Can We Use Six Sigma Tools Outside of Projects?

One of the things that I see as a challenge to companies that grapple with a Six Sigma implementation is effective use of tools in “live” situations. By “live”, I mean in a normal operations context, not in a project context. When looking at the use of Six Sigma tools, using them in a project mode in my opinion is an easier affair. A project leader can plan in a project context which tools to use, based on the DMAIC project model.

But what about “live” application of tools? For example, why can’t DOE used to diagnose problems on the factory floor outside of the DMAIC formal context?

Consider this:
A product is defective, and it is composed of 4 parts. Run a four-factor DOE with the factors being part presence (yes/no) and find the potential contributor(s) and contributing interactions. This will at least give you an idea if the component part inputs are influencing the defective condition, and will get you at least half way to problem resolution.

Most of the time in the case above I’ve seen engineers “measure their way” into a guess of a root cause to the problem, which can be inefficient to say the least.

My opinion is that the real power of Six Sigma comes once culture change sets in and real problem solving occurs as part of the business, and NOT in the form of Six Sigma projects only. It seems like common sense to me that advanced tools would be used anyway to solve problems, but in most of the different companies I’ve been involved with, I can honestly say that I have not seen much use of the statistical tools in “mainstream” use.

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What restrains companies from using Six Sigma tools beyond the DMAIC project scope?

Comments 4

  1. Sowmyan

    I am new to this forum. I do not know the general philosophies of this community. I will explain the situation as I learnt from my Japanese Gurus.

    Japanese expect repeatable process execution and maintaining of control by shop floor operators. Operators also work as a group on some projects in quality circles to solve problems in their work area. They generally use TQM methods which are the six sigma green belt steps.

    More complex problem solving using statistics are left to middle management. These are handled as projects. The objective of a project should be to determine the sources of variation and implement a solution to reduce the variations to acceptable levels. Thereafter it is to be maintained by regular operations personnel by focusing on operating the process within control limits.

    Most of these tools must be used off-line. Online, the process should be lean and not require all these analytical steps. If they are required, they will become non value added activities. That is against lean six sigma principles.

  2. Kosta Chingas

    Sowmyan thanks so much for all of your comments. You have a lot of perspective to share with this community, so please continue!

    This topic is very near and dear to me, since I am grappleing with my own implementation at my production facility. As a technical manager in a production environment, I get really "turned off" by engineers handling problem solving via "projects". When I hear the word "project", I envision someone working ouside the "flow" of the daily business. In my culture, doing that is VERY taboo.

    Maybe I need to "get over it", but that’s my opinion. I know when I was a black belt in "project mode", I was always viewed as somewhat of an outsider to the process guys. Maybe if I was a process engineer of the area with black belt training, it would have been a better combination…

    The line engineer’s job is to lead complex problem solving for his area. It’s not possible to maintain the proper perspective without being where the action is happening. It’s my belief that Six Sigma tools can make an engineer much more efficient at the job, and can lead to permanent problem resolution by "proving" input relevancy, rather than guessing.

    I remember at least one problem that I would consider "unsolvable" if Six Sigma tools were not used.

  3. Sean

    One of the downsides of using the tools outside "officially-sanctioned" projects is that management may not be aware of the benefits that Six Sigma is providing. Over time the leadership may think, "why should I pay to send people to Six Sigma training?"

    One way to prevent this argument is to publicize victories whether they occur in a project or outside a project.

  4. Kosta Chingas


    I think you hit a key point there…there definitely needs to be trasparency on the victories…

    Be careful though – think about the end game. In the impelmentation I’m working on right now, I told upper management that the goal is to eliminate black-belt training in 5 years. I’d like to achieve the culture change by then….i.e. six sigma engrainined in operations…


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