In keeping with my last post on Six Sigma tools and how to use them, I thought this week we would discuss control charts. In Six Sigma, control charts are a staple, but like every tool it as its limitations.
What is a control chart?
Control Charts (sometimes called Shewhart charts) are used to determine whether a process is in control, if there aren’t any uncommon variations shown then the process is under control. Now to be clear a process will always have some type of variation, these variations are common variations. What control charts create are a visual illustration of uncommon variations. These variations are important because they can pinpoint where the problems are in your process.
What are the advantages?
The advantage of this tool is the ability to display all the variations that occur during a process; it eliminates guess work in risk identification and is very useful in process improvement. Now on the other hand, the control chart shows all variations, some variations are erratic and cover a large scope. If you find your variations resemble this, the control chart is probably not the best tool.
When do you use a control chart?
A control chart is best utilized when you have a specific process to measure and you know the parameters and constraints of that process. If you have a vague idea and aren’t really sure how the process works, then control charts are not your ideal tool. If you know how a process begins, but have no idea how it plays out then you are more suited for a better method.
What does a control chart look like?
Now this is a synopsis for control charts and is by no means an in-depth explanation. What I hope this post does is create a basic understanding and a starting place for the use of control charts and how to interpret the data you will receive. There are many other factors to consider when using a control chart and you will need to be familiar with statistical limits and errors. For a more detailed explanation, please consult a belt.
I have covered some specific Six Sigma topics in previous blog posts, but now I want to put up a general guideline for using Six Sigma principles and tools. This post is the first in a series that tells you how to create the framework of a Six Sigma effort.
Create and Agree on Key Business Objectives
Because Six Sigma measures variations, it is imperative that you choose the right projects to measure. If you don’t have a method of selecting projects, before you begin your Six Sigma effort your first step should be to create one. Before your initiative begins, your organization needs to have a standard method for selecting and rejecting projects. Your project selection criteria should reflect your organization’s goals and growth strategies.
Create Core, Key and Sub Processes
This can seem daunting, but it will be the easiest part of your Six Sigma process. This is where value stream mapping and process mapping will become indispensable. Your core processes are the processes that keep your organization running on a daily basis. The key processes are the processes that create the end product/service you clients use. When you start looking for the sub processes you are looking for the processes that support one or both the key and core processes; it is important that you identify the correct processes
because these are the areas that you will be measuring and controlling.
Create Six Sigma Support within the Organization
The key to success with any Six Sigma effort is organizational support, especially from key leadership. Six Sigma efforts are only successful when organizations are invested in the efforts success. To get this kind of support you will need to ensure that the team understands why the effort is important and how it ties to the larger organizational goals. Creating a dialogue about the effort and what it is trying to accomplish creates the foundation for support within the organization.
Identify the Change Agents and What You Want From Them
In previous posts we identified formal and informal change agents and what the respective roles are, both are equally important to a change effort. What needs to be mentioned is that once the change agents have been identified, the belt leading the Six Sigma effort needs to define exactly what they want the change agents to do and how they want the change agent to report to them. If the change agent is informal, this could be tricky and while you may not need to let the change agent know directly you will need to make sure the belt has the expectations laid out in a clear and measurable fashion.
This is a good beginning in establishing a Six Sigma framework, next week we will continue starting with using cross functional teams, until then…enjoy!
Continuous Flow Manufacturing (CFM) is an improvement effort that is used in manufacturing to achieve a balanced production line with minimal waste, defect free production and cost savings. True this is the definition for most improvement techniques, but CFM is a method that you can apply outside of the manufacturing field. The best thing about CFM is that it works by improving team work and combined problem solving. Most of Six Sigma’s critics move quickly to a perceived lack of involvement in the softer side of business science. CFM for many organizations is the cure for that perception. This technique works best for process areas that have a specific time length, it isn’t the best solution for a continuous process. The best general example is hotel front desk activities, guests stay a finite number of days and then the stay permanently ends. If the guest calls the front desk and is placed on hold for ten minutes, this is the flow activity that is measured. CFM is looking for the waste in the flow.
How Does Continuous Flow Manufacturing Work?
Simply by using team knowledge and expertise to identify the improvement areas within the flow and implementing the changes. Basically it is up to the team to identify the areas that need change (so it becomes very important that they understand the goals of the improvement project) and identify how to apply change recommendations. A bit simplistic I know, but this isn’t a step by step blog.
The first thing that you notice about CFM is that it requires a massive buy in. In most Six Sigma projects you may have one central sponsor or change agent, in CFM the entire organization acts as the change agent. The sub teams are responsible for identifying the improvement areas and then putting the requirements into action; it all starts like any other Six Sigma project, evaluating the current process.
What are the advantages?
In addition to creating a structure to deal with the human side of an improvement project, continuous flow manufacturing also provides organizations with some great advantages. Some of the more notable advantages are:
- Increased customer satisfaction
- Decreased attrition rate
- Betterquality product/service
- Minimal waste
- More accurate scheduling
- Reduced flow time and increased cost savings
- More control over inventory
- Better resource allocation
- Improved safety
This technique works best when you have the kind of organization accepting of collaborative work, if you have a silo organization you’re probably going to experience a fair bit of resistance. One of the most tangible benefits to CFM is an immediate increase in staff innovation and ownership, which leads to a great boost in morale. When you think about it you are empowering your staff to create the next big solution; that kind of opportunity creates leaders and solutions.
In change projects there are a million tools that you can use and everybody tells you change needs to happen, but no one shows you how. One tool that you can use to identify change forces and change barriers is the Force Field Diagram. The Force Field diagram is credited to Kurt Lewin, who was one of the first people to study group dynamics and organizational development.
The Force Field Diagram illustrates some very practical areas of change management that are often overlooked in many change and operational strategies, so when you use it try to answer these questions:
What are you trying to change?
This question is important because it forces your staff to think practically about what they want the change effort to accomplish and what approach they want to use. This question creates a goal for your change project and creates the foundation for a change management project. Once the goal is recognized, planning the effort is much easier for all involved.
Can you identify the barriers to change?
This simple step is often overlooked, because everything can be improved to some degree. Many change projects operate on the perception that any change is good change and that gets them in trouble. The key to creating a sustainable change project is to decide that there is a realistic need for change. To do that, your organization needs to identify the barriers. Identifying the barriers to change effort creates a visual illustration that allows the stakeholders to ‘see the big picture’. The barriers show management if there is a business case for change and show the change agents if the requested change is realistic.
The Force Field Diagram gives organizations specific actions to increase driving change and some of the benefits from using the Force Field Diagram are:
- A significant decrease in change barriers.
- An increase in forces that drive change.
- Actionable solutions and solution frameworks.
- Root cause identification.
While Force Field is not a flawless method or all encompassing method, it does provide a good starting point to critically analyze your change project and what you hope to accomplish.
What’s That Theory?
I know some of you have taken the plunge and hired a belt, good for you! You’ve taken the first step to improving the quality of your service or product, but just because you’ve hired a belt doesn’t mean you understand a word they are saying. Fear not, I am here to rescue you! If your belt has come to you with something called the Theory of Constraints and you have no idea what it is or why it’s important, let me first say that it is a legitimate phrase and your belt is on target if he/she is talking with you about this.
The Theory of Constraints is a concept that suggests every process has an inherent constraint that creates a roadblock to achieving the organization’s highest level of performance. Does it take a rocket scientist to point this out? No, but the reason the belt is bringing it to your attention is because of a simple equation:
Hampered performance=hampered profit generation
There are 5 steps to utilizing this theory and with a little openness you can apply these steps to any business.
1. Identify the constraint (s).
2. Exploit the constraint.
3. Subordinate other activities to the constraint.
4. Elevate the restraint.
The benefits to TOC are worth knowing and embracing. Potentially, TOC can:
- Increase your organization’s ability to accomplish strategic goals.
- Increase net profits and ROI.
- Decrease confusion within the organization.
- Decrease production time.
- Improve delivery time.
- Give staff the ability to analyze and resolve routine conflicts.
Obviously this is not a step by step guide, but it is a good starting place to begin understanding your belt and how Six Sigma is helping your organization.