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Challenging Six Sigma environments

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  • #34811

    Six Sigma Saviour
    Member

    Hello,
    I know Six Sigma is often touted as a “one size fits all” philosophy, and I’ve read the stories on how it can be applied to virtually any type of process successfully.  But have people out there come across certain company types/environments where applying Six Sigma successfully is a real stretch, if not infeasible?
    I am also interested in hearing peoples feedback on the particular situation I am and any tips/experience they can share:
    I work for a company of about 150 employees, about 100 of whom work in production.  I will be general about the product we make, but here is some information:

    The final product could be compared in complexity to something like small appliances- typically about 20 components. 
    The final assembly stage offers about 2500 standard configurations possible.  There are also about 1300 ‘special’ configurations that have been put together to better serve customers with specific environments
    To me, this environment is a real challenge to find viable Six Sigma projects in.  Huge range of parts and processes, low volumes.  It is easy to find a process that could do with improvement in terms of defects or productivity, but often the financial payback is meagre due to the small volumes and the fact only 1-5 people may be working on that part.  After the first few ‘low fruit’ projects (which are almost all successfully completed) it appears the only way to get a considerable financial return would be to lump together several somewhat unrelated processes – and hope the project scope does not become unmanageable.
    Anyone work in a similar plant?  I would love some tips, feedback or to hear about other challenging applications of Six Sigma.
    Regards,
    SSS

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    #96425

    John J. McDonough
    Participant

    Although I have no evidence, I would suspect that organizations that don’t yet have a good understanding of their own processes would be a tough road for Six Sigma.  A few years ago, that was almost everyone.  Today I suspect it is only a few niche companies that can afford that.
    It sounds to me as if your view of Six Sigma is all around manufacturing defect reduction.  I suspect you have a narrow view of what constitutes a Six Sigma project, and that is making it hard for you to see opportunities.  Certainly, manufacturing defect reduction is a valid target, but it is far from the only target.
    My experience with smaller companies is admittedly a bit stale, but I suspect that their greatest opportunities are on the transactional side.  In my experience, there are huge opportunities in most smaller shops.
    I suspect you still have some hay to make on the manufacturing side, but perhaps a couple of projects in the back office will clear your block and give you a fresh perspective.
    –McD
     

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    #96426

    BB in NC
    Participant

    While it may be, in your opinion, tough to justify many full fledged SS projects at your facility, concepts and ideas can be successfully deployed, especially as Kaizen projects, right? 

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    #96427

    SSS
    Member

    First, as far as my understanding of Six Sigma:
    The philosophy started in Motorola AS a means of reducing defects.  The whole name comes from aiming for 3.4 DPMO.  However, this is not my view on Six Sigma.  The buzz term ‘Lean Six Sigma’ is far closer to how I view it’s application- reduction of waste, whatever the source.  I don’t know why it was ever viewed elsewise.  Infact, all 3 of the projects I have done so far has been on productivity improvement, with defects as a secondary metric. 
    Maybe instead of suggesting that my knowledge and understanding is limited you can assume I am competent and actually address the questions I asked. 
    As far as transactional processes, I think you have a good point.  Our program will be visiting them in the near future. As for now, we are concentrating on improving our companies core competency- manufacturing. 

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    #96430

    SSS
    Member

    My thinking as of late has been a long with what you say.  The other 50% of my time (im a GB) is spent organising, leading and collecting data for quality circles (a form of Kaizen).  This works well and is yielding good results. 
    The company is committed to a Six Sigma program, as am I, but I feel that the nature of our business severly limits the impact the philosophy can have.  Thoughts? Anyone else in high number of products and customisation,  low volumes business?
    Thanks for the reply,
    SSS

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    #96433

    John J. McDonough
    Participant

    I hadn’t intended to insult you, I’m sorry.  I saw small company, got the impression that you had only worked a few projects, and lept to a conclusion.  My bad.
    I find it difficult to imagine any process that is so finely tuned that it can’t be improved, especially after what you make sound like was a fairly small effort.
    I had been tempted to suggest, partly because of the small runs of varying products, that perhaps a DFSS style revisit of the entire process was in order, or perhaps even the entire company.  Given a 150 person shop, that doesn’t sound like an insurmountable task.  That sort of effort is costly, but typically yields prodigious results.  But I’m only guessing at your work process maturity.
    I think we all sometimes get too close to a problem to see it’s warts.  Another reason why I suspect stepping back from the manufacturing process for a few projects might bring better success when you come back and look with fresh eyes.
    –McD
     

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    #96436

    Mikel
    Member

    I will not assume your are competent, but I will assume you are defensive.
    High mix, low volume takes on a different perspective from both a Lean and Six Sigma perspective. There is a good workbook for Lean called High Mix Low Volume (Productivity Inc. I think) For Six Sigma in this environment you focus on process, not product. You have common processes that most if not all of your products go through. You have a lot of mistakes, probably with configuration being one of the top bars on the pareto. So I agree with John’s suggestion, except maybe it is not back office, but the transactions that go on that define what is to be built when.
    Drop the defensiveness, take good advice when you get it and let the others pass.

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    #96440

    DaveG
    Participant

    You haven’t indicated how much you CAN improve – after all, if you were already perfect, what else could you do?   Can you maintain or increase your output while decreasing your cycle time?  Can you lower your defect rate?  Can you increase value while maintaining or reducing your Customers’ cost of ownership?  Can you help your Customers solve their problems?  Can you help your subcontractors solve their other Customers’ problems?
    Figure out where you are, then you’ll know where to go.  Does your organization evaluate itself?

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    #96486

    MBB Facts
    Participant

    SSS,
    A couple of areas come to mind as fertile ground for projects that can drive significant performance improvement: supply chain and customer service.
    Does the plant where you work has control over these functions or are they managed elsewhere in the organization?
    MBB Facts

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    #96491

    SSS
    Member

    Hi MBB facts, thanks for the reply.
    All purchasing, inventory management and customer service functions are performed in the same plant. The company has no other divisions or plants.
    I have to admit that my knowledge and experience is all to do with manufacturing- what kind of supply chain/customer service projects would you suggest investigating further?
    SSS

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    #96537

    John_Q_Public
    Participant

    Yeesh! Too much jargon here. Screw the tool, Focus on the customer.
    From what you say, I think there are probably a number of projects in your organization where using the Six Sigma approach could produce some significant gains. I’m assuming you went through a fairly decent Black Belt training class – which should have included a strong section on defining processes, defect classification, and process map analysis. I’d start with that first – the heavy duty statistical stuff is nice but you’re probably not going to need it for a long while.
    The first thing you need to do is take a look at how external customers would view your business outputs – basically, if your BUSINESS was the process, how would they rate you? I suspect their feedback would probably focus on CTQ’s like order accuracy, selling the right version (ie – fits their needs vs. just sending what they ordered), shipping time, ease of setup, functions correctly upon being set up, etc. Take these metrics and map them back against the broad parts of the operation which actually drives them (customer service, assembly, shipping, etc. I’d also take a look at the business owner’s CTQ’s (shareholder view) with regards to cost-per-order shipped, selling margin, add-on sales volumes, days-outstanding for customer receivables, etc. Then start working on setting up measurements processes to track this.
    For a quick hit – go look into tracking and classifying (Pareto Chart) defects in the ordering process from a customer’s perspective. Given the complexity of your operation, I’d be willing to be that there are a significant number of defects in terms of what the customer actually is getting relative to what they THOUGHT they ordered. You will find errors in the customer’s requests (what they order vs. what they need), the order taking process, the product assemble process, and shipping. I’d also look into how often an order is delayed due to credit holds or lack of the appropriate inventory. Just find defects, run a Pareto chart, and start mapping the major defect types back to root causes.
    If you wanted to try a project with more of a “Lean” focus – go look at how long it takes to get an order out the door. Or get an invoice paid. Or look at how many steps in your process are non-value-added.
    This sounds very similar to a challenge I faced with a process which ultimately became my certification project. Very manual, almost infinite combinations of input/output/process sequence – highly dependant on human judgement calls. The process was being executed by a team of about 100 people. Once we started mapping it and asking some hard questions about value-add per step/configuration option – that process got a lot simpler and became an algorithm. After that – we were able to start using the statistical tools to slice & dice further into performance. If you want to talk further, email me at john_q_public [email protected].
    regards,
    John
     

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    #97075

    Patrick
    Participant

    I work for a telecommunications company that is implemeting SS.  Considering that we sell a large range of products (bundled in more “custom” packages than you could believe), and that compared to a manufacturing environment our volume would be considered low (hundreds of orders per month, not even 1000 usually), I can relate to your situation.
    We look for projects related to things like: reducing cycle time for service delivery, reducing trouble tickets/service calls per customer/service/etc, reducing errors from our suppliers, eliminating non-value added steps from our processes (this may be an area to look at for you – in the custom product arena it has been my experience that you frequently have steps in your process that are not really needed if you apply some creative/out of the box solutions), producing the same volume with fewer resources (i.e. productivity), even things as simple as applying credits to customers faster so we increase our customer retention on those that we do fail to satisfy, etc…..
    Hope I have at least sparked a few ideas….

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