Six Sigma–The 8 Stages of the Breakthrough Strategy at the Process Level


In the seventh chapter of their book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, the authors Mikel Harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder get to the “meat” of the book by explaining what the Six Sigma Breakthrough Strategy consists of.   Before explaining the stages of the strategy, the authors related the three levels of the strategy:   the business level, the operations level, and the process level.   These three stages were covered in a previous post.   In this series of three posts, I go through the 8 Stages of the Breakthrough Strategy for each of the three stages.   Last post covered the Operational Level, and this post covers the Process Level.

1.  RECOGNIZE … functional problems that link to operational issues

As mentioned in the previous post, an operational issue must be recognized and defined … as a series of independent, but interrelated problems.    They may be independent from each other, but are interrelated because they are tied into the same business or support systems.

2.  DEFINE … the processes that contribute to the functional problems

Functional problems are one of three basic types:

a)  Product problems

b) Service-related problems

c) Transactional problems

No matter what type of problem, they are all created by one or more processes which themselves consist of a series of steps, events, or activities.   Rather than focus on the outcome (i.e., the problem), the focus needs to shift to the process.   How does the organization map its processes into a kind of “data flow” map?    In order to search for the source of the problem, you need a map!

3.  MEASURE … the capability of each process that offers operational leverage

The capability of each process needs to be measured, and those elements which are critical-to-quality are referred to as CTQ characteristics.   It is important to use good data to measure CTQs, because they form the crucial link between data, information (processed data in an understandable form), process metrics (processed information in a form that is easily transmitted and communicated) , and finally the management decisions to improve the processes.

4.  ANALYZE … the data to access prevalent patterns and trends.

The data are analyzed to determine the relationships between the variable factors in the process, which in turn determines the direction of improvements.   Performance metrics will show the theoretical limit of the capability of the process if all is going perfectly.    If the metrics show that there is potential for improvement, then the project can progress to the next phase…

5.  IMPROVE … the key products/services characteristics created by the key processes.

The job of the Black Belt is to

a) focus on CTQ characteristics inherent in a product of service

b) go about improving the capability of such CTQ characteristics by “screening” for variables that have the greatest impact on the processes

c) isolate the key variables, establish the limits of acceptable variation, and then control the factors that affect these limits.

Once these key variables are identified, the Black Belt can twist these “knobs” to establish new levels of performance for these CTQ characteristics.

6.  CONTROL … the process variables that exert undue influence.

Once the process has been improved, Black Belts need to control these key variables over time to make sure that the improvement stays in place, usually in the form of a statistical process control or SPC system.

7.  STANDARDIZE … the methods and processes that produce best-in-class performance.

Once Black Belts have improved their target CTQ characteristics, thereby achieving their Six Sigma project goals, they must promote and standardized those Six Sigma methods that produced the best results, as well as standardizing the results themselves.

8.  INTEGRATE … standard methods and processes into the design cycle

The focus of the company needs to go to taking the standardized results achieved through Six Sigma goals and then to make equivalent changes in the company’s designs across the board.   In this way, improved components, processes, and practices that have proven to be best-in-class can be replicated throughout the company.    Design engineers need to be rewarded not just how the product performed once manufactured, but how easy it was to manufacture that product.

I remember at Mitsubishi Motors, there would be design changes made to accommodate the installation of a part which was engineered well, but placed in a location that was hard for assembly line workers to get at.    This manufacturing difficulty led to defects which the design engineers had not envisioned.   I heard that the design engineers were actually made to go to the assembly line and see for themselves how difficult it was to install the part.   Once they themselves witnessed the problem, they understood and went back to the proverbial drawing board to redesign not just the part, but its location within the car so that it would be more easily accessible.   This is an example of making sure that the viability of the entire product cycle is considered during the initial design phase.

Another example comes from the design of a bumper which was to be a single piece of plastic, which made manufacturing easier.  However, the analysis from the bumper crash tests showed that damage to a bumper at 5 mph would require replacement of the entire one-piece assembly as opposed to just portions of the bumper as was the case with the previous design.   The analysis was made that the repair costs would be higher in the case of the one-piece design, and that this would therefore have an adverse effect on the insurance rates for customers who bought the vehicles with that design.   It was thus changed, because the design and manufacturing teams needed to be aware of the effect of the design on the actual usage by the customer.

So the design cycle needs to be where the focus is on preventing future problems, not repairing past problems.

The final post on this chapter is a summary of the entire issue of the Breakthrough Strategy.

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