The Six Sigma methodology is a process improvement tactic that was originally introduced within the manufacturing space, but has quickly found adoption into higher education. With the concepts of the methodology spreading widely and offering a template for the improvement of efficiency and enhancement of the performance of educational institutions, Six Sigma and its associated tools have proven highly effective in process improvement. We have outlined three effective Six Sigma tools for higher education process improvement.
- The Project Charter
The project charter, which is also referred to as a business case, project statement or project definition, is a summarization of the objectives, participants and scope of a Six Sigma implementation. The project charter exists for the purpose of communicating the essential details of the project in order to ensure that project sponsors, team members and key stakeholders all understand what the project aims to achieve. Generally, it is drafted before the commencement of the Six Sigma project and helps the stakeholders in the higher education institution in the following ways:
- Providing a high-level understanding of the project, why it is being carried out and the justification for putting it in place
- Establishing the general scope early in the project cycle
- Establishing who the project manager is and their level of authority
The best way to kick off the process of drafting the document is by gathering all the people involved in a project charter development session. These may include client representatives, team leaders, team members and the project sponsors’ representatives.
- Voice of the Customer
Gaining an understanding of the Voice of the Customer is critical for Six Sigma within higher education. This is a concept that is essential when looking to identify which activities add value and which ones do not.
In the higher education sphere, it is clear that the student is the customer since they are the ones who receive the outcomes of the processes carried out within the institution. Still, it is important to note that the term ‘Voice of the Customer’ has an entirely different meaning with regard to education when compared to the general consumer sphere.
It is important for higher education institutions to deliver quality education that allows the student to function within the wider society. If an individual is able to graduate from the institution of learning but is unable to secure a job or be able to function productively within their capacity, then it does not matter the grades they earned or what they learned – quality was not delivered.
- SIPOC Diagram
SIPOC is an acronym for supplier, input, process, output and customer, and is an invaluable tool that helps to change the thinking and approach educational institutions and their staff take toward process improvement, project management and Six Sigma implementation in general. The tool allows the team to define the problem, outline the process to be improved and provides a method of refining the problem statement before the project is started. Without this definition of the project or process, it is easy for individuals to stumble along aimlessly without achieving the output that is desired.
Process mapping and even process management are impossible to achieve without first having a SIPOC diagram in place as a guide. Any process management effort that does not start with a SIPOC diagram will always have questionable accuracy and unclear scope. The processes within the field of higher education are especially difficult to define, so the use of the SIPOC model ensures that the processes are structured and have a higher chance of providing successful outcomes.
The tools outlined above are among the most important that are used when trying to determine value in the implementation of Six Sigma. In many cases where they have been utilized within the context of higher education process improvement, they have been vital in bringing people in both academic and non-academic functions to pull in one direction toward a common objective.