Six Sigma Tools: A Comprehensive Guide to Operations Management

The Six Sigma methodology is a quality improvement approach used in operations management. Its objective is to find and eliminate defects in manufacturing and business processes. This approach to operations management is based on data and statistical methods to identify and correct process defects. The goal of Six Sigma is to provide organizations with tools to improve the capacity of their business processes.

This increase in performance and the decrease in process variation help reduce defects and improve profits, employee morale, and the quality of products or services. Professionals are taught statistical tools from time to time and asked to apply them at work when needed. However, successes do not rely on each other to encourage additional and better use of tools and general methodology. When organizations implement Six Sigma as a program or initiative, it often seems that they have only added, in an unstructured way, a few new tools to their toolbox through training classes.

An extension of this approach is to apply the necessary tools to the assigned projects. It's important to keep in mind that the selection, management and execution of projects are not usually an integral part of the organization. Implementing a Six Sigma program or initiative can present unique challenges since these projects are usually created at a lower level within the organization. This may cause resistance from other groups affected by the initiative, as there is usually no one assigned to defend projects that transcend the limits of the organization and facilitate change. A Six Sigma program or initiative does not usually create an infrastructure that generates final benefits through projects linked to the strategic objectives of the organization. Therefore, it may not capture the acceptance needed to get a great return on investment in training.

True success requires executive-level support and management participation. This can help push the application of statistical tools and other Six Sigma methodologies beyond organizational boundaries. A project-based approach largely depends on a robust project selection process. Projects must be selected that meet the objectives of an organization's business strategy. Then, Six Sigma can be used as a road map to effectively meet those objectives. Organizations adopt them to represent employees with some training in Six Sigma, but they do not participate in the overall project.

This methodology helps operations managers understand how to identify and solve major and minor problems in a process and improve overall quality. Needless to say, Six Sigma works much better than all other Sigma variants, such as one Sigma, two Sigma, three Sigma, four Sigma, four Sigma and five Sigma. Large companies and universities soon followed suit and offered their own versions of the Six Sigma certification program. The Six Sigma method focuses on limiting fluctuations in business processes and on managing the quality of process results by implementing statistical problem-solving methods.

Six Sigma focuses on reducing process variation and improving process control, while Lean eliminates waste (processes and procedures without added value) and promotes standardization and workflow


Because it's nearly impossible to achieve zero defects (a concept known as infinite sigma), six sigma offers 3.4 defects per million chances of a defect occurring. In the 1920s, Walter Shewhart, a pioneer of statistical process control, proposed that, in lean manufacturing, three sigma of the average is the turning point that indicates that there are too many defects and that processes need to be improved. Rather than focusing on individual tools, it's best if Six Sigma training offers a process-oriented approach that teaches professionals a methodology for selecting the right tool, at the right time, for a predefined project. In 1995, General Electric CEO Jack Welch publicly endorsed Six Sigma which helped companies outside manufacturing understand how these methodologies can be used to improve customer satisfaction in any industry. The distinction between Six Sigma and Lean has been blurred, and the term lean Six Sigma is being used more frequently because process improvement requires aspects of both approaches for increased operational excellence. Once necessary data has been collected, companies implementing Six Sigma methodologies use statistics to create a reference sigma. Lean Six Sigma is an improvement philosophy based on facts and data which values defect prevention over defect detection. In conclusion, Six Sigma tools are essential for operations managers who want to identify problems in their processes quickly and efficiently while also improving overall quality.

It's important for organizations to understand how these tools can be used beyond organizational boundaries with executive-level support for maximum success.

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