as 3.4 DPMO of Defects Per Million Opportunities.

 

Traditionally it was good enough if people were 99% accurate, to put it in sigma terms, at three-sigma the accuracy would be 99.73% or 0.27 % defective. Let us look at a few statistics on being at three-sigma level. It is said that if a particular process is at three-sigma level, the results would be as follows:

 

1. There could be two unsafe landings at major airports each day

 

2. 200,000 prescriptions filled incorrectly each year

 

3. 22,000 cheques deducted from the wrong account each hour

 

4. 50 new borns dropped at birth each day.

 

These are international statistics and could vary for Indian volumes and transactions.

 

From the above examples it is evident that improvements can be driven anywhere and everywhere and not just limited to a factory or a production environment. To drive home this concept, it may be good to give a simple domestic example. Let’s look at Mrs. Sharma who wanted to make some savings in the monthly spend, her green belt husband told her to use the DMAIC approach.

 

Define: Reduce spending (non-value add) and save money.

 

Measure: She collects data for the last six months expenditure and sorted data on the type of expenditure.

 

Traditionally it was good enough if people were 99% accurate

 

 

Analyze: She looks at the classified data and figures out that the major expenses are from telephone bills and electricity. These two contributes to 60% of the expense; she digs deeper to understand the major contributors under each of these heads. Now she begins to get more probing, looks at all the telephone bills to see the charges due to STD, calls to land line and mobile, internet usage etc. From the electricity bills she gets a fair idea about the high energy consumers and she also conducts some small experiments by measuring the energy consumed from various electrical / electronic gadgets and also the lamps used.

 

Improve: Armed with the analysis she begins her improvements. She asked her husband to replace the geyser with solar heater. Replaces frequently used tungsten filament bulbs with energy saver tubes, stopped unnecessary operation of high power consumption equipment and educated all at home on disciplined approach to usage.

 

On the telephone front, she figured out that most outgoing calls were to GSM and accordingly planned to change the connection. Went in for a call card to make STD calls and used Outlook Express to download all mails at one stretch, rather than be connected on a Web based mail. Last but not the least she disciplined her daughter to control the usage of telephone.

 

Control: Being a homemaker, control wasn’t a real problem as in big organizations and there was no big documentation of procedures required. But she used the computer at home very effectively to track expenditure and give signals to the family members at the right time, so that expense don’t exceed the budget.

 

With the savings made over six months time, Mrs. Sharma purchased a fully automatic washing machine, which made washing more effective & easy and reduced the salary of the maid.

 

Now she is already thinking of the money spent on buying junk food and eating out. A whole lot of non-value adds activities, not just because money is spent but all the junk food adds to more fat and deteriorates the already obese Sharma family. She is all set to go ahead with her next project - “Cut Non-Value Add Food”, where the direct benefits are money and health and indirectly too she could save a lot on the doctor’s fee and medicines.

 

Well, in a manufacturing, service, R&D or other organizations more complex statistical tools may be used in the different phases of the DMAIC cycle to solve complex problems. But the concept and methodology is the same and it can be used to drive solutions to solve most problems. However we must remember that if we have a problem at hand and the solution is known, we should just go fix it, but if the solution is not clear, we can use a six sigma approach to solve the same.

 

The author is a Manager - Quality Assurance with Tyco Electronics Corporation India Pvt. Ltd.

Issue BG54 Sept05