When discussions of quality assurance (QA) come up in management meetings, Six Sigma inevitably enters the conversation. Although a highly recognizable catchphrase, its guiding principles are often misinterpreted as vague ideologies for enforcing quality control. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, Six Sigma is a tightly defined set of techniques and tools which serve as a quality management methodology. As Six Sigma gained adoption in the manufacturing sector, Lean manufacturing principles have gradually been added to create a methodology referred to as “Lean Six Sigma.” By combining the Lean methodology for optimizing process flow and reducing waste with the Six Sigma focus on variation and design, practitioners believe a “fully realized approach to operational excellence” has been achieved.
Is your business suffering from defects?
From the perspective of stakeholders within an organization, the fundamental benefit of Six Sigma is it offers “management driven by data.” This makes available a highly efficient problem-solving approach for improving business performance and processes. As with Lean principles, the end goal is to increase customer satisfaction through variability and defect reduction.
To accomplish these objectives, we first need to know what problems are present within the manufacturing organization. To put these challenges in context of how Six Sigma can help, it makes sense to understand which sigma level the firm is operating at. As you would expect, there are six Sigma levels, with six being the highest sigma level achievable.
To quantify what level of defects are occurring, it’s necessary to capture metrics from the beginning to the end of the processes in place. By doing so, we can begin to develop ways to standardize and measure changes to support our six sigma efforts.
In implementing Six Sigma, the first task at hand is to identify the problem. What process is out of control and is yielding defective output? This problem and improvements to be made must be quantified and measured in order to sustain any progress made. The end goal is to have the process as close to its specified or planned outcome as possible. This was the same objective accomplished by Motorola, reaching a quality level of below 3.4 defects per million. In the early 1990s, Motorola estimated total savings from reducing waste and improving quality topped $16 billion in cost savings. Today, that amount would likely be multiplied.
The implications of identifying and strategizing to correct processes yielding an excessive amount of defects are immense. If the organization is not predicting defects at a consistent level, there is no predictable control over whether customer expectations will be met. It goes without saying that if there is no process or way to quantify these variations, then a solution will be almost impossible to formulate, let alone implement successfully. Beyond identifying the source of defects, Six Sigma principles inform stakeholders how to isolate and correct what is actually causing variation.
Organizations attempting to improve QA without Six Sigma go without the benefit of rigidly measuring variations. If the framework of these solutions is not standardized, then it will mostly likely be difficult to apply to an entire organization. Not having the capacity to capture data to quantify processes put in place makes transparency of critical metrics unobtainable and implementing improvements an elusive and unrealistic goal. Approaching the standardization of processes based on insufficient data means processes will remain out of control, and therefore an unacceptable variation of quality in the finished goods continues.
How you can harness Six Sigma within your organization
As with other business methodologies, Six Sigma is often misunderstood and therefore not used by many organizations which would invariably benefit from improved quantity control outcomes. Choosing to implement Six Sigma, either organically or within the framework of an ERP solution, requires thoughtful consideration and an ability of stakeholders to come to a consensus to adopt its principles.
Regardless of the choice to move ahead or not, solving process issues and improving quality across a business takes time, effort, and resources. Proponents of Lean and Six Sigma would argue that either path is initially arduous, but once Six Sigma is fully integrated, the rewards far outweigh the endless struggle by achieving minimal defects and optimal customer satisfaction.
What can you expect if your organization adopts Six Sigma methodologies?
Almost immediately your processes will be optimized by eliminating unwanted variations through standardization and continual capture and analysis of pertinent metrics. Having more tightly controlled processes will ensure quality to the customer and improve customer satisfaction, leading to higher volume and greater revenues. You’ll also save money by eliminating unnecessary and costly steps within processes and drastically reduce defects and waste.
By applying Lean Six Sigma techniques we help manufactures in a variety of sectors benefit from a more accurate and comprehensive approach to Bill of Materials, ensuring standardization of materials that are entering Work in Process (WIP). With regimented recall management and campaign efforts it becomes easier to identify and notify suppliers, customers, and employees of any defects that have occurred as well as what the defect is and its implications. Our ERP solutions are also customized to pull up historical data to compile actionable process reports. Having this information at your fingers tips makes it possible to quantify and measure improvements to reach optimization of processes across all departments.
If you’re interested in exploring Lean or Six Sigma, we’d be happy to demonstrate the benefits and how we’ve helped organizations similar to yours with Attivo All-in-One, powered by SAP Business One. Our customized solutions are designed to leverage Lean principles to support your business objectives and integrate with the applications you may already have in place.
Attivo All-In-One, powered by SAP Business One has the most powerful and fully integrated analytic and reporting tools in the ERP software sector for small to mid-sized businesses. This makes it easier and more efficient to design and implement customized quality control processes and methods across your organization.