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Explaining Six Sigma in Plain English

written by: Karishma Sundaram • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 6/11/2013

Six Sigma can be a number of things: a metric or a management system depending on how it is applied. It is used for quality control, focusing mainly on making processes as constant as possible in order to avoid defects. This article explains Six Sigma in easy-to-understand terms.

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    Its Genesis

    DMAIC The goal of any organization is to streamline its processes, thereby maximizing resources to their fullest extent. One of the most visible results of streamlining processes is the reduction of defects in their products. The reduction of defects means less waste and, therefore, the resources are fully utilized.

    The Six Sigma concept was originally conceived in a manufacturing context in which the defects were literally found in products being churned out of industries. The manufacturing unit applied a scale based on the number of defects found where the sixth sigma had a fraction of one percent defects, and the first sigma referred to a unit with almost thirty percent defects.

    The term became popular because of Motorola, who set a goal to achieve Six Sigma in all their manufacturing units. The concept quickly took off after that. This article presents the concept of Six Sigma, explained in plain English.

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    Services As Well As Products

    It is easy to quantify defects in physical products of the manufacturing industry. However, it was a little more difficult to apply the same quality management tool in the service sector. Therefore, the process became the product, and any process that generated an outcome that was against the customer’s wishes became a defect.

    Defects are believed to be cause by variations in the outcomes of the process. The goal of the Six Sigma, explained in plain English, is using a business improvement methodology to make the process as constant as possible.

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    Methodologies

    There are two methodologies commonly used for Six Sigma projects: the DMAIC methodology, implemented on existing business processes, and DMADV, used to formulate new business processes using Six Sigma tenets during the design stage.

    DMAIC is an acronym standing for the five phases used in the streamlining process:

    1. Define the customer’s wishes, the goals of the project, and what the end product should be
    2. Measure all the current parameters of the process in question, carefully collecting data to analyze
    3. Analyze the data
    4. Improve the process based on the analysis performed
    5. Control the process to minimize variations

    DMADV is also an acronym and, similar to DMAIC, has five phases used for designing processes according to Six Sigma:

    1. Define the goals that the process should have based upon customer requirements
    2. Measure all parameters that are associated with the process
    3. Analyze the parameters and the data collected during measurement, and create a design that suits the goals best
    4. Design the process
    5. Verify that the process runs according to set goals
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    Implementation Roles

    Implementation Roles Earlier on, all quality improvement programs were implemented away from the actual process. The employees were not an integral part of the quality process, as this function was looked after by an entirely different department. This system was not working optimally because the employees who had hands-on experience with the work could not implement the quality controls imposed upon them. On the other hand, the quality control supervisors were unable to understand the core working process properly and, therefore, could not define proper quality controls.

    Six Sigma changed that paradigm entirely, borrowing heavily from martial arts disciplines. In the new structure, the organization has multiple levels, each trained in stages of Six Sigma methodology. The improvements come from the employees who actually work with the processes.

    There are six major roles defined for implementation: Executive Leadership, Champions, Master Black Belts, Black Belts, Green Belts, and Yellow Belts. The roles are designed to divide the tasks of implementing Six Sigma successfully throughout the organization.

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    Certification For Six Sigma

    There are a number of certifications available for Six Sigma, where industry professionals train to implement the quality standard in their respective organizations. One of the best certifications available is the one offered by Motorola University. You can also find resources on the Project Management Institute's website.