Six Sigma–The Unit of Change is the Process

In Six Sigma, you figure out which processes are causing defects, you then go to the root causes of those defects and change the processes in order to eliminate them.   That is the Six Sigma program in a nutshell.

This post talks about what a process is.   How is it defined?    A process, according to the book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, by Ikel harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder, is defined as follows:

a process is any activity or group of activities that a) takes an input, b) adds value to it, and c) provides an output to an internal or external customer.   

There are two kinds of processes:   industrial processes which depend on machinery for its creation and require the processing of physical materials, and commercial processes, which depend on human activities.   No company has only industrial processes, because those activities such as the ordering of the physical materials, or the processing of customer orders, support the industrial processes but are not themselves industrial because they involve people, and not machines.

Both need to be taken into account in Six Sigma, but there is one categorical difference between the two.   There is a lot more variability and unpredictability when it comes to humans as compared to machines, so commercial processes are more difficult to tame under the tutelage of Six Sigma.    But commercial processes do yield, nonetheless, to improvement using Six Sigma, as long as one understands this.

Most processes of course, have other processes as inputs and have other processes as outputs, so isolating which process is the one that is causing the problem is part of the detective work that is involved in Six Sigma.   In many cases, Six Sigma may not only alter a process, but it may eliminate it altogether as being unnecessary because it is not adding value.   The adding value is an important defining virtue of a process and when it doesn’t add value, Six Sigma will seek to eliminate it.

The next post deals with how improving an organization’s processes can sometimes improve the organization itself.


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