Six Sigma: what it is and where it is used


How to manage projects, optimize and improve production processes? Different techniques or approaches can be used, such as Lean Manufacturing, Waterfall, and many others. There is also the concept of Six Sigma, which will be discussed in this article.

Six Sigma is…

…a method of adjusting processes aimed at reducing the number of defects or obstacles in any production or business. It was developed approximately in 1985-1986 at Motorola Corporation. Then, in the mid-1990s, Jack Welch used it at General Electric.

The essence of the concept is to improve the quality of production processes and reduce the number of deviations or obstacles. More precisely, no more than 3.4 defects per million operations are allowed. By the way, the concept of Six Sigma relies on some elements of the philosophy of lean management. And these two techniques are often used together to improve production processes.

Management in the company

In general, sigma is a sign, the Greek letter σ, which in mathematics denotes the standard deviation. At Motorola, it was taken to indicate the levels of deviations. The sixth is the highest level, at which the number of defects is minimal (i.e., one), and the first is the lowest, when the number of deviations is at a maximum (six, respectively).

Basic principles

The concept of Six Sigma is aimed at solving a number of tasks, which are its basic principles:

  1. Customer orientation. The end consumer expects to receive a quality product, and certain requirements are hidden in his expectation. The company’s task is to identify these requirements and satisfy them.
  2. Process management based on proven facts and data. You can’t use assumptions in work – actions should be backed up with real numbers. For this, it is necessary to determine the indicators that are important for the company and constantly measure them.
  3. Process orientation. In order to understand which processes need to be improved, first you need to study the principles of their interaction in production or business. In addition, you should always manage and improve processes, eliminate unnecessary ones that do not bring value.
  4. Work ahead of time. The manager must calculate the moves, take into account the possible consequences and results of the activity.
  5. Uniting into teams and involving employees. According to the concept, every employee in creation is motivated to achieve a high-quality result. For this, they should have one goal, interest in a common cause, and this will already lead to a better result and satisfaction on the part of the client.
  6. Continuous improvement and willingness to take risks. Process improvement is tied to continuous quality improvement. But it is more difficult with risks – you should treat them more leniently and not be afraid to admit them, at the same time overcome the failures that arise and learn from them.

These principles create a general picture, but they will not give any result without tools and an appropriate approach.

Advantages and disadvantages

Any concept, technique or approach has both positive and negative qualities. First, let’s list the benefits of Six Sigma:

  • Versatility. That is, this technique allows you to improve almost any processes in the organization. The main thing is to determine exactly what needs to be improved.
  • Support systematic method. Its use, as well as various quality improvement techniques, ensure the efficiency and simplicity of the analysis.
  • Step-by-step problem solving. This plus is based on a process approach. That is, in the concept, it is more important to create a full-fledged infrastructure, train specialists with increased motivation, etc.
  • Focus on the final financial result. The first principle of the concept is to satisfy the client’s requirements. And if we do, he will purchase the product or service at the stated price.
  • Combining tools for improving a single system. The concept gives excellent results through the presence of its cycles of improvement of processes or application of goods, and even the use of effective methods and development of teams.

Disadvantages of this method are also present and are as follows:

  1. Applicability only in companies with a strong directive culture. Accordingly, if managers are less strict with other employees, the process of improvement may slow down or stop.
  2. There is no change in the management style and culture of the organization. Six Sigma does not take into account the improvement of planning, design and organization of production in general, as well as the strengthening of quality requirements. The most important thing here is to reduce the number of defects to a minimum, and this can narrow the picture in general if the manager is focused purely on this technique.

We remind you that no single approach or method gives a high result. You need to at least understand what and how they can be combined in order to achieve the greatest efficiency of your company.

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How to implement Six Sigma in business or production

There are two approaches that can be used to improve existing processes or introduce new products. The first, respectively, is DMAIC. I talked about him in more detail in another article in the Community. Next, I will reveal the essence of the DMADV approach a little more.

The DMADV algorithm is also referred to as DFSS or DMADOV (additional O stands for “Optimization”). In general, it is similar to DMAIC, but is used more quickly when developing and implementing a new product/service.

Next, let’s start decoding. As we remember, each letter represents a certain stage, and a capital letter corresponds to it.

  • D is Define. Here, as in DMAIC, we highlight the purpose of creating a product or service.
  • M stands for Measure, it is “measurement”. At this stage, it is necessary to determine what the client or customer wants and expects, what are his requirements.
  • A is Analyze, very obvious to decipher. Here it will be necessary to look for alternative solutions. You can conduct benchmarking (sizing and tiering), comparative analysis to find interesting functions and solutions to meet the previously stated requirements.
  • D stands for Design. At this stage, full-fledged detailed technology is already underway. Let’s not forget about the letter O, when you can use other examples to optimize the created solution.
  • V stands for Verify. At the last stage, the prototype is checked, tested before the full launch of the product.

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Team roles in the concept of Six Sigma

As we remember, one of the main principles of Six Sigma is teamwork and employee involvement. But first of all, it should be collected and taught. According to this methodology, teams can include from three to ten people, on average this figure is five to six.

Team work

All people in the team have different skills and experience, and accordingly, they have different degrees of understanding of the concept of Six Sigma. The designation of these degrees is similar to titles in Eastern martial arts, so the roles are divided as follows (from lower to higher):

  1. White and yellow belts. These are newcomers, that is, those who know little about the concept, while partially participating or helping in the project.
  2. Green belt. Manage small groups, generate ideas, in addition, implement methods in individual processes.
  3. Black belt. Manage projects and entire teams. Supervise workers with green and white belts, train them, and lead them to success.
  4. Masters. They command the black belts, share their experience with them, monitor the implementation of the concept and resolve controversial issues.
  5. Champions or sponsors. Follow the set goals, look for resources, resolve conflicts. They identify projects where processes should be improved, while monitoring all stages in the future.
  6. Leaders, they are the main management, top managers. They best understand the ideology of Six Sigma, create conditions for its implementation in production.

Using Six Sigma requires constant collection and analysis of statistics. For this, you will have to monitor important indicators, collect them in various graphs, charts, tables, maps, etc. It is important to analyze and compare the obtained data in order to detect certain deviations. All this happens continuously, and only after some time, after painstaking and persistent work, it will be possible to achieve at least some success. If you are not ready for this, it is better to look for something simpler.

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