Six Sigma 101

When I was at Cengage, we used a Lean Six Sigma approach for our processes and products, and after a few interviews with people asking me “What is Six Sigma” and “what does Six Sigma mean?” I thought I would write a quick Intro to Six Sigma for those that want to know more.

What is Six Sigma?

  • A system to continuously build quality into your processes and products
  • A fact based, data-driven improvement system
  • A company-wide commitment to quality

What is a Six Sigma project?

  • DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control
  • DMAIC claims that it ‘fixes’ existing processes


– This is when you scope a project; you find the problem you want to solve.

  • Define the process and look for the problems within it. Create a business case for your project and pitch it to management
  • Define the goal you want to reach.
  • Define your team
  • Develop a plan to create the processes needed


– This is when you gather initial information to further refine the problem

  • Create measurements to quantify aspects of the process.
  • Gather information from your customers (yourself and your manager-types in the office) what they would want out of the process.
  • Create measurements for the information you gather
  • Prioritize your customers’ needs


– This is when you look at your empirical data in a variety of ways to find possible solutions and find several solutions to decide on the best one

  • Create several solutions to the problem.
  • You would then look at each solution, and mathematically make a decision.
  • You also check the risks associated with the plan and create ways to mitigate them.


– Here you change the process to eliminate the problem

  • Come up with some other solutions, like email, face-to-face meetings, and so on.
  • You then look at each solution, and mathematically (like the Analyse, there are lots of tools to help with the decision-making process) make a decision.
  • You then do a couple of test runs to see if your change makes a difference—take measurements, and compare them against the original ones.


– This is where you monitor the process to ensure that you have selected the best solution

  • You make the face-to-face meetings part of the information-gathering process
  • You create ways to fool-proof the plan (write up your process, teach the SMEs what you’re doing, and so on)
  • You continue to take measurements to be sure that the solution continues to work.


Six Sigma…

  • can assist in making design decisions
  • can ensure the documentation is satisfying the customer
  • can show managers where the documentation is improving
  • may take time up front to set up and get the data, but can save time and money overall

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