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Six Sigma Basics: Looking at Strategies For Implementation (Part 2 of 5)

written by: Heidi Wiesenfelder • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 3/23/2013

Our first article covered the mindset and philosophy of Six Sigma. Now we look at the strategy and planning elements required for Six Sigma implementation.

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    In the first article of this series we explored the philosophy and mindset that underlie the Six Sigma framework. Now we look at the high-level strategies and methods for implementing Six Sigma in an organization.

    In order to successfully roll out a Six Sigma initiative, leaders must put some effort into establishing the infrastructure and clarifying overall strategy. Decisions that must be made include:

    • Whether to use external consultants to lead projects or train employees

    • How to train leaders in the Six Sigma philosophy

    • Whether to use outside trainers or hire them into the company

    • Which metrics will be used to track an organization’s overall performance

    • How performance metrics will be drilled down for use with individual operational areas and individual employees

    • How projects will be recommended, selected and prioritized

    • Whether to implement Six Sigma in one operational area first before rolling it out company-wide

    Organizational Structure & Roles

    410648 boardroom At a minimum, one individual should serve as a Quality Leader or equivalent overseeing the Six Sigma program. This person should be fully committed to the Six Sigma philosophy and methodology and understand what is required to implement and maintain an effective Six Sigma program. Often a team of leaders is created to guide the Six Sigma efforts in a division: Establishing procedures for filling Six Sigma and project team roles, measuring performance, and selecting projects.

    For most larger companies, employees will also be needed in Black Belt roles, and possibly in Green Belt and Master Black Belt roles as well. Typically Black Belts and Master Black Belts serve full time for a minimum of two years.

    Training Plan

    In all organizations, training is required for business leaders in the Six Sigma principles and basic methods. Managers of each operational area will typically serve as Process Owners, and some managers and directors will serve as Project Sponsors. Many business leaders and independent contributors will serve on project teams. All of these individuals will need to understand and accept the purpose of Six Sigma, the basic project methodologies, and the performance management system that is put in place.

    In companies that will have employees serve as Black Belts and Green Belts, training for those roles is also necessary. Topics covered include Six Sigma philosophy, process measurement and variation, tracking defects and calculating process sigma, data analysis, and process improvement and design methodologies. Black Belts receive extensive training, often lasting for about a month and taking place over a period of 3-6 months. Green Belts can usually receive sufficient training in about a week, either in one session or split across a couple sessions.

    Leaders should also decide whether Black Belt certification and/or Green Belt certification will be offered or required for employees filling those roles.

    Performance Measurement Framework

    Six Sigma is not just about doing improvement projects, it requires a focus on measuring and understanding operational performance across the board, and establishing a means of identifying when action is required to address problems or make improvements. This necessitates a comprehensive plan for measuring performance, scaling it to different levels (business, department, team, employee), and tying both employee assessment and project selection to these metrics.

    Improvement Framework

    Leaders will need a system for identifying processes that may need improvement, evaluating project candidates, and prioritizing selected projects. This system will be tied to the performance framework that is established, as ongoing monitoring of metrics at various levels of the company will drive project selection and priorities. Leaders should establish a procedure for evaluating project suggestions based on established criteria, rather than trying to assess each project idea independently.

    In the next article in this series we will cover the two main methodologies for Six Sigma improvement projects: DMAIC and DMADV (also called DFSS).

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