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Understanding a Six Sigma Gap Analysis
This common sense approach is invaluable to success and is where six sigma and traditional project management techniques come together. At some point, after all of the metrics are analyzed, a plan must be developed and implemented. When a six sigma project is moved from the define and measure stages into the planning and execution phases, we are moving closer and closer to project management.
For traditional project managers to successfully lead and implement six sigma projects or their recommendations, they need to understand the techniques used in six sigma projects. One of these techniques is gap analysis. A gap analysis is completed to understand the performance of a process when compared to what is expected or standard. It can also be used to compare the output of a process versus the competition. Often, in six sigma projects a gap analysis is performed to understand the performance of a process against the customer requirements.
Often people involved in the process will want to jump in and make improvements immediately. However, if the performance of the process is not understood first in its current state, it will be difficult to know if the changes actually made improvements. Gap analysis can be completed in a variety of ways. For example, it can be used just to compare averages or histograms, or it can be used in complex regression analysis. Once the gap analysis is complete, strategies to close the gap can be developed.
Gap analysis can be used in a few different ways throughout a six sigma project. The technique can be used for monitoring. For example, market conditions, competitor actions, and internal organization's performance can all be monitored to check for changes in the performance or, for internal organizations, to make sure that the performance does not vary too far from the target. Gap analysis, based on statistical process control, can be used to determine when action should be taken.
Benchmarking is another area where gap analysis can be useful. For example, cycle times of varies processes can be compared to best in class standards. The results of the analysis can then be used to rank the areas needing the most improvement and provide project managers with areas that they should focus their efforts on first.
Gap analysis can also be used to help organizations make decisions and to predict future results. For example, in large companies, often different business units have conflicting objectives. Even though this situation should not occur for optimum performance, the reality is that it often does. If directors from two different areas are promoting different strategies, for example, a gap analysis can be used to compare the strategies against past performance allowing project managers to have better insight into which direction the overall company should take.
A discussion about gap analysis in six sigma projects would not be complete if the quality of the data was not mentioned. The end result of the analysis and the recommendations for project managers that come out of it will only be as good as the data that is used in the underlying study. Therefore, it is important that organizations have robust methods to measure and collect data that will be used in gap analysis in six sigma projects.