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  Manufacturing Insights   |   March, 2008
Transactional Six Sigma Must Maintain Productivity Gains
by Thomas R. Cutler

Six Sigma projects are often hampered by the high cost of acquiring and managing data. Black Belts often invest significant effort in collecting data for the Define and Measure phases. But they risk losing those hard-won productivity gains during the Control Phase if process owners can not sustain costly and time-consuming data collection tasks over the long-term.

Many manufacturing organizations fail to achieve the full benefit of Six Sigma efforts because their tools lack connectivity to the business systems generating the data. “Reducing the costs and cycle times of Six Sigma projects must be achieved by capturing the right data to drive business transformation while connecting with other information systems to streamline and reduce data acquisition costs,” according to Evan J. Miller, Hertzler Systems President & CEO; the firm manufacturers the SPC (statistical process control) suite GainSeeker.

Indeed sustaining the gains in the Control Phase with real-time data collection and control failure notification; multiplying ROI (return-on-investment) from existing business systems by making better use of data is vital.

Miller insists these transactional Six Sigma elements require “Focusing attention on improvement goals through innovative Defect Improvement Charts in order to quickly uncover hidden sources of variation with automated analysis.”

Deploying in weeks, not months or years

Measurement systems rounds out Six Sigma software infrastructure and since the early days of Six Sigma, automation professionals have relied on software. Most people recognize two main types of software packages: Project Tools (like MINITAB) and Deployment Tools (like ProjX or Enterprise Track). If Six Sigma had stayed on the manufacturing floor, that might have sufficed, however transactional Six Sigma often looks for data from business systems.

Transactional areas are typically data poor because business systems:
  • Contain too much of the wrong type of information
  • Do not have the right level of data granularity
  • Report on the Critical Y, with no knowledge of the Key and Important Xs that drive the Y
  • Do not support Six Sigma and lack key connecting points such as date and time stamps
  • Are not Black Belt friendly
  • Lack easy-to-use ad hoc query tools for asking new questions from the data
Transactional Six Sigma calls for a Measurement System that sits between the business system and the other Six Sigma tools. This Measurement System should:
  • Harvest data from existing business systems
  • Massage data as needed
  • Collect additional data details if needed
  • Standardize this collected data to simplify Six Sigma analysis
  • More Complete Six Sigma IT Infrastructure
Few tools provide a measurement system that supports these transactional Six Sigma efforts:
  • Connect easily to business systems, Six Sigma project tools and Six Sigma deployment tools
  • Build a rich warehouse of enterprise data for easy access and data sharing with project tools and deployment tools
  • Provide a framework for infrastructure solutions to both IT staff and Six Sigma practitioners
  • Enforce procedures for detecting and responding to out-of-control conditions and other failures
  • Ask process owners for additional detail at the time a problem occurs. For example, when an order misses a critical milestone, asking the process owner to record what happened
  • Provide the correct level of data granularity for achieving Six Sigma improvements
Miller asserts that few technology solutions help to capture the right data to drive business transformation through process improvement. Only when a company reduces the cost of data collection during all phases of Six Sigma projects, can they "Sustain the Gains" during the Control phase.

Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based TR Cutler, Inc., the largest manufacturing marketing firm worldwide – Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of twenty seven hundred journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is also the author of the Manufacturers’ Public Relations and Media Guide. Cutler is a frequently published author within the manufacturing sector with more than 300 feature articles authored annually; he can be contacted at See More Details.

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