Implementation Issues: What Should the Professional Supply Chain Manager Know about Six Sigma?
Published on: Jan, 18, 2011
In order for firms to increase their ability to effectively utilize Six Sigma, they must focus their resources on three major areas:
- Project Selection and Execution
Developing a proper infrastructure is important because it ensures that critical resources will be available when necessary. Infrastructure not only includes things such as senior managements support, but it also involves developing a receptive culture and assigning roles and responsibilities to the appropriate personnel (12).
Developing a corporate culture that is receptive to Six Sigma is a time consuming process. It begins by introducing the employees to the basic concepts of Six Sigma and establishing channels for them to express their concerns and have those concerns addressed. Maintaining these open channels of communication allows employees to feel that they have a stake in what is taking place. Furthermore, if the company can link management compensation to the successful use of Six Sigma, the likelihood of success rises even further. The changes in company culture should result in an environment where operations are discussed in terms of defects, business needs, and customer satisfaction. Employees should be encouraged to follow the lead of Six Sigma champions and specialists and ask questions and express concerns in an environment that they feel is collaborative and objective (12).
The next critical part of developing the infrastructure is assigning roles and responsibilities. By assigning these roles and responsibilities carefully, a firm can increase their ability to utilize Six Sigma in their process. The key roles are those of Six Sigma Champion, Master Black Belts, Black Belts, Green Belts, and Financial Analysts. Champions are usually the first ones trained in an organization and are often senior managers connected to various business units. These champions need to be fully committed to successfully implementing Six Sigma. Typically, their role involves guiding others in the process, acting as a mentor, and facilitating the process. Master Black Belts receive the highest level of training and assume the roles of teachers and mentors. The Master Black Belts are usually responsible for managing multiple projects and delivering results. Black Belts usually have a fairly extensive level of training and guide improvement projects. More specifically, the Black Belts will create, facilitate, train, and direct teams using an analytical approach. Green Belts are specialized project leaders that work in daily operations throughout an organization to incorporate quality tools and language. Finally, Financial Analysts act as third parties to quantify the bottom-line results. However, this entire infrastructure is worthless, if the proper training is not supplied to the organization (12).
In general, training should focus on demonstrating to employees how the tools available can be utilized to help support the Six Sigma methodology. This is best demonstrated by providing the employee with introductory training followed by the assignment of a practical application. One of the pitfalls that must be avoided is allowing employees to follow their intuition instead of the Six Sigma process. This is one aspect that should be emphasized during training to help avoid potential issues. Usually Champions and Executives receive one to four days of training. Green Belt training varies widely, but focuses mostly on the various tools that should be used to track day-to-day process improvements. Training for Black Belts is similar to that of Green Belts and usually takes place over a four-month period, though actual duration of training is only about four weeks. Black Belts are also trained on how to train others, how to effectively mentor, and how to develop effective teams. Usually, the most effective programs are not viewed as training programs, but rather as new business strategies. Firms also find that it is usually best to train most people to a Green Belt level and then select potential Black Belt candidates from that pool. This strategy minimizes the number of people that are trained as Black Belts and then are unable to perform at that level (12).
The final area that is critical to firms desiring to maximize their ability to use Six Sigma is project selection and execution. Projects should focus on core processes that have been identified by Champions or Master Black Belts. These projects should be connected to strategic and annual operating plans, they should be recognized as important to the firm, they typically ought to have a scope that can be completed within three to six months, and they must be approved and supported by management. The project should also be able to achieve breakthrough performance in terms of both the process and the bottom line. As part of the project selection process, the availability of resources should be taken into account, as far as both personnel and tools are concerned (12).
When starting a Six Sigma program, many firms seek assistance from outside consultants. Firms should be very selective when deciding which consulting firm to hire. The consultants will initially assist with setting up the basic Six Sigma program and building the infrastructure previously discussed. However, the ultimate goal will be to help the firm quickly move towards the path of Six Sigma self-sufficiency. To this end, the consultants should focus on transferring knowledge, on showing the firm how to solve problems effectively, and on helping the firm learn how to leverage the tools used to analyze the process. The best way to select an outside consulting firm is by reviewing their references and requesting actual case studies from real clients. Examining these case studies and confirming the results with the clients should allow the firm to determine if they are satisfied with the way the consulting company would establish and transfer a Six Sigma program (7).
In conclusion, if proper infrastructure, training, and project selection and execution are not achieved, Six Sigma implementation could be disastrous. Firms could find themselves spending millions of dollars implementing a system that has no hope of working. However, if management emphasizes the importance of the process and builds an organization around it, the probability of realizing success and significant cost savings is high. This probability of success can grow even more if the firm seeks experienced outside assistance.
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