Manufacturers and transactional firms share a drive to lower costs, reduce cycle time and offer a diverse product mix as they pursue higher profits and an increased market share in a growing global environment. Consumers (those paying for the end product) want products or services that are cheaper, readily available and of a quality that meets their expectations.
A variety of systems – such as Total Quality Management, Total Quality Control and Six Sigma – have been implemented by organizations to help guide the efforts of creating new products, reducing product costs, improving manufacturing or organizational capabilities, realizing new market share or entering new markets. These systems rely on teams of people to identify the voice of the customer (both internal and external), taking into account the organization’s competencies. They also require an ongoing portfolio of projects aimed at creating revenue or reducing costs.
While not all organizations implement these systems or keep them in their original form, many of the core ideas are adopted. Some organizations have integrated two or more systems. One melding of systems that holds significant promise is the integration of the Six Sigma methodology with the tools and processes of project management.
The Six Sigma methodology DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) offers a structured and disciplined process for solving business problems. Six Sigma uses tools designed to identify root causes for the defects in processes that keep an organization from providing its customers with the consitent quality of products the customers require on time and at the most reasonable cost. The Six Sigma work is normally done through cross-function teams that manage the project. Yet the methodology does not address the management of the project itself.
Project management’s tools and techniques focus on attributes of a project such as development, execution, control and closing. There is an assortment of tools that are used throughout the project to manage the project to completion.
Six Sigma and Project Management
With Six Sigma’s DMAIC process, a problem is first defined and quantified; then measurement data is collected to bound and clarify the problem; analytical tools are deployed to trace the problem to the root cause; a solution for the root cause is identified and implemented; and finally, the improved operations are subjected to ongoing control to prevent recurrence. The Six Sigma toolkit includes a variety of techniques, primarily from statistical data analysis and quality improvement. Design of experiments (DOE), failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), cause-and-effect diagram (aka fishbone diagram, Ishikawa diagram), process flow diagram and gage repeatability and reproducibility (R&R) studies are among Six Sigma’s many tools.
While the methodology of Six Sigma has proven effective in troubleshooting or improving existing processes using the DMAIC approach, there are challenges to confront when using Six Sigma. A company that relies solely on Six Sigma to run its projects may experience issues with control of the project process. A Master Black Belt was interviewed from a firm that utilized a pure Six Sigma system for its projects. The firm found that the majority of its projects were not being completed as the Six Sigma system would suggest. A lack of management support, insufficient resources and failure to understand the voice of customer (VOC) were some of the reported problems.
The DMAIC approach focuses on controls for the improvements to the process, not the control of the project management process. “Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements,” according to the Project Management Institute.