Quality is a term usually associated with products and service that we desire and value. We rank our purchase selections by quality in order to select the item that best meets the conflicting goals of low price and high quality. When something breaks or stops working prematurely, we exclaim that it is of poor quality before throwing it into the trash.
In addition to product quality, manufacturing and business processes also need to be executed in a quality fashion. Continuous improvement in manufacturing is a hallmark of a high quality process. Improved quality in business processes can reduce costs, improve employee engagement, and offer a competitive advantage. Six Sigma is a project-based approach to improving quality in products, service, and processes.
What is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a comprehensive methodology that is customer-focused and is designed to drive continuous improvement. The process emphasizes reducing defects and variation. Deploying Six Sigma in an organization will change the culture by supporting long-term objectives and developing leaders.
The term “six sigma” itself refers to the statistical degree of variation allowed in a process. With a process capable of only “one sigma” variation, the result is 690,000 defects per one million parts manufactured. However, at a “six sigma” level of variation (e.g. tighter process control), the error rate is only 3.4 defects per on million parts.
Thus, Six Sigma supports the philosophy of quality guru Philip Crosby (1926-2001). Crosby advocated for zero defects in processes and products. Instead of meeting or exceeding customer expectations, the goal of zero defects drives a culture focused on customer satisfaction and continual improvement.
In contrast, a business that manufactures to an “acceptable quality limit” will allow lower performance and accepts an approach that is less than perfect. If a medical device manufacture sets an acceptable quality limit of 99.5% on pace makers, five out of every 1,000 pace makers would be defective. Do you want your aging parent or grandparent to receive a pace maker with a five out of 1,000 chance of failure?
A Project Approach
Six Sigma uses a project approach to identify and reduce process variations. The project is led by a traditional project manager who interfaces with a Six Sigma Green Belt or Black Belt. Within the framework of Six Sigma, “belts” refer to varying levels of expertise and experience in quality projects much like “belts” refer to expertise within the martial arts.
For example, a Master Black Belt works with the executive management team to identify major projects and to train the corporate staff regarding Six Sigma implementation. Master Black Belts work with Black Belts to select projects and mentor Green Belts. Six Sigma Green Belts employ statistical analysis tools that specifically relate to a quality improvement project. Finally, a Six Sigma Yellow Belt may serve as a project team member demonstrating a basic understanding of the Six Sigma methodology. (Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to enroll in a free online Six Sigma Yellow Belt certification training course.)
Other project team members include functional and subject matter experts. Six Sigma projects may require participation of finance experts, sales and marketing personnel, and end-users or other stakeholders. Because Six Sigma projects are focused on improving customer satisfaction, project teams also require a representative on the team who can act as the voice of the customer.
Key Facets of Quality Management
A Six Sigma approach to quality management is strategic and drives change in the corporate culture. It is a generalized problem-solving approach that uses statistical analysis. Six Sigma projects have dedicated and trained resources to help reduce variation and improve process capability.
If you’d like to learn more about Six Sigma and earn a Yellow Belt Certification, please contact me at email@example.com or by phone at 281-280-8717. Green Belt and Black Belt certification courses are coming soon to www.Simple-PDH.com, so check back often!
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