Six Sigma–Shifting the Focus from Manufacturing to Design


In the last section of the third chapter of their book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, the authors Ikel Harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder describe how to achieve the highest quality improvements using Six Sigma:   by shifting the focus from manufacturing in such a way as to minimize defects, to designing in such a way as to eliminate them from the start.

Experts have shown that 70-80% of a product’s total cost is determined by its design, meaning that the higher the quality that is designed into the product, the lower its cost.   About the same percentage of quality problems are actually designed into the product.   So the initial Six Sigma projects that correct for defects in the manufacturing stage may only account for 20% of the quality problems.

To go beyond this, therefore, companies need to focus on designing quality in, rather than trying to inspect it in.   How does a company go about this?   The first place to go is gather and analyze customer feedback, to show how a product is actually used by the customer.

In fact, some of the findings with regards to the Six Sigma Breakthrough Strategy are:

  • Businesses that achieve a level of superior quality are three times more profitable than those that achieve inferior levels of quality.
  • Businesses that improve their quality gain 4% in market share each year.
  • Each significant positive shift in process capability equates to 10 times improvement in profitability.
  • Businesses that achieve significant quality improvements earn 8% higher prices for their products.

And these significant quality improvements can usually be gained only when a company reexamines its design process to design quality it, rather than try to correct the “baked-in” quality problems on the manufacturing line.

Of course, it’s not enough to have good quality, it’s important to have better quality than your competitors.   To make sure of this, companies need to participate in “benchmarking,” which is the subject of the fourth chapter of the book, and the next few posts.

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