6Sigma Tools: Process Mapping-Standard Symbols
As I said last week, process mapping is one of my favorite 6Sigma tools and the best thing about it is that anyone can do it. Now as with all things 6Sigma it can be as complicated or as easy as you want it to be. It may seem like process maps have a secret language, but this week’s blog helps you decipher the code.
What is it?
Rectangle illustrates an activity within the process. When activities are described in a rectangle they generally begin with a verb.
When you see a diamond, a decision has to be made. These decisions are generally yes/no or go/stop.
An arrow shows you which way the process is flowing and where it is connected.
A parallelogram shows that this step in the process is a data point.
An ellipse shows the start and ending of a process but some people like ovals or circles. I like circles myself, it really doesn’t matter but if you want to get technical ellipses are the Alpha and omegas of process maps.
Some people swear by MS Project or Visio, but the truth is that MS Excel or MS Word is just as effective for producing process map. The meat of this tool is that you illustrate the steps. I’ve provided an example of one of the process maps I designed for a client, when you first start mapping a process it’s better to focus on something simpler. This process is just an example of what a finished process map looks like.
What should it include?
At a bare minimum it should show how and where the process starts, who/what influences it (inputs) and the end goal/product. A more desirable map shows cycle times, value and non-value added tasks and activities, decision points, problems with immediate fix capabilities and process control needs. But that is not a hard and fast rule; your client will dictate what the map needs to show. As you can see from my process, my client wanted a “no-fluff” chart, a map that only illustrated the tasks that actually took place.
Why use it?
Aside from the clarity that comes with visualization, process mapping is good for:
- Visualizing improvement points
- Understanding root cause possibilities
- Complementing analytical tools with the data it provides
- Identifying what you will need to make improvements.
What doesn’t it do?
Every tool has its limitations and the process map does not give you a silver bullet. It cannot determine the level of variation, but it can determine if there is variation. It cannot stabilize your process but it can illustrate the best place to start looking for improvements. When you are ready to start giving your processes a deeper look, let SPC help get you started.
The Pareto principle, most commonly known as the 80-20 rule, is known by business owners as the simple fact that 80% of your problems are caused by 20% of the people. Really the theory was about wealth and power distribution, but the general premise applies. Most of your issues can be attributed to a fairly small distribution of root causes.
What does it look like?
What does it do?
A Pareto Charts work in levels to help you identify the root cause of the tallest bar (the biggest issue).
How do I use it?
The trick with Pareto is to start high and whittle away. What does that mean? It means that when you find out department A is supplying department b with all of the material that ends up in their rework, don’t go to department b and shut everything down. I know that it seems counterintuitive, but jumping the gun before you find out why that material ends up in the rework pile, leads to rework on department a’s part, causing more defects.
What doesn’t it do?
Pareto doesn’t provide an instant Ah-ha moment, it’s a method that requires patience and adherence to the process to be effective. If you need the answer now, it may not be the method for you. You may be better suited to process mapping or the 5 Why’s which will point you in a direction immediately. I have to say however, if you want the right answer validated by numbers then Pareto is right for you.
In 6Sigma the devil is in the details and a successful improvement initiative depends heavily on the selection of the right tool for the engagement. A successful selection depends heavily on the knowledge and skill of your belt, so use that library of knowledge and if that belt isn’t asking you a thousand questions about your end goal-move on!
With every improvement project you learn something valuable and a tool for improvements that need to happen quickly are Kaizen events. Kaizen events are rapid responses to very specific areas usually taking 3-5 days. Kaizen events are not difficult, but if you do not put the appropriate planning in place before you begin you will not realize any improvements. To begin with a basic structure of a Kaizen event should include the following:
- Training-what Kaizen is and how it works.
- Defining the problem/goals
- Documenting the current state
- Brainstorming and developing a future state
- Developing a follow-up plan
- Presenting results
- Celebrating successes
The most important thing to remember is that a Kaizen event is driven by two principles: What can we continuously improve and what waste can we eliminate? Those two principles bring us to my next point.
What Can’t Kaizen Events Do?
Kaizen cannot solve any 6Sigma problem. It is a tool that works best with situations that are not heavily focused on metrics. Situations such as yield improvements or variation reduction would not benefit from a Kaizen exercise.
There are many tools for a Kaizen checklist, but as with most 6Sigma tools the best advice often comes from your belt. If you are looking for a quick introduction to 6Sigma without the total commitment often necessary for a 6Sigma improvement project, Kaizen may be your answer.
It’s that time again, so let’s delve into the world of Failure Models and Effects Analysis, otherwise known as FMEA. Often touted in 6Sigma circles but rarely used due to the perceived complexity, it is one of 6Sigma’s secret weapons. FMEA stands for Failure Models and Effects Analysis, that’s a big name so let’s find out what it is exactly.
What is Failure Model and Effectiveness Analysis?
FMEA started as an engineering quality tool and it is basically used to recognize and isolate potential factors that could cause failures. It’s most easily understood as a preventative measure, so here is the low down.
There are 5 types of FMEA: system, design, process, service and software. Here’s how the breakdown.
- System: focuses on universal system functions, think company-wide processes like security protocol or project structures.
- Design: focuses on apparatus and subsystems, think equipment and e-mail follow up responses based on protocol.
- Process: focuses on your process, for example those e-mail protocols I mentioned in the Design portion.
- Service: refers to service functions, like how you handle customer service or after service for your sales for example.
- Software: refers to the functions of your software, the most relevant application of this is the automation of much of the software we use today.
What does FMEA look like?
What can I use it for?
FMEA has a wide range of applications and consulting your belt will give you a specific direction that aligns with your company goals. There are some universal applications of this method that you can use as a guideline to get started. You can use FMEA for:
- Reducing product/service failures.
- Assessing customer needs.
- Eliminating potentially harmful design settings.
- Helping to target possible risks
- Creating a way to identify failure that prevents them from affecting customers.
What doesn’t it do?
Like all 6Sigma tools, the effectiveness of FMEA lies in the practitioner. And while it has a lot of benefits, there are few things to remember when you implement it.
1. It only identifies failures, it does not eliminate them.
2. Staff implementing FMEA has to be aware of what to do with the failures once they have been identified.
3. The emphasis of this tool is on prevention, not reaction.
FMEA is a wonderful tool and creates many valuable opportunities in your organization. When properly utilized the savings that FMEA can create will lead to the type of quality environment that positions your organization as an industry leader.
Six Sigma has gotten a sometimes well deserved rap for being overly-complicated, but this is a tool that is the antithesis of that reputation. It does involve metrics but the bulk of the focus is on strategic planning. Strategic planning means many things to organizations, but within the lens of a 6Sigma strategy it should mean a road map to the best version of your organization.
What is a Future State Vision?
A Future State Vision is basically what it says; it is a concrete plan for the most desired state of your business. Think of it as a more specific path to your company’s vision board. This is where you create the details that will get you to the goals on that vision board.
What does it look like?
How do you use it?
The tricky thing about a Future State strategy is that you have to come up with the end before you can address how you will get there. So to begin with you will actually start at the end and the how whole point of the strategy is to figure out the most practical (in terms of manpower, expense and resources) path to get there.
What does it do?
The Future Strategy does not provide you with a road map for your current problems. The metrics you use for this strategic should resemble your operational metrics, but they should not be exactly the same because your outcome for this strategy will be different. This is a big picture operational strategy so your metrics should be performing at a macro level when you turn your attention to this strategy. What it does do is help your staff to create meaningful big picture metrics, so low hanging fruit will not work here. This tool will be a great asset to upper level management responsible for creating organization wide strategy.
As with all my Six Sigma tools, this is just a template. Your specifics will lie in the knowledge your belt will bring in drafting this tool specifically for your organization at an executive level. So what are you waiting for? Start dreaming.