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The Six Sigma Line: Play Ball

By: Rick Ring

Welcome to the Six Sigma Line! This series of blog articles addresses topics that we find interesting and provides potentially useful information to anyone trying to enhance their business skills.

Our first entry was an introductory piece, so now you can start to play ball, maybe even talk about starting up a Six Sigma program. But first, let’s discuss what to do before you even get up to bat. To start, build a supporting infrastructure, which includes getting support from management.

Top management support extends beyond lip service to actual, day-to-day leadership. You need top management to believe that continuous improvement should be a routine way of doing things and that everyone’s job includes looking for ways to optimize their work. Top management needs to hold middle management accountable for improvement results and be involved in project reviews and program progress.

After you’re assured that top management is on the team bus, you’ll build the Steering Team.  This team will determine the structure and pace of the program and provide guidance during implementation.

Team members will address questions like:

  • What areas of our business will we focus on?
  • What will we measure and how will we measure it?
  • What are our goals for the program?
  • Who will champion our efforts?
  • Who will train our group?
  • How many projects, how soon?

The team should be diverse, comprise four to six people, and include all levels of the organization. The team reports directly to the top manager in the organization.

The team is charged with the following:

  1. Guiding and steering improvement with a strategy that aligns with the organization’s goals and objectives.
  2. Conducting a baseline assessment to determine starting points and readiness.
  3. Setting priorities and plans.
  4. Monitoring the improvement projects and continually assessing the program.

Knowing where you’re starting from is also essential. Here are some productive questions to ask when conducting your baseline assessment.

  • Do we have a vision, business strategy, or mission statement?
  • Do we work well together in teams?
  • How do we handle communication?
  • Do we have a quality management system in place? How effective is it? (A documented quality management system should be in place to provide a foundation for the improvement program.)
  • What are we currently doing to improve?
  • What are our methods, tools and focus?
  • Who is involved?
  • What training is in place?
  • What metrics are involved?

The Steering Team will review the assessment results and decide what, if any, corrective actions will be needed to fill the gaps before the program begins.

Now you’re ready to get started.

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About Rick Ring

Rick Ring served as a lead project specialist in quality for Purdue University’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), leading and/or facilitating multiple Six Sigma projects and Lean kaizen events. Rick holds two Six Sigma Black Belt Certifications, one from the American Society for Quality and the other from the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, and has taught both public and on-site LSS courses. As an instructor, Rick stands ready to assist students on their quality improvement journeys.

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