Most Six Sigma speak I’ve heard tries to categorize projects into “hard” vs. “soft” savings. Hard savings projects focus on cutting costs, increasing capacity, etc., while soft savings projects generally deal more with topics where dollar value may not be easily to quantify (e.g. environmental performance, employee morale, etc.).

However, there is another type of project emphasis that often gets overlooked. I’m speaking of enabler projects.I always tell people that Six Sigma is not about saving the world but rather taking pieces of a problem and solving it in smaller manageable chunks.For a great number of technical projects I have been mentoring lately, I’ve noticed enabling projects are needed before the hard savings work can be scoped and completed.

An enabling project can focus on needs such as measurement systems, pre trial screening work (if your project is very complex and will require evolutionary operations, DOE, etc.), and control studies.The enabling project in itself could be a stand alone Six Sigma project, depending on if a known solution exists for the problem.For example, Company X may have been sighted by a regulatory agency. The company knows it has a problem and is looking to Six Sigma, however no measurement system is in place or is defined. It is very difficult to “check” your measurement system in Measure phase when you don’t have one or know the ongoing extent of when defining your problem in Define phase.

The benefit to an enabling project is it reduces the chances of having roadblocks when you get to the point of doing improvement work on your key Six Sigma project. Another benefit is for those who work in a culture where there is a strong push to have projects expediently completed, you can get some of the work done in advance (and the time won’t be counted against your project).

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