Six Sigma Defined

By Priya Jestin, Staff Writer

We’ve probably gone so much into the intricacies of the process that we have probably forgotten to ask ourselves a very pertinent question: What Is Six Sigma? For those who came in late, here is a small orientation course on the management mantra that has taken the corporate world by storm.

The corporate environment today is highly charged and you have absolutely no room for error. Six Sigma is a highly disciplined process that helps us focus on developing and delivering near-perfect products and services.

So what’s in the name? The word Sigma is a statistical term that measures how far a given process deviates from perfection. The basic idea behind Six Sigma is that if you can measure the number of “defects” in a process, you can systematically figure out how to eliminate them. This will help you get as close to “zero defects” as possible. To achieve Six Sigma Quality, a process must produce no more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. An “opportunity” is defined as a chance for nonconformance, or not meeting the required specifications.

The Significance of Six Sigma

Why is Six Sigma so important in the improvement process? We talk of Six Sigma level implementations having an accuracy of 99.99966 percent. Do we need to be so accurate? Isn’t it enough to be accurate, say, 99 percent of the time? Well, after reading the following statistics compiled by the American Society for Quality, you will agree that it definitely is not!

Being 99 percent accurate means that:

  • As many as 50 babies are dropped in hospitals every day.
  • There is no electric power for nearly 7 hours every month.
  • Every hour, at least 20,000 letters are lost in the mail.
  • Over 200,000 errors are made in medical prescriptions on an annual basis.
  • Every week, doctors botch up 5,000 surgeries.
  • Major airports report 2 incorrect landings every day.

Now, doesn’t that 0.99966 percent sound worthwhile?

How Six Sigma Differs from Traditional Quality Model

Six Sigma is completely different from the traditional quality model of process capability. Traditional quality model was applied only to manufacturing processes, while Six Sigma is applied to all important business processes. Traditional quality model was known as Three Sigma.

Three Sigma had a process standard deviation of less than one-sixth of the total allowable spread. Six Sigma requires the process standard deviation at less than one-twelfth of the total allowable spread. These differences are far more reflective than one might realize.

Read my previous post titled “Driving Value through Lean Six Sigma” to know more about Lean Six Sigma.

September 13, 2006 in Quality | Permalink | Comments (1)

Quality Companion 2 for Six Sigma Professionals

Minitab Inc. has announced the release of Quality Companion 2 process improvement software. It has been designed specifically to help Six Sigma professionals manage and execute their projects. The new product complements the company’s flagship product, Minitab Statistical Software. Six Sigma professionals rely on this software to tackle the sophisticated statistical data analysis at the heart of every Six Sigma project.

Quality Companion 2 simplifies many other challenges involved in quality improvement. It helps teams plan, execute, document and report on their projects. The software brings together all the elements critical to Six Sigma success. You can read our previous post titled “Six Sigma in Small Businesses” to know more about Six Sigma methods.

Fire alarms: The Dell notebook scare and Six Sigma defect control

You have probably read news reports about several Dell notebooks going up in flames, apparently because of a short circuit. Dell has since recalled all such notebooks from the market. Interestingly, the notebooks are armed with a Sony battery backup, and naturally, both Dell and Sony are worried about the financial fallout.

However, according to Sony, the ratio between the total number of Dell notebooks in the market and those that caught fire is too low to warrant real concern. Shrugging off the episode, in a report by CIO, Sony cites Six Sigma measures and standards to show that the number of defects is below the Six Sigma figure of 3.4 defects per million opportunities.

True, the defective units might be within the Six Sigma stipulations, but the apprehension caused among Dell users shows that the prospect of an exploding notebook far outweighs the fact that the production process meets Six Sigma standards of defect management.

How Six Sigma Helps Sales

In the recent years, business requirements have gone through a sea change. Customer relationship management has come into fore and it has become an integral part of the game plan of any organization. Another question that is doing round is whether trained employees can use customer relationship management more effectively. If there is a real need of special training for employees in an organization, the first thing comes into mind is Six Sigma. In my opinion, all organizations must master Six Sigma disciplines.

To achieve real growth, you must get closer to the customers. From this perspective, Six Sigma should start in customer-facing groups such as sales, marketing and after-sales service. Six Sigma focuses on creating value through the quality of business, and not through the business of quality. It finds ways to add value to customers. The balanced scorecard is more about measuring the progress. Six Sigma will definitely meet all your organizational requirements and boost your sales prospects further.

Six Sigma Users on Regulatory Compliance

Companies that regularly use Six Sigma methodologies are more likely to have full confidence that they are complying with regulations from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Most Six Sigma users are confident that they companies are meeting the legal requirements. Here, it is important to note that Six Sigma users include the companies that are in process of implementing Six Sigma. Part of standard Six Sigma methodology is to document processes. Documentation is related to everything from tracking data to taking corrective action. It also includes reporting back to the regulatory body.

Six Sigma adds the quality dimension to BPO/ITES sector

As Western countries continue to make a beeline towards India because of its multifarious advantages—good infrastructure, favorable government policies, rock-steady economic environment and cost benefits—competition is also making its presence felt in countries like Australia, China, the Philippines and Ireland. To ward off such challenges in the BPO/ITES sector, India-based vendors are now looking to add a new dimension to their offerings—quality control of business processes through the adoption of the Six Sigma methodology.

You might ask: Why Six Sigma?

Well, Six Sigma has proven itself as a successful strategy to identify and measure defects, and then eliminate such defects using the application of statistical methods. By focusing on innovation or improvements of the existing product and service design through the DMAIC and DFSS principles, Six Sigma helps identify defects that affect customers, who are the key components in any business venture.

Click here for more on Six Sigma strategies, and how they have helped companies like GE, Motorola, American Express, 3M, Raytheon, Sun Microsystems, DuPont, Bank of America, Rolls Royce and Boeing.

Data Quality Process with Six Sigma

Six Sigma is referred to controlling a process to limit output defects to the minimum. A defect always should be outside customers’ requirement specifications. Most companies use Six Sigma in their applications. In the industrial segments, Six Sigma is known as the goal of achieving near-perfect quality for a product or service through new or improved processes and tools.

Six Sigma and data quality improvement share the same goal of reducing defects. Data certification improvement programs are natural choices for the application of Six Sigma methodologies. Success of Six Sigma and data certification depends on the ability to measure data quality throughout the entire process. The ability to certify data is determined by the following standards:

· Accuracy
· Completeness
· Reliability
· Availability
· Timeliness
· Consistency
· Uniqueness

Controlling data quality is all about wrapping a process around the tasks of sourcing, transforming and publishing data that enable data quality or data certification. Six Sigma provides a complete framework around the collection and control of these processes to improve the level of data quality.

Software Cos. Have Poor QA

A study by research firm Compuware has found that most European software developers are falling short in assuring quality during the application development process. In spite of all the buzz about best practice initiatives such as Six Sigma and Capability Maturity Model (CMM), nearly 80 percent of the companies surveyed said they had no formal quality assurance (QA) methodology in place. One fourth of the respondents said they did not have properly trained or experienced members in their QA team, while a third said they did not have a dedicated team manager.