So much is misunderstood about Lean Six Sigma. From how the discipline is practiced, to what results can be expected, the facts are sometimes confused and blurred in many conversations. These misunderstandings tend to cause mistrust or avoidance of a discipline that offers elegant simplicity to solving complex problems. The best way to understand is to explain the five basic phases of DMAIC, an integral part of any Six Sigma initiative:
Define: Define the problem by understand the details and complexities. The description should include the challenges to the customer/business. The customer(s) project goals and timeframe for completion should be included.
Measure: Map out the current process and gather all related data. Identify the data that is available and a plan to gather it. Gather the data and summarize it, telling the story using graphic tools.
Analyze: Thoroughly investigate and identify all elements of what causes the problem. The analysis must be both statistical and qualitative, which will lead to the formulation and hypothesis testing about the root cause of the problem.
Improve: Implement a solution that will provide verifiable solutions to the problem. Directly address the root cause with an improvement. Brainstorm potential solutions and test if the solutions resolve the problem.
Control: Maintain the implemented changes and maintain the course. When the solution selected has resolved the problem, the improvements must be hardwired into the operations and culture of the organization. The project team must continue to monitor and measure the implementation and achievements to verify there results reported.
Some overall requirements define this approach. They come from the customer and/or the business, depending the problem scenario. These requirements are translated into what is critical-to-quality (CTQ), which defines what criteria to evaluate what the good looks like. It is critical that the project team must meet the requirements of each phase of DMAIC before declaring completion and closing it out.
The DMAIC method was structured to answer the following questions:
What does the customer define as the problem? Is the problem chronic or a one-time occurrence?
What characterizes the problem and how has it changed with time?
What are the root causes and what improvements correct them?
What controls should be implemented to sustain the improvement?
The process is this simple, as long as the DMAIC is followed. By following the process with focus and intent, you will be able to identify the cause(s) of the problem, implement a resolution based on fact and finally see resolution to the problem being addressed. Contrary to some of the information about Lean Six Sigma, the practice is simple and easily understood. Since the practice is based upon clear principles, it can be implemented in any organization, across any industry and in businesses from small to large. Like with any other process or practice, leadership in the organization must be committed to a climate of perpetual innovation. The entire must understand the level of commitment and the focus on creating an indelible cultural change.