The “Design” in Design for Six Sigma?

Many consider the “Design” in DfSS to be the product design, but that is not the only entity that a producer of products delivers to its customers. When I refer to the “design” in Design for Six Sigma, the context is more comprehensive than simply the product design. The “design” in DfSS can be anything that a company designs – it can be a product design, a manufacturing process design, a piece of equipment, a measurement system or even a transactional business process design.

Since a lot of my professional Six Sigma/DfSS career comes from a manufacturing background, I can share that experience. When we first began to apply DfSS methods to projects, we started with defining customer requirements for our product designs and manufacturing process designs since it was easier for us to apply the DfSS techniques to those types of design projects. As our learning curve progressed, we expanded the scope of DfSS tool application to other types of “design” projects such as those that were more transactional in nature. And for many industries such as banking or healthcare for example, the nature of their business is primarily transactional, so the product designs that they deliver to their customers are considered to be more in terms of services.

But regardless of the type of business that a company is in, how many organizations do you really think “design” or even “re-design” their transactional business processes? Probably not too many – they have lived with those transactional processes over the years because “that’s the way we have always done it”. Sound familiar? As a result they have also lived with all of the inefficiencies and defects those processes have created and never improved as an organization in terms of all the business transactions that every one of their employees executes every day on the job.

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What is the end result? “Garbage In – Gospel Out” is the way I like to think about what results when an organization does not consider driving significant business improvement by applying Lean Six Sigma/DfSS tools to establish the Y=f(X) relationship in “designing” transactional business processes. I will leave you to ponder what the “Y” and the “Xs” are in this case. The final point I would like to make here is that when considering the application of DfSS to design something new, take a moment to think through what “design” or “designs” that you are delivering to your customer(s), and in many cases the answer may be all of them – product, process and/or services.

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