With the deployment of Six Sigma many organizations ask themselves various questions:

  • What is critical to my customers?
  • What is critical to the bottom line?
  • How do I get a handle on these processes and assure their performance?
  • What should my newly trained Black Belts attack?

Without the methodology to pursue the answers, the pressure to quickly deliver on the Six Sigma training often overshadows this desire. The result is that Black Belts join the fire fighters in attacking current problems, not necessarily the largest drivers of customer dissatisfaction.

Alignment of project selection to corporate objectives is vital to a meaningful, sustained and supported Six Sigma deployment. If project selection remains arbitrary and unfocused, the Black Belt will likely be isolated and unsupported, working on reducing defects that are not associated with key deliverables.

To improve support and success, the Y = f (x) tool should be taken out of the Black Belt’s bag of tricks, dusted off and taught to employees at all levels. Once this “family tree” analysis is widely understood, breakdown of the organization’s key performance indicators (KPIs) can begin. The idea is to start with high level objectives and through a series of process breakdowns, gain a deep level of detailed understanding of every sub-process that drives up towards these high level objectives. The process results in a visual representation of all the critical processes that have to perform in order to meet customer expectations. This can be revolutionary for some managers who previously focused on “the critical few” but struggled with fully understanding how they are derived.

One successful breakdown I participated in started with three high level customer deliverables:

  1. Quality product,
  2. Great sales experience and
  3. Excellent service.

Taking existing customer surveys, the team allocated the survey categories to each deliverable. For each category they began identifying the departments that were responsible for delivering the needs. Next, the critical internal departmental processes were identified. Finally, the sub-processes were outlined utilizing individuals from each department. The result was a customer driven view of the organization from the top down. Over the next few weeks the team began assigning existing metrics to several levels of the tree and identifying the need to create new metrics for areas previously not measured. For Black Belts, this gave them an excellent project selection framework. By choosing those areas of the tree that were under-performing, they had immediate management support, initial data and departmental subject matter experts that helped develop the sub-process breakdowns.

There were several realizations from completing the Y = f (x) tree. Some noticed that there were several tasks that were not identified. Through discussion and analysis it was determined that these steps were really non-value added functions that should be evaluated for reduction or elimination. The resulting customer metric tree was cascaded throughout the organization. Almost everyone could identify the metric they could affect, and they also saw how their small piece fit into the overall organization and its quest to deliver on customer satisfaction.

While this new view of the business can alone energize an organization, ongoing success requires recurring analysis and continuous improvement of the key processes. Assigning metrics to the deliverables identified from the Y = f (x) breakdown is the fist step. Application of both continuous (time to complete) and attribute (number of defects) data can be utilized. Next, control charts should be constructed to monitor ongoing performance at set intervals (daily, monthly, etc.). Third, responsibility should be assigned to each metric to monitor and initiate corrective action. Finally, a forum to review the metrics, corrective actions taken, lessons learned, current projects and next steps should be established. Ideally, this examination of the organization would become a large part of the overall management constitution. Keeping the information updated and communicating it with the entire organization will facilitate further discussion and a sense of purpose in every day transactions.

Six Sigma has the power to vastly improve processes. Don’t waste these valuable resources. Identify and understand how you deliver on the promises of your brand and deploy your Black Belts intelligently where they are needed. The use of Y = f (x) analysis is one proven way to gain insight into an organization. If you don’t understand how to deliver to your customers, eventually they will find someone who does!

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