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Book Synopsis: Six Sigma for Managers

In his book entitled Six Sigma for Managers, author Greg Brue explains the concept of Six Sigma, and how it is successfully approached, implemented, and sustained within a company and the advantages that doing so will bring. In order to understand the basics of this title, it is necessary to understand what Six Sigma is, the core essentials of the methodology, some of the tools used in its implementation, and how to sustain its use within a company.

Six Sigma gains its name from a statistical term. The term sigma is a symbol for standard deviation, or an indicator of degree of variation. Six Sigma relates a standard deviation of six to the number of defects per one million units. Six Sigma in literal terms means 3.4 defects per one million units, or a 99.9997% output that is defect free. But Six Sigma is more than a statistical term for high quality; it is a goal, philosophy, and methodology that creates a culture that strives for high quality at all levels within an organization. Six Sigma changes the way people in an organization look at processes by helping them to discover and understand the vital factors that cause waste, rework, and error. To do this, an organized team effort is made that utilizes statistical tools to root out errors and find quantifiable answers to problems that may have been speculated on previously. The benefits of undertaking Six Sigma include a positive impact on employees, opportunity for growth, higher quality, increased customer satisfaction, a direct and positive impact on the bottom line (eliminating the Cost of Poor Quality), and opportunities for competitive advantages due to such factors.

In order to implement Six Sigma, it is imperative that business metrics are set in order to quantify the factors involved in processes in order to provide for objectivity in analysis. Process improvements involve the reduction of variations, and business metrics are required in order to measure such variations. Appropriate and accurate metrics use baselines to show the current state of processes, benchmarks to decide where improvements wish to lead, and gap analysis in order to quantify the progress between the two.

It is important to prepare an organization for the implementation of Six Sigma. To do so, it is necessary to establish clear and open lines of communications that state the purpose of Six Sigma projects, and describes what everyone within the organization should expect. In delivering communications about Six Sigma, it is imperative that senior management endorse the effort so that it is clear that the company is committed. Six Sigma enlists people to fill five defined roles in its implementation. These roles include high levels of Executive Leaders who initially decide on doing Six Sigma, endorse, and back it, Champions, who advocate for black belts and use their positions to remove barriers for their progress, and Master Black Belts who serve as the trainers, guides, and mentors in addition to establishing the needed infrastructure. In addition, Black Belts serve as project head and team leaders who sort data, gather facts, and single out the vital few elements impacting profitability and productivity, and Green Belts work to assist Black Belts in helping them to accomplish more in less time in their areas of function. Black Belts and Green Belts are most numerous within an organization, with continuous training, internal certifications for Black Belts, and opportunities for formal recognition of their accomplishments.

The core of Six Sigma includes a problem solving sequence known as DMAIC. This is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. These make up phases through which statistical tools are deployed to assist in the goals of the phases. The Define Phase identifies the important problems, selects a project to focus on, defines parameters, and determines the vital few factors to apply MAIC to. The Measure Phase deals with the selection of characteristics that are critical to quality and sets standards for performance, validates measurement systems, and establishes the process capabilities. The Analyze Phase is where improvement objectives are defined, variations are identified, and causes are screened for potential changes in processes. The Improve Phase correlates variables with previously identified vital few characteristics, establishes tolerances for operations, and validates measurement systems. Lastly, the Control Phase of DMAIC determines the ability to control the vital few factors, and implements a system of process controls to ensure future reliability.

Six Sigma relies upon quantifiable data to help make real improvements to processes and in order to do so, it employs key tools to assist in each DMAIC phase. One such tool, labelled in this book as Key Tool #4, is the Process Capability Tool. This tool is used at the end of the Measure phase and uses a Pareto Chart as one way to graphically display the related importance of defects, causes, and other process aspects. Pareto Charts are important for helping to steer focus in the right direction, based on the Pareto Principle that 80% of problems come from 20%f causes. Another example tool used is Key Tool #9, the Control Plan. Utilized in the Control Phase, a Control Plan provides a detailed guide for helping to maintain positive changes by analyzing the range of variability within a process and highlighting potential problems.

Six Sigma is a major undertaking for any company, but offers the potential for great returns. Once introduced it is important for a Lessons Learned Database to be maintained, communications to be continuous, positive, and informative, training to be continuous to maintain a stream of Black and Green Belts, and for senior executives to remain behind the efforts. Six Sigma is a process that requires action, and is a full-time and continuous process that constantly evolves toward its goal of the pinnacle of quality levels. Armed with an organization espousing a collective effort of Six Sigma from the highest executives to middle managers, and project leaders to regular employees, Greg Brue asserts in this title that an organization can become the lowest-cost, highest-quality producer of services and goods.

This article is an adapted sample from a synopsis paper on Six Sigma for Managers, written for Advanced Topics in Project Management (COM5451) at Florida State University during the Spring of 2015.

Reference: Brue, G. (2002). Six Sigma for Managers. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

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