Six Sigma is a process created by Motorola in 1985 and popularized by General Electric a full decade later. It is, in essence, a sort of quality assurance method. Six Sigma seeks to minimize the possibility of faulty products or incorrect business procedures. It does this by following a specific path reviewing every aspect of a process to identify any possible fault, then seeks to correct that fault.
Six Sigma is broken up into two smaller methodologies. Each methodology focuses on a different aspect of business. The DMAIC methodology focuses on reducing the possible error in business processes. The alternative is DMADV, which focuses on quality and consistency in manufacturing products.
The DMAIC methodology follows five steps. Some proponents use a sixth first step, creating the RDMAIC methodology. These are the steps:
- R (Optional): Recognize. Select the proper problem to work on, and avoid wasting time on issues that are not solvable problems
- D: Define. Identify the voice of the customer, the specific problem being addressed and the overall project goals
- M: Measure. Gather data about the problem and the current business process for analysis
- A: Analyze. Scrutinize the data from the previous step. Specifically, identify every possible cause and effect process in the entire procedure, leaving nothing out. Identify which of these procedures may be the cause of the problem identified previously
- I: Improve. Once the faults have been identified, develop a new business process that eliminates those faults. Once this process has been developed, set up tests to make sure it does not generate a different, more pronounced fault, or otherwise perform worse than the previous iteration of the process
- C: Control. With the new process, take steps to exert control over any possible cause and effect chains that could result in defects. Enact checks and balances to eliminate those defects before they form
The DMACV methodology also follows five steps, but does not have the optional first step. It was designed for the manufacturing process and focuses on eliminating defects in an actual product. The goal is generally stated to be less than 3.4 defects per million products manufactured. This process is also known as DFSS, or Design For Six Sigma.
- D: Define. Determine the customer’s needs and desires, and identify a product that will meet those needs while fitting within the business strategy overall
- M: Measure. Determine what aspects of the product are critical to its success, what risks the product may be taking and what the product is capable of
- A: Analyze. Taking the above data, create iterations of the product to determine a number of possible designs to fit the criteria
- D: Design. Examine the previous designs and iterate them until one design is determined to be the best possible design for the given product
- V: Verify. Set up test runs of the product to ensure that it does what it is supposed to without any major design flaws. Once the product is verified, hand it over to the process owner that called for its development
Using these two methodologies, companies are able to drastically cut down on the time and expense wasted by faulty products and business processes. That is the heart of the Six Sigma process — eliminating unnecessary expense and removing flaws from finished products and processes for maximum customer satisfaction.
Peter Wendt is a freelance writer and business owner in Austin, Texas. Wendt decided he needed to better organized with his business, and enrolled in business methodology classes, and feels better prepared to continue running his business.