Introduction to Six Sigma

The Element of Time

Friday, September 24th, 2010

As we all know there is variation everywhere and in everything. This includes people pencils, traffic at an intersection, customer needs, goods, services, and of course processes. If you can not predict this variation, I can bet you are compensating for it and that compensation is costing you money!!

In Six Sigma we use statistics to recognize and thus assess and understand that variation so we can predict it ahead of time. This reduces our costs and increases customer satisfaction. Statistics can help you “Picture” variation. Many times we look at data that we gather in various ways but some times we forget about the element of time. At any given point things may look great but over time many times things vary. This variation can not be seen in what we call a histogram of all the data or any other kind of plot that does not use time on one of the axis. For example below (Figure 1) is a plot of Systolic blood pressure of one individual over four months. This plots shows where the average Systolic Blood Pressure would be if it was Normal, Marginally High, or High. In this individuals case it does not look that great.

As you can see this individuals Systolic pressure is all over the place and does not look like a normal distribution. It may be Bi or Multi modal (two or more things effecting the results making several peaks in the Histogram).  From this we can not draw to much of a conclusion but to tell him to see a doctor. Or should we??

If I take that same data and plot over time we get the following graphic.

Now clearly you can see a shift in the blood pressure over the 4 months. All for the better. We might not want the person to see the doctor but find out what might have cause this improvement. A different solution just because we looked at the data in a time sequence chart.

What these two graphs tell us is that if you have collected data over any given time period I’d suggest that you plot it in what is called an x or individuals chart (Figure 2 above) over time and see what you see in patterns there. In fact many times I plot the data in several different ways just to see what I can find. What kinds of patterns I see that can lead me to why the data varies so much.

If, you have questions or comments please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment below, emailing me, calling me, or leaving a comment on my website.

Bersbach Consulting
Peter Bersbach
Six Sigma Master Black Belt

Another form of muda – An Article review

Monday, August 9th, 2010

August 6th, 2010

Number Nine[1]

I have written several articles on the seven types of waste that have been read by a lot of folks. Well now I’d like to expand those seven to nine. As you will see in this article in Six Sigma we are continuously trying to improve even Six Sigma’s tools and techniques. Here a user finds a need to define another type of waste. Why? Because, as Mr. Navetta puts it, categorizing another form of  muda/ waste can help you eliminate it.

So my articles talked of seven and Mr. Navetta now has create number nine. What happen to eight? Well eight is a Toyota developed one called unused employee resources that I included in a category I called Inventories and/or other resources.

Number Nine is: “Material underutilization” Mr. Navetta describes it as leftover material once the material has been used. His example is the “skeletons” from a stamping machine which an excellence example. He says you may not know if it is truly a waste but tag it and find out. He mentions that the spacing could be due to closer would cause stress within the part. But I am with him, ask the question. It maybe that with a re-layout of the die one could get more pieces from the sheet.

But stamping is not the only place. Think about forms where we have multiple copies that are sent out. Many times processes get changed where fewer copies are needed and the number of copies is not changed. It is material that is under utilized and a waste.  We will tend to throw the extra copy away rather than get the form changed.

Can you think of other situations that fit into this category of waste? Leaving a comment below, emailing me, call me, or leaving a comment on my website.

Great article kudos to Mr. Navetta

As always if, you have questions or comments please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment below, emailing me, calling me, or leaving a comment on my website.

Bersbach Consulting
Peter Bersbach
Six Sigma Master Black Belt

[1] Jim Navetta, “Number Nine – Categorizing another form of muda can help you eliminate it,” Quality Progress, Vol. 43, No.8, August 2010, pp. 64,,ndex.html?ssUserText=&column=15&mode=nav&lst=hp

Note: The website above is on the American Society for Quality website and to access it you need to be a member. But there are way to purchase the article from ASQ.

Six Sigma Success takes a Cultural Change

Friday, July 23rd, 2010


As cited in my Six Sigma Overview session, Six Sigma is a business culture change. You can apply Six Sigma techniques to a single project and you might be successful, but to make a big impact on the bottom line of a company it needs to be a full fledged shift in the way an organization looks at solving issues and problems that keep it from meeting its major business goals and objectives. Using Six Sigma on one project does not make Six sigma successful in a company. Six sigma has to be infused into the company’s  everyday process and everyday thinking. Change is hard for people to deal with because they are afraid of the unknown. The actual change is situational or external: a new policy, a new job, a new supervisor. What we have real trouble with is the transition. The transition is psychological or internal. It is the process people go through to deal with the change. Many of the changes that affect us are events that we can’t control.  Our personal transition, however, is something we can control.

Six Sigma is a mind set. A way everyone in the company looks at solving issues. It is a mind set of expected questions to the way a solution was developed and implemented. It is a proven approach that when incorporated in the business culture will result in step function improvements to your business. Six Sigma is not talking about totally changing the way you run your business, but changing the way you solve issues and roadblocks that come up as you are trying to meet your top level goals and objective. A simple and straight forward definition of Six Sigma is:

Six Sigma  is  a 5 step process based on facts and data focused on your customer value to grow your business.

As  simple and straight forward that this definition is,  one of the hardest cultural changes in this definition is the “based on facts and data”. You think that would be easy, but when the boss says it’s so, it’s so! Or is it? With this new cultural change opinions have to be backed by facts and data. Why? Because what was true yesterday may not be true today. Everyone in the organization needs to understand this. People get very defensive about their opinions. That is because they are hired for their knowledge, skills, and experience. That said Six Sigma does NOT throw out anyone’s opinions but uses them as a starting point to solve the issue then moves on to collect data to verify or validate the opinion.

Often I have been given a project to form a team and solve an issue and in the Define step of DMAIC we find that what the boss thought was the issue or cause was not really it but another area was the cause. Everyone has to understand that we always back our statements with facts and data.

Another area that becomes a roadblock for making this a cultural change is not having projects aligned with the top level company goals and objectives. This is very important to keeping top management’s commitment to the projects. If you have people working issues that are not focused on these goals and objectives you will find that management will pull resources (people, equipment, money) from the project to help areas of a higher priority. Yes management may be reluctant at first to having Six Sigma projects working key issues but that is what it was designed for. Designed to work on key issues that the company has little or no idea how to solve. Designed to work those areas where people say it cannot be done. With challenging issues you need a process to identify the root cause through facts and data to find the best solution. Six Sigma has that process in DMAIC (D = Define, M = Measure, A = Analyze, I = Improve, C = Control).

Well there is a little insight into what is meant by a business cultural change and why it is hard to accomplish. As always, if you have questions or comments please feel free to contact me by leaving a comment below, emailing me, calling me, or leaving a comment on my website.

Bersbach Consulting
Peter Bersbach
Six Sigma Master Black Belt

The Impact of Six Sigma

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

There is a lot of talk about Six Sigma today, as there has always been, and many time companies fail in implementing Six Sigma because they just do not believe enough to make that commitment up front. They do not understand what “Six Sigma” means to their bottom line. Or even how to translate what they currently do into Six Sigma savings.

So lets talk about Six Sigma the metric. What does it really mean in terms of your business? The average company out there that has not embraced Six Sigma is running just below four sigma. If you took that average company and created a Six Sigma Culture in it you would see[i]:

  • 20% margin improvement
  • 12-18% capacity improvement
  • 10-30% capitol reduction

Can not believe these numbers? They are true, over an over I see these types of impact in companies that embrace a true Six Sigma culture. Lets look at some numbers, although they maybe not be what is really happening out there. Let’s look at four areas that most everyone has to deal with on a regular basis; the mail system, drinking water, electrical service and prescription drugs. If you were in the United States here is what these services would look like at a 3 sigma level:

A 3 Sigma World



Defect Rate

Postal System

20,000 lost pieces per hour

Drinking Water System

Unsafe water for 15 minutes per day

Electrical Service

No electrical service available for 7 hours a month

Prescription Drug Services

8 wrong prescriptions per minute

Where you live maybe better or worse than what you see above. In the US I do believe it is better than this in all cases. How would these services look in a 6 Sigma World?

A 6 Sigma World



Defect Rate

Postal System

2.5 lost pieces per week

Drinking Water System

Unsafe water for .2 seconds per year

Electrical Service

No electrical service available for 1.1 seconds every 5 years.

Prescription Drug Services

3 wrong prescriptions per year

I’d guess that in most everyone’s case most of these service would not be today at this level. So how bad are things out there. Well that depends on what you are talking about. Below is a chart[ii] that show how the average company in several areas are performing. These areas are:

  • In the US, getting tax advice from the Internal Revenue Service. – They are better in collecting taxes then giving you or I advice on doing our taxes.
  • Order write-ups – This is when you go into a store or even on-line an place an order.
  • Doctor Prescription Writing – This is the actual process of your doctor writing your prescriptions. We, in the US, are lucky that there are Nurses, Pharmacy techs, and Pharmacists that check these and correct them before you get them. But this is one reason medical cost are so high.
  • Restaurant Bills – Ever gone to a restaurant and got the bill only to find it was wrong. Hmmmmm!
  • Airline Baggage Handling – Ever traveled and found your luggage damaged or lost totally? Even if they find it later and return it this is what this level of Sigma feels like.
  • Domestic Airline Fatality Rate – This rate is lower than the rate of deaths due to mistakes made in hospitals. Hmmmm

Real World Sigma

How does this happen? It is due to variations that happen all the time in everything we do. A Six Sigma approach (culture) make you work at understanding and addressing the day to day variations in your processes that you now compensate for, which costs you money. It looks at the variations and looks for patterns to discover and interpret the errors (variations) seen.

Lets take a simple task (a step in a process) that almost everyone can understand because at one time you have tried this; shooting free throws (step)  in basketball (a process). Now to make a free throw there are a lot more factors or thing that can make one miss ( I know because I miss all the time). But for this example we will look at only five; Vision, Grip, Stance, Reflex, and Rotation. Lets say for everyone of these factors 95% of the time you do any one of them right. That means that 5% of the time you get any one of them wrong. BUT to make the shot you have to get them all right at the same time. So if making a shot only required these five factors and you feel you are at that “95%” level that means that you will make it, get all 5 factors right at the same time, only 77% of the time. By the way this is about a 2 sigma task or step (2 sigma would give each factor 95.45% and an overall result of 79.23%). If you were 99.73% (3 sigma) you would make the shot 98.66% of the times you tried. IF you were a 6 sigma shooter (99.99999998%) you would make it 99.99999990% of the time.

But this is for each time you step on the line to shot a free throw. In the NBA during an average game there are 26 free throw shots attempted. This means the total number of opportunities for nonconformance ( or missed shots) is 5factor X 26 shots = 130 opportunities to make it or not. That changes things a bit. This means that making every shot in the game is as follows for the sigma level you are shooting at:

  • 2 Sigma = .2%
  • 3 Sigma = 70.08%
  • 6 Sigma = 99.99997%

Now that puts me at about a 2 sigma level and a definitely not an NBA level player. Where are the best professionals? Where are the worst  professionals?

As you can see by these number failure rates increase at a very high rate as the number of products (shots) and factors (vision, grip, stance, reflex, and rotation) increase. This is why it is so important to use Six Sigma to keep the competitive edge in your company. Most companies processes have more than 1 step (just as basketball is more than just shooting free throws) and each step has several factors where you can make a mistake. All of these steps and factors drive the defect rate up. Just think every time you touch the thing you are working on you can do it right or wrong. For example picking up a glass, you can grip it firm or not and drop the glass. This is were those improvement come from.

Well there you have my short summary of the impact of Six Sigma on a company. If you have questions or comments please leave them or send me an Email.

Bersbach Consulting
Peter Bersbach
Six Sigma Master Black Belt



[i] Tom Pyzdek Presentation Managing for Success; ASQ QMD 2000

[ii] Source: Milt Williams, Freudenberg Non-wovens, presentation to management May 6, 1999

Article Review – Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong (WSJ)

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Today a friend sent me this article “Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong” from the Wall Street Journal. The author seems to feel that most Lean Six Sigma projects fail, but has some very interesting lessons learned.

I agree with your article when it comes to how weight-loss and Six Sigma fail. They both do fail just like a spring, But I disagree with how often they fail. I have seen and read hundreds of successful projects that show Six Sigma successes[i]. I have not read them but I feel there are probably just as many in weight loss success as well. Yes some are successful in several projects before the “fad” wears off, but what really makes them fail. Both Weight Loss and Six Sigma, failure is due to a lack of  commitment to a cultural change not just a few projects. I think you found that out too in your lessons learned[ii].

Lets look at your four lessons learned:

  1. “…the extended involvement of a Six Sigma or other improvement expert is required of teams are to remain motivated.” This is very true. IF the Expert is pulled on any improvement project usually it means failure. Where you have a company that has committed to a Six Sigma cultural change, pulling the expert means closure of the project and an explanation from top management (not a lower level) of the reason it is no longer a viable or priority project. All Six Sigma project should be a high priority project.
  2. “…performance appraisals need to be tied to successful implementation of improvement projects.”  This also is true. Every project, in a company committed to a Six Sigma cultural change, has a sponsor who insures that the project is aligned to company goals and objectives that directly impact his or her departments performance. This means failure of the project is failure to meet the goals that they have committed to and YES their performance appraisals are tied to the success of those goals and the perforance of their department.
  3. “… improvement teams should have no more than six to nine members and the timeline for launching a project should be no longer than six to eight weeks.” Since every project should be aligned to key company goals, it would mean that top management would what this project done NOW and not later. Delay would only cost the company money. If that is not the case the project should be dropped. By the way the “DEFINE[iii]” step helps insure this IF it is done right. Also in Define not only is the start decided but also the expected completion date and team membership. People, the most important resource of a company, need to be allocated to maximize their skills. In Six Sigma teams need to be small (5-10) so that the rest of the company can meet its customers demands. Even that many has a big impact on a department. So each team has to be carefully selected to represent all that will be impacted, but large enough to accomplish the task in the time allotted. This is all done in DEFINE with the “expert” and the Sponsor.
  4. “…executives need to directly participate in improvement projects, not just “support” them.” When a company has truly committed to this cultural change and deployed Six Sigma properly you will find every project has a director-level sponsor identified, duties specified, and sufficient time committed and scheduled in advance. Here the sponsor is part of the project team. That is how important the project is to the company.

If Six Sigma is implemented right as a business cultural change in the way they address issue and problems that hold them back from achieving their goals, then everyone get the idea and a voice. It becomes an improvement method everyone is focused on, understands and likes because they have an input into the process.

Peter Bersbach

Bersbach Consulting


[i] Six Sigma Forum Magazine, ASQ Six Sigma Forum Division,

Quality Progress, American Society for Quality, www.quality

Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare, Lionheart Publishing Inc.,

Quality Digest, Quality Digest,

Quality in Healthcare, ASQ Healthcare Division,

The Quality Management Forum, ASQ Quality Management Division, 

[ii] Where Process-Improvement Projects Go Wrong, Wall Street Journal | Business, January 5, 2010, 

[iii] The First step of DMAIC – Define, Peter Bersbach, Bersbach Consulting, October 27, 2009,

The Check Sheet – Simple but powerful

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

checklistI recently heard a gentleman talking about using check sheets, sometimes called checklists, in the surgery room of hospitals. His point, and I agree, is that check sheets can reduce errors and cut down surgery time for all most any surgery given. He stated that many surgeons think that the check sheet could not be used because every patient is different and thus every surgery is different. I agree that every patient is different and that during the “same” surgery on different people one has to constantly adjust to the circumstances. But in reality surgery is the same as most any other procedure. Most companies know that there is variation in everything and thus have to be ready, through robust procedures to adjust the process to have positive end results. Look at NASA, they uses check sheets for every flight and every flight is different and very dangerous, but they find they can not do without them. I think that if surgeons thought about it there are a lot of things that you do the same; at least the major steps. Plus as complicated as surgery is and with all the variations that occur you need a good check sheet to keep the complicated process steps in focus and not forget anything critical that one wanted to get done.

There are several types of check sheets and believe it or not we all use them almost every day; Shopping lists, grocery lists, task lists are all types of check sheets. This is why Check Sheets are one of the Seven Basic QC Tools. But the one check sheet that the gentleman above talked about; I call “Run Rules.” Why I call them Run Rules is that in critical or complex process you need a “cheat sheet” that is used all the time during the process run. In six sigma these, check sheets, are a control, to insure that changes that are put in place maintain the gains they were designed for.

Why are they needed if you have standard operating procedure? Because those are detailed and lengthy but extremely important for reference and those learning for the first time. For those that have been doing the process for some time, they are not now really look back to those procedures. They have them in their heads. In critical or complex processes , including surgery, there are something’s you want to make sure they are “in their heads.” They are things you really do not what forgotten. These go on the “Run Rules” or check sheet that everyone looks at daily as they are doing the process to insure everything gets done. So if everyone IS going to look at them you have to create them so they are the “go to” item when doing this process. Here are some guidelines for creating effective Run Rules/ Check Sheets.

They are:

  • Only a small but critical portion of the Standard Procedure applicable to the activity.
  • One page MAXIMUM.
  • Used as a reference for everyday use.
  • Key steps identified as value added for the customer.
  • On a Standard form so anyone stepping in recognizes them.
  • Easy to understand
  • Good for new employees and things you do not do that often.


In summary these Check Sheets/Checklists/Run Rules are your day to day reminders of the details in what you are doing.

Well I hope this has been informative. If you have questions drop me a line. Also you can learn how to build one in my article “How to build a good Check Sheet”.

Peter Bersbach
Bersbach Consulting

LCS a Creative Thinking Tool and More

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Creative ThinkingHere is a tool that I feel is the greatest tool for coming up with good creative ideas. Ideas on what happened. Ideas on how it happened. Ideas on what caused it. Ideas on how to fix it. Ideas on how to improve it.

Many times we are in meetings where discussions are taking place and you try to add to the discussion only to have someone else ”Knicks” your comments. The person “Knicking” really did not mean to make it sound like your idea was bad but that is the way it came across. Unusually, you will not add more to the conversation. Once put off we tend to keep quite. Plus, I might add, the issue being discussed never really gets resolved by the group. What is happening here is just something that our culture seems to thrive on and that is negative comments. We tend to always come up with why something will not work. We seem to be focused on that. But we never or rarely come up with why something will work, or at least what is good about that idea.

This tool helps in this discussion area to bring out what is good ( the golden nuggets) first and then discuss the issues with the idea next. So here it the tool:


LCS stands for Likes, Concerns Suggestions. In almost any meeting you can use this tool and you will be amazed at how it improves the discussions in the meeting. Here is how it works:

  1. Everyone in the room must use LCS. At first this means that you will have to explain it to those in the room. Many times I’ll have soft spongy toy’s around the room so if someone does not follow these rules that anyone in the room can and will throw a toy at them to remind them to use LCS.
  2. LIKES – First, if you are going to make a comment about something the first thing you should say about it, is what you like. In doing this you show the person that made the statement and the rest of the members in the room that you understood what was said by identifying things in the statement that you liked. What I call the “Golden Nuggets” of an idea.
  3. CONCERNS – Second, no idea (or comment) is perfect so many times we have some concerns about some points in the original statement. Well those get stated next, but only if you have suggestions to improve or correct your concerns. If you can not come up with a suggested improvement then DO NOT STATE YOUR CONCERN. Why? Because you have no idea that is better. If you did you could add it as a suggestion, which means that you could now state your concern and suggestion for improving it.
  4. SUGGESTIONS –Third, if you state a concern YOU MUST ALWAYS give a suggestion to improve on your concerns. In brainstorming this is called piggybacking off someone else’s idea. They had an idea you liked some of it you had some concerns and suggestions that made the idea better.

Usually the ideas created using LCS are far superior to those that don’t. The reason for that is it is additive intelligence. With a good cross-functional team using LCS a diverse amount of intelligence is brought to the meeting and through LCS it is unleashed to solve an issue or problem the team is working on.

Now remember in Six Sigma even this discussion is only an opinion of the team or group. Now you have to go collect data and prove that the opinion is correct.Well give it a try and let me know what you think. Enjoy

Peter Bersbach

Six Sigma Master Black Belt

Bersbach Consulting

From Process to Profits


The Fifth Step of DMAIC – Control

Monday, November 30th, 2009

DMAIC’s Control

ControlControl is the fifth step of the Six Sigma five step process DMAIC. The objective of Control is to Develop and implement the best controls to maintain the gains and to celebrate, share & reward your successes.

This is the step that is most forgotten because we think we do not need controls. But if we do not perform this step then the gains we achieved in improve will be lost very quickly. Lost because when ever you change a process it takes time to make it part of everyone way of doing things. Think about this with yourself. You have just decided to change the way you do something. How easy is it to forget your new plan without something to help you remember that you changed? An example of this is if you say that from now on I will not snack after dinner. How long will it take before you forget that change and you do snack unless you place some controls (maybe locks on the snack cabinet) to remind you not to. So with any new process you will want to have controls in it to insure that those working the process don’t forget the new method.

The second thing in the objectives is to celebrate your success. I am afraid that in most companies, just like the news, good news or success stories are NOT mention much and it is extremely important that success is shared with all. This is how six sigma becomes a culture rather than a one shot application. Celebration, recognition and reward can be very simple and are always greatly accepted by all. So share your story. If you have a good one send it to me and I will post it on my website.

Here are a series of questions that you will want to answer before calling your project complete and moving on to the next one:

  • Does your results link back to your objectives, deliverables, and exit criteria?
  • Will the controls implemented sustain the gains?
  • How will you recognize and celebrate the success of your team?
  • Have attitudes changed about using Six Sigma?
  • Have you addressed and closed all parking lot issues?
  • What do you need to grow?

It is very important that you get all of these answered. Some that stand out are “Will the controls implemented sustain the gains” and “Have you addressed and closed all parking lot issues”.  Make sure that the controls you implement help to sustain the gains. Remember that controls are non value added to the customer but important to delivering what the customer wants, so minimize them but make sure they work. Something that may be unknown to you but very familiar to me is what I call a “Parking Lot”. On every project, I have a parking lot. I use it to put concerns, thoughts, and ideas that come up during the project that, at the time, pulled the team off its focused objective at the moment. Usually these are later addressed in the project but sometimes they have nothing to do with the project and don’t get address during the project. You must hand this off to someone to make sure they are address and not just dropped. They could be another project that will be worked. Forgetting them is like discarding a twenty dollar bill and it has a negative impact on spreading the Six Sigma culture in a company thus impacting further projects.

To answer the questions above it may take several tools and techniques to insure you have control.

  • Non Statistical Controls
    • Standardized Procedures – These are detailed written series of actions which have to be executed in the same manner in order to always obtain the same result. Verbal never is good enough. It needs to be written down so that everyone does it the same way.
    • Run Rules – These are like standardized procedures but are only one page long and are used as a reference or guide by those that have been doing a job along time. Detailed procedures are usually not looked at after one has learned and done the job for some time, but there are things in the procedure that need to be available to even the expert worker. These are kept on what I call Run Rules. Must do for all.
    • Visual Controls – You may have heard the saying “a Picture is worth a 1000 words” it is true. Visual Controls are basically pictures that help control a process. Think of a handicap sign in a parking lot; it is a visual control to help hold parking spots for those that need to park closer to the store. And every driver knows what they mean. The old take a number is another visual control where it insures the customer that has been waiting the longest gets help first.
    • Contingency Plan – These are plans that you need to develop for when something goes wrong with the new process. It lets everyone one know that if they run into a problem (and believe me someone will) this is what you do to continue with the new process.
    • Preventative Maintenance – Is the same thing as oil changes with your car or your annual physical; it keeps everything working at an optimum level. It is proactive rather than reactive so you can schedule it during off hours. It is heavily into preventative,
      predictive, and scheduling. As a scheduled activity it needs to be coordinated with all involved working as a team.

  • Statistical Controls
    • Control Charts – Control charts are not always the best method of controlling a given process element. In fact, control charts are seldom the method of choice. When process elements are important we would prefer that they not vary at all! Only when this cannot be accomplished economically should we resort to the use of control charts to monitor the element’s variation.


The above are six tools I have not talked about before, other useful Control tools that I have talked about are:

Brainstorming, LCS, Affinity Diagramming, Multi-voting and 5 Whys from my article The First step of DMAIC – Define.

Well there you have it, a little more understanding of the Control step of the Six Sigma 5 step DMAIC process. I hope that this gives you a better understanding of what questions to answer and what tools to uses to get those answers in Control.

Peter Bersbach
Six Sigma Master Black Belt
Bersbach Consulting
From Process to Profits

The Fourth Step of DMAIC – Improve

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

DMAIC’s Improve

ImproveImprove is the fourth step of the Six Sigma five step process DMAIC. The objective of Improve is to develop and implement the best plan for improvement of the opportunities (Root Causes) identified in the analyze step. It is not to develop only one plan because to get the “best” you need to have several approaches to work through with your sponsor to find the best mix of solutions that is acceptable to all. I often tell my black belts to develop several options and pick one to really sell to management and the sponsor. If you do not do this then management (your project sponsor) only have the ability to accept what you have or reject the team efforts and shut down the project.  You have to understand that the team is focused on improving the process. Management is focus on the whole business and the plan you really want may have a bigger negative impact some where else. That can happen and you need other options that will. Here are a series of questions that you will want to answer before moving on to control:

n      What options do you have?

n      What options will we go ahead and do?

n      What is the plan to implement the new process (options)?

n      What additional resources are needed?

n      How does your new process work?

n      Are you sub-optimizing?

n      What are your measures that show improvement?

n      What went different than planned?

n      Does this solution support company’s goals?

It is very important that you get all of these answered. Some that stand out are “Are you sub-optimizing” and “Does this solution support company Goals?”  Sub-optimization is when you make improvements in your process only to have a negative impact further down stream in the company or organization. This is best address as I mentioned earlier buy making sure you understand all the options to improve. Once you have a plan make sure again that you are making an impact on your company goals. Some times we get to this stage and do not make sure that the options we want to implement really do impact the company goals.

To answer the question above it may take several tools and techniques to collect the “facts and data.” So here in Improve, there are several good tool and techniques that can help get you that data.

  • Constraint Management – A Constraint (bottleneck) is any resource with fewer throughputs than the demand placed on it. Usually constraints regulate the output of the process so you need to use techniques that optimize the constraint and keep it running/ working all the time.
  • Pull Systems – These are method of controlling the flow and quantity of resources by only replacing what has been consumed. It is a system of signals to refill/ replenish right when you take the last item to work.

  • Setup Reduction – Setup is the time required for the process or activity to changeover from producing the last good piece of the prior item (part) to the first good piece of the next item. Setup Reduction is a set of techniques used to reduce that time.
  • Lot Size Reduction – Lot Size is defined as “The amount of a particular item that is ordered from the plant or a supplier or issued as a standard quantity to the production process – (APICS). Lot sizes larger than 1 adds wait time to every piece in the lot. Waiting is considered a waste[1]. So in Lot Size Reduction we try to decrease the lot size to one.
  • 5 S’s – The 5 S’s are a waste elimination process that is applied to any process. There are a lot of methods to doing this and worksheets to help but in short the 5S’s stand for:
    • Sort through and Sort out
    • Set everything in order
    • Shine everything
    • Standardize processes
    • Sustain the gains

  • Design of Experiments – This is simply when you design an experiment to determine when you change something how a process reacts to that change. Many times we do this by hold all input variables constant except one and  observe the response as you vary the single input. This is called OFAT (one factor at time) which is not the best way to do a designed experiment. Problems with this approach are:
  1. It usually isn’t possible to hold all other variables constant.
  2. There is no way to account for the effect of joint variation of independent variables, such as interaction.
  3. There is no way to account for experimental error, including measurement variation.

Most that do Design of Experiments (DOE) vary two or more variables simultaneously and make multiple measurements under the same experimental conditions. This eliminates all three of the above problems. This is the best way to run an experiment to get the most for your efforts.

  • Simple Business Analysis – This analysis takes all the approaches to improvement and evaluates them on at least in these three areas; effectiveness, costs to do and time it will take to implement. Below is a simple chart I use to do this analysis.

Business Process Analysis____________________________________________________________________________________________

The above are seven tools I have not talked about before, other useful Improve tools that I have talked about are:

Brainstorming, LCS, Affinity Diagramming, Multi-voting and 5 Whys from my article The First step of DMAIC – Define.

Plus  DE & UDE, Gauge R&R, Basic Summary Stats and Pareto Charts from my article The Second step of DMAIC – Measure.

Cause & Effect Diagrams,  The Third step of DMAIC – Analyze.

Well there you have it, a little more understanding of the Improve step of the Six Sigma 5 step DMAIC process. I hope that this gives you a better understanding of what questions to answer and what tools to uses to get those answers in Improve.

Peter Bersbach
Six Sigma Master Black Belt
Bersbach Consulting
From Process to Profits


[1] The Seven Types of Waste a Summary

The Third Step of DMAIC – Analyze

Monday, November 16th, 2009

DMAIC’s Analyze

Analyze is the third step of the Six Sigma five step process DMAIC. The objective of Analyze is to analyze the current state data and determine the root causes, the opportunities, to improve. Here we take a more in-depth look at the data collected in measure and try to determine the root causes of the issues that the data shows us. Many times, we have to go back out and take more data from the process in what I call a “Deep Dive” to determine the real root cause of what we see in measure. Remember that as you get opinions of what is causing thing to happen go collect the data to back up (validate) that opinion. Here are a series of questions that you will want to answer before moving on to improve:

  1. What are the perceived causes of the process variability and which can we control?
  2. What is of value to the customer?
  3. What are the detail steps of the process?
  4. Have you validated the “As-Is” causes?

It is very important that you get all of these answered. Some that stand out are what is of value to the customer and have you validated the “As-Is” causes. Make sure that the root causes that you find really do impact something that the customer really cares about; something that is of value to them. If you are not working causes that impact customer value then they will never return value back to the company and you will be spending time fixing something that the customer really does not care about. If you find this is true the solution maybe to totally eliminate this step since the customer finds it not of value. If you think that you can not eliminate it, then ask yourself what customer does find it important to do. We always are creating value for someone even if it is you. If you are not then you are just wasting your time.

The second thing I mentioned was to validate the “As-Is” causes. You may have had a group meeting and come up with some causes of effects you saw in measure that your customer really cares about, but until you go collect data on those causes and validate the opinions that they cause what you saw in measure you should not move forward to improve. Remember we are all about facts and data that support what we are doing.

To answer the question above it may take several tools and techniques to collect the “facts and data.” So here in Analyze, there are several good tool and techniques that can help get you that data.

  • Value Flow Analysis – This analysis take the process observation log[1] that one usually creates in measure and reviews each step listed and the time it takes to do that step, to determine if it is of value or not. Usually you will sum up all the times of the value added and non value added steps. In this way, you can see how much time you spend creating value for your customers and where there are steps that need to be reduced or eliminated because they do not create any value for your customer.

process observation log

  • Cause & Effect Diagrams – This diagram organizes group knowledge about causes of a problem and displays the information graphically. It was invented by Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa and is sometimes called a called Ishikawa Diagrams. Some see this diagram and think it resembles a fish skeleton and that is why it is sometimes called a Fishbone Diagram. In the Cause and Effect Diagram, you start by drawing a box on the right or left hand side and in the box you put the effect that you saw in measure. Next, you brainstorm[2] causes of that effect and add them to the “branches.” Sometimes you also combine it with the five whys[3] tool to get the detail branches and the true “root” cause or causes of the effect.

c&e diagram

  • Scatter Plots – This plot is used to visualize the relationship between two variables. In the plot below, we are looking to see if there is a relationship between weight and days. If there was no relationship, the points on the chart would be scatter randomly all over the chart. In this chart, there is a relationship that shows as the number of day’s increase the weight also increases.

scatter plot

  • Confidence Intervals – These are statistically created to give you an area that you will feel confident that the real value will be found in. Say you make 12 inch rules and you like to be very confident (99% sure) that all your rules are 12 inches. Well you first have to understand that everything varies and so do your rulers but how accurate are they? You would take a sample of them and calculate the confidence interval for their length. You might find that you can be 99% sure that any rule you make is within 11 7/8 inch to 12 1/8 inch or 12 inches plus or minus 1/8 of an inch.
  • T Tests – This is also called the “Student’s t test”. This is statistically created when we want to compare two group averages and determine if they are the same or different. Many times, we want to know if a process has changed or shifted from what it was doing before. This test would tell you if it did.
  • F Test – This is statistically created when we want to compare two groups variations or variability. Let me try to explain this thing called variation. Everywhere you look, you see variation. In the people, the traffic at an intersection, or even pencils in a box. Let’s say you are buying pencils and there are two boxes of them on the shelf made from different companies. Both make pencils 10 inches long but you want to know if one company’s are more consistently 10” long. You would use this test to see if the variation in pencil length in one box versus the other is different or the same.
  • Chi Square Test – Not every thing is “measurable” sometime all we have is count data. The Chi square Test is statistically recreated to see if two group proportions (percentage of a count) are the same or different. Say, you run a grocery store and the current shipment of eggs seem to have a lot that are cracked, and you want to know if the next shipment that just arrived is any better. Here you could take a sample of what is on the shelf and a sample from the new shipment and find out if the two shipments have the same number of cracked eggs or not.

n      The above are tools that I have not talked about before, other useful Analyze tools that I have talked about that are; Brainstorming, LCS, Affinity Diagramming and 5 Whys from my article The First step of DMAIC – Define. Plus  DE & UDE, Gauge R&R, Basic Summary Stats and Pareto Charts from my article The Second step of DMAIC – Measure

Well there you have it, a little more understanding of the Analyze step of the Six Sigma 5 step DMAIC process. I hope that this gives you a better understanding of what to questions to answer and what tools to uses to get those answers in Analyze.

Peter Bersbach

Six Sigma Master Black Belt

Bersbach Consulting

From Process to Profits


[1] Process observation Log was talked about in the article “The Second step of DMAIC – Measure

[2] Brainstorming was talked about in the article “The First step of DMAIC – Define

[3] The Five Whys was talked about in the article “The Second step of DMAIC – Measure