Process Model: A Look at Software for Six Sigma Managers

Process Model: A Look at Software for Six Sigma Managers
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Uses for Process Model

Six Sigma focuses heavily on understanding process performance and making effective process improvements. For some types of processes, making changes and evaluating the results can be time consuming and even costly. It can also be disruptive for employees and customers if changes are made too often or if unexpected negative consequences occur.

In these cases, conducting a process simulation holds great advantages. Simulations are particularly effective for processes with high transactional volume, such as mortgage loan applications or incoming calls to a contact center.

For instance, project leaders at a call center may choose to conduct a simulation to determine how changing phone representative shifts will impact customer wait times and overall profitability. Or they may need to figure out whether expected changes in call volume can be handled by existing resources or whether additional representatives would be required.

Managers at a mortgage company may seek to determine the impact that a decrease in the average time it takes for applicants to submit their materials would have on various aspects of the evaluation and approval process, and whether there is a corresponding change in defects.

Capability (5 out of 5)

Since Process Model was designed specifically to conduct process simulations, it has extensive features that aid in this endeavor. Users create entities, such as phone calls or mortgage applications, and activities that are performed on these entities. They also create resources such as people and pieces of equipment, and assign resources to activities. These elements are all combined into a visual map of the process that depicts the entry of each entity into the process, the subprocesses it goes through, and the outputs.

For each entity, activity, and resource, various parameters are manipulated to provide precise control over the process simulation. For each entity, such as a support call, users can set the specific input volume,and input timing. For each activity such as handling a call, the user controls the cycle time average and cycle time variation. Resources can be assigned differentially to multiple tasks, and costs can be set differentially as well. Multiple types of entity, such as support calls and sales calls, can be handled within a single model.

Once the parameters have been set, the simulation is run and reports are generated. Users can run the simulation for a set period of time, and it can be viewed in real time to see how the entities are processed, or run at high speed so that results are obtained quickly. Reports provide detailed information about the volume processed, the cycle times for the process overall and for subprocesses, and the costs, and the amount of value-added (VA) vs. non-value-added (NVA) work. Resource utilization data is also available.

This is just a brief explanation of the many ways users can control all the aspects of a process simulation. The program is quite powerful and should allow Six Sigma project teams to examine their existing processes and any potential improvements they are considering.

Usability (4 out of 5)

The interface is not immediately obvious, but users should find it easy to learn. Several free video tutorials (requiring Adobe Flash) and a demo are available on the company web site. For those who prefer writing training materials, the 600-page User Guide (in PDF format) provides detailed tutorials and information.

Most tasks are accomplished with simple clicks on the toolbars or on the items already displayed on the model. The dialog box where parameters are entered and changed automatically updates to reflect the active element once that element has been selected. A simple menu also is accessible by right-clicking on elements in the model.

I would love to see the ability to import existing process maps from programs such as Visio as a starting point. Six Sigma project teams would have already created a detailed process map of the current situation by the time they are ready to run simulations, and will probably see creating them from scratch in Process Model as rework. However, I understand the challenge that trying to implement such a feature presents.

Availability (3 out of 5)

The program can be purchased directly from the manufacturer at I was unable to find any alternate sources for purchasing the software.

Interestingly, no information about pricing is available on the site, except pricing for academic licenses, which was hard to find. In response to my email inquiry, I was given the information that a professional single-user version including training, free support and free upgrades would run about $4,000. The company encourages people to call in because they occasionally offer sales.

The website does provide information about the training. The interactive online Basics I course costs $1295 Basics and is a 3-day training session. The Basics II training is a 2-day session which can be taken online or in a classroom setting, and costs the same. These training modules do not include the purchase of the software. However, when you buy the software a three-day training is included.

This program is a good option for large companies, which most likely receive volume licensing discounts, and for educational settings. For smaller businesses and nonprofits the cost is likely to be prohibitive. Companies listed on the Process Model site as users of the program include GE Capital, Fannie Mae, Kodak, Qwest, the US Airforce, Steelcase, the Veterans Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration. The program has also been used at American Express and Intuit Inc.