Best Tools for Implementing Six Sigma

Jesse Jacobsen, TechnologyAdvice
Tags: six sigma

The Six Sigma methodology for reducing defects through a disciplined, data-driven approach has shown time and again that, when done well, it can lead to huge savings and increased efficiency. By closely following the define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC) system, your manufacturing team has a structure in place to systematically implement operational changes and test them for results.

An organization that wants to implement Six Sigma in its manufacturing operations should recognize the immense discipline and oversight required. It's a cyclical system that can require multiple rotations through the cycle before observable improvements occur. Having the proper systems and tools in place to facilitate Six Sigma can help your organization more effectively follow the DMAIC process, accurately measure your results and maintain any alterations to production. Below are some of the best project management (PM) and business intelligence (BI) tools for Six Sigma methodology.

Project Management

Project management tools should be utilized to facilitate each step within the DMAIC process. Depending on your approach, they can be used to outline each of the steps as singular processes or a number of subparts within each step. For example, for Team A, the "define" step might mean simply sitting down and defining the problem, while for Team B, it might work better to include multiple steps under "define," such as observe operations, individually define, brainstorm a unified definition and simplify the final definition. It all depends on the complexity of your operations and the level of granularity that works best for you and your team.

With that in mind, the best project management solution for Six Sigma methodology is most likely a lean project management tool that employs Kanban.

A lean system for project management places an emphasis on the prevention of waste, much like Six Sigma methodology. The goal of a lean system is to create a continuous stream to reduce waste and increase the speed of processes, making it the perfect system to pair with the DMAIC cycle.

Kanban is a workflow system that was developed by Toyota's manufacturing plant in Japan to improve processes and timing through a just-in-time system. Essentially, the Kanban approach visualizes tasks via cards on a straight line or in a vertical funnel. This is a great solution to visualize each phase of the DMAIC process as one step flows into the next, creating smoother transitions in each cycle.

While there are a number of viable preventive maintenance (PM) solutions that include the lean system and Kanban workflow, following are a couple of the best solutions to work with Six Sigma methodology.

Trello

For organizations interested in implementing a PM solution for manufacturing but aren't sure about the monetary commitment, Trello is a free solution that utilizes Kanban. Because this software is free, it won't include many of the functions that advanced PM systems have, but its simplicity and intuitive design make it a great option for new users. Employees with access to the system can upload related files and tag them to related tasks for easier access. Trello also offers mobile accessibility so users can update workflows from any location, which is perfect for the hands-on plant manager who wants to keep systems up to date even when away from the office.

Kanbanery

Kanbanery is a Web-based Kanban solution that works under lean methodology with a variety of pricing plans depending on your organization's needs. The system is very customizable, allowing you to determine how intricate each step of the DMAIC process should be for your plant. In addition to the workflow processes, Kanbanery includes reporting tools that can be used to increase insight into how different portions of the DMAIC cycle are developing. For example, you can analyze how long it takes for improvements to be implemented and if there are ways to expedite the process.

Business Intelligence

Having analytical insight from related data sets can assist with every step of the DMAIC cycle. For the "define" phase, having dashboards and visualizations that illustrate current operational levels can help you establish a more accurate definition of the problem. Aggregating and appropriately analyzing data is crucial for accurate measurements, and having access to that data in easily digestible ways is essential to further analyze operations. Improvements should be implemented as quickly and effectively as possible, which can be guided by further data analysis. Finally, you can use real-time data analytics to make sure all changes are properly controlled and measured on a day-to-day basis.

The analysis tools typically used by organizations, like Microsoft Excel, are often too simplistic and may overlook important information. Business intelligence solutions can be integral to the success of your Six Sigma initiatives for a couple of key reasons. One, many of these systems include data-visualization tools that can provide crucial insight into operational efficiency and effectiveness from your existing data sets. In addition, some of these systems also feature warehousing solutions, which are essential for organizations that currently have no effective system in place for recording and storing key data sets.

If your company currently has no data storage solution, you'll want to invest in a business intelligence system that includes warehousing capabilities. Below is an example of a system that's great for organizations that currently store their own data, along with a system for companies that have no data storage solution.

Tableau

Tableau is one of the most trusted and effective data-visualization providers on the market. Its intuitive design and functionality makes it accessible to all users, from information technology professionals to business users. For Six Sigma, two of the most important visualization tools are Pareto charts for measuring defects and histograms for measuring deviation. Both of these tools are included in the Tableau system. The system also incorporates business dashboards for quick access to Six Sigma functionality.

SAS

SAS offers a variety of solutions that can be used independently or in unison with one another. For Six Sigma, two of the most effective solutions would be the data management software and the performance management software. With data management, organizations can store and organize data sets in a way that's most intuitive for them, enabling easier access to crucial information. Pairing the data management system with the performance management software also lets manufacturers analyze their data for insight into each phase of the DMAIC cycle.

By incorporating any of these business software solutions into your daily operations, your plant can more effectively implement and follow Six Sigma to reduce defects and increase efficiency. 


About the Author

Jesse Jacobsen is a web content writer for TechnologyAdvice. He covers a variety of topics, including project management software, business intelligenc...