The Master Book for Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification10 Things that Six Sigma Green Belts forget within 10 days of Training!!

Here are my observations based on not just training a few hundred Six Sigma Green Belts across different demographics of geography, industry and age group, but also having mentored them for few months after the training:

Here are the 10 things according to me that Six Sigma Green Belts forget within just 10 -days of attending a training program, implying nearly zero retention:

  1. Project Charter: How to a write a business case that convinces the management? And also differentiate it from Problem Statement.
  2. Fish-Bone: What to do after completing a Fish-Bone diagram? Of course, collect data but on what factors?
  3. Gage R&R: Conduct an live Gage R&R study (at least Discrete data).
  4. Sampling: Choosing a sampling scheme and deciding the sample size for data collection.
  5. Descriptive Statistics: Meaningful and practical interpretation of ‘Standard Deviation’. If there is a process with Standard Deviation of 5 minutes, what does this number mean in real sense?
  6. P-value: What does it mean to the business to accept or reject a hypothesis based on P value?
  7. Variation: Identify the major sources of variation that impact a project metric?
  8. Regression: How to use the regression equation to operate the business efficiently.
  9. Control Chart: Explain to a layman (probably a Manager) what an out-of-control data point means in practical sense.
  10. Sustenance: How to make sure the project exists after a year. I don’t mean the project deck! Many times, it is considered that sustenance is not in our hands, but actually it is a skill that can be acquired and needs to be taught to all Green Belts.
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One of the primary reasons, why Green Belts can’t retain these 10 things, is because most of all this is taught in less than a week with little time for things to settle in, and for the participants to relate. One of the solutions, that works well for me as a coach, is to limit the class size to 2 or 3 and spread the program over 60 days. I actually found best results  during my one-on-one training sessions! Return-on-Investment of such executive development programs are at most important and so the business & career benefits recoups these investments. My note will be incomplete if I don’t mention about few things that Six Sigma Green Belt retain very well after the training, even for several years: · How to do Fish-Bone Diagram? · How to play the Gage R&R game? · Remember and recite the phrase “P is low, Null must go” · How to map the process? · What is Value Add, and Non-Value Add?

FMEA is performed to refine a solution just before its implementation, or at the beginning of a project; to investigate if there is a possibility for any anomalies or risks arising during the process.  In simple words, FMEA is a plan to lessen or eradicate risks associated with the process or proposed solutions. It is not only applicable in a Six Sigma project, but also in any IT project management and general purpose risk analysis/risk management. Any anomaly or element can be considered as risk depending on the severity of its impact, frequency of occurrence of its cause, or the incapability of the control system to detect a cause. A risk rating called Risk Priority Number (RPN) can be used as a yardstick to prioritize and proactively mitigate risks; and to create the required focus within the organization to deal with risks. It is calculated as the product of the severity of the effect, into the occurrence of the root cause, into the detection of root cause.

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While the overall objective is to mitigate risks with high RPN, there can be multiple different strategies to do so. We can use 4 such strategies in the following order. The 4 strategies for FMEA that can help you quickly reduce the overall risk rather than flounder.

Strategy 1 – Reduce the occurrence of cause

In a FMEA, consider all the high RPN items, and select the ones with high Occurrence rating. If the occurrence rating is high, then by reducing the frequency of occurrence of cause, you will reduce the number of times failure occurs. This is the most apt and best strategy to adapt as it directly addresses the core issue. However, situations may warrant you to consider other strategies.

Strategy 2 – Reduce impact of failure mode

In a FMEA, if we don’t have high occurrence ratings, then consider all the high RPN items and select the ones with high Severity rating. These are the ones that will create maximum negative impact on a customer, their business, and thus in fact on your business too. By reducing the impact of the effect, you can show the immediate visible impact to customers. Particularly, if there have been escalations from customers, then this strategy will be best suited.

Strategy 3 – Improve the ability to detect risk

In a FMEA, when above strategies aren’t relevant, consider all the high RPN items, and select the ones with high Detection rating. Improving the detection mechanisms means that we have timely information to prevent the cause, or at least contingency, or mitigation. Conventional risk planning usually focuses on this strategy as first priority.

Strategy 4 – Combination of all three strategies

If all three ratings are high & none of the above can be applied in isolation, then see if they can be combined & applied. By following the above 4 strategies in a FMEA, we can systematically and quickly reduce risk in any process or solution in Six Sigma Project.

All processes need a control or management mechanism to ensure that they meet or exceed customer expectations consistently.  Process parameters that go out of control need to be restored back to their normal values. How fast this has to be done depends on the type of process. For a surgeon, he needs to restore parameters back to normal within seconds. Engineers working in processing plants like paint shops need to react within minutes. However, for some processes, a couple of hours or a couple of days would be good enough.

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A process control or management plan, usually prepared in the control phase of a Six Sigma project, provides insights on a reaction or response plan. A reaction plan or response plan specifies a course of action that is needed to be taken when process control parameters go out of control. And, it includes both immediate and long-term actions to restore a process performance to its desired level. There are 5 different types of reaction plans that can be considered while creating a process control plan:

  1. A plan to continue the process with close monitoring: – A process needs to be closely observed to see where it is going wrong, what is causing the parameters to go out of control, and how often is it occurring; for example: the source of the noise level of a generator or machine. Therefore, at this point, continue to run the process but closely monitor it as well. It is indeed, a very low impact reaction plan, but this is good enough for many processes.
  2. Enforce a manual override: – If a system is running automatically, stop and run it manually in order to exert a little more caution. This not only helps observe which part of the process is failing, it also helps to get a better handling of the process.
  3. Follow special instructions: – The next thing to do, when out of control parameters have been identified, is to follow instructions that are kept in place; for example: in case of a fire, check the instructions to find the exits, etc. Therefore if instructions are followed, then it will help bring the process back on track.
  4. Stop and escalate: – If a process goes wrong, and none of the above actions work, only then we should stop a process and escalate it to the experts or concerned department.
  5. Stop, correct, and resume: – This action can be observed if a process goes wrong and none of the above actions work, and if there is an expert among us who can fix the issue. Then, we can stop the process, correct the process and continue the process; while observing if the process has been restored to its desired level of performance. This reaction plan will have a quick and immediate impact. For some critical processes, this reaction plan is very apt.

The concept of a reaction plan or response plan is not only applicable in control phase, but also for standalone situations. Be sure to follow the 5 steps or types of procedures that need to be observed in the event of a process going out of control.

Measure Phase of Lean Six Sigma Project is the second phase. Following are the deliverable of this phase:

  • Identify all possible causes (Cause & Effect Diagram)
  • Validate Measurement System, Data Collection & Sampling
  • Establish Process Capability
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Identify all possible Causes (Cause & Effect)

In the measure phase of a Lean Six Sigma Project, the team brainstorms to identify all possible causes or reasons for the occurrence of the problem. Thus, there is a direct linkage between a project charter and this deliverable. Fish-bone diagram is a structured brainstorming method used to carry out this activity. Fish-bone diagram is also called as Ishikawa or Cause & Effect diagram. After completing this brainstorming, the team applies the 5-why technique to further explore the underlying causes for all the reasons identified in the fish-bone diagram. At the end of these two activities, the team has an exhaustive list of possible causes for the problem. Usually there are around 50~100 possible causes for the problem. It is the responsibility of Six Sigma Green Belt to facilitate these activities. As a next step, using their process knowledge and experience, the team has to agree on few causes; which potentially cause the problem. There are several methods to do this, but the most popular method is the use of Cause & Effect Matrix (C-E Matrix). Potential Causes are suspects that are causing the problem. However, before acting on them, the team needs to gather data or facts to validate them.

Validate Measurement System, Data Collection & Sampling

Data Collection plays a very important role in all Six Sigma projects. But before collecting data, the team has to assess if the measurement system (measuring instrument, appraiser & environment in which measurement happens) is accurate and precise. Hence the team has to perform Measurement System Analysis (MSA) – aka Gage R&R. Once the team ascertains that the measurement is good, then a data collection plan is prepared. Data Collection Plan (DCP) includes the measures whose data needs to be collected, how much data to collect, data source, and who will collect the data, etc. While the entire team can participate in this activity, Six Sigma Green Belt has to take a lead role, as this will involve technical concepts of Gage R&R covered in the training program. Unlike conventional data collection; in Lean Six Sigma projects, data is collected on both the CTQ and the potential causes identified in a Cause & Effect Matrix. Due to the quantum of data involved in most businesses, it isn’t practically viable to collect data of the entire population. Hence the team has to resort to statistical sampling methods. As a next step, data collection is executed. From time-to-time a Six Sigma project team needs to validate the data collected. Sometimes, the data collectors need to be trained and retrained. Once the data collection is complete, it is ready for a process capability assessment. Usually many projects get delayed because of poor data quality or delay in collecting sufficient data. When a Six Sigma Green Belt takes special care, this activity can get completed on time.

Establish Process Capability

Process Capability is the ability of the process to deliver as per customer requirement. There are various process capability indices, but in Lean Six Sigma projects, sigma capability is the most popular measure. This exercise gives an accurate report on the current process performance. As these indices are covered in the training program, Six Sigma Green Belt has to take a lead role in conducting this study. The output of Process Capability study can be used to validate the process objectives and anticipated benefits in the charter. If needed, the Lean Six Sigma project charter can be revisited. On completion of the above deliverable, and a formal Measure Phase tollgate review, the team is ready to move into Analyze phase.

Control phase is the fifth and final phase of Lean Six Sigma projects. Following are the deliverable of this phase:

  • Prepare Control Plan
  • Final Implementation
  • Establish Statistical Process Control (SPC)
  • Benefits Computation & Closure
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Prepare Control Plan

Control Plan or Process Management Plan is a document ensuring that a robust mechanism to monitor and follow-up is established before the solution is implemented. Most Lean Six Sigma projects don’t exist after a few years of implementation. Usually, it is because of a poor control plan. A control plan covers: which metrics will be monitored, method of monitoring, how often, by whom and what has to be done when they go out of control (aka Reaction Plan).

It is recommended to have a control plan that is easy to implement and sustain.

Final Implementation

Real implementation of a solution is part of the Control phase. Change management skills of the green belt is tested during this stage.

Establish Statistical Process Control

As a part of the control plan, the method of monitoring has to be specific. Statistical Process Control uses well known Control Charts or Shewhart Charts. A control chart, computes the lower and upper control limits as a threshold to monitor any process measures; like CTQ. As the threshold is breached, the reaction plan has to be triggered. As the name suggests, it is a chart that is based on the principles of statistics, and hence there are no false alarms. Instilling the discipline of creating control charts and monitoring as per Control Plan is part of the rigor of a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.

Benefits Computation & Closure

The last deliverable of the Lean Six Sigma project is Benefits Computation and Closure. But before that, the project is monitored for enough time (2 weeks to 2 months) to ensure that benefits are sustained. When the Lean Six Sigma Team is satisfied with the results, then the improved process is formally handed-over to the process owner. Financial and non-financial benefits are computed based on actual results, and a formal sign-off from the finance manager and sponsor is obtained. This will be the project closure. The Lean Six Sigma team celebrates its success; distributes rewards for active team members; and finally the Six Sigma Green Belt Certification Ceremony is undertaken.

While leaders strive to build a culture of continuous improvement (CI) in their organizations, it is equally important to understand that business-as-usual activities take precedence over improvement activities. CI programs commence with a big bang and a lot of enthusiasm, but time wears out even the strongest and what it leaves behind is mere CI hubbub. This is not a simple problem to solve. If you have been part of any enterprise-wide CI deployment, you will have no difficulty relating to this. This problem is complex and has several failure modes.

In this article, I’ll like to highlight a common but significant failure mode – Selection of projects. It’s needless to emphasize that projects play a big role in any CI journey, but to its disgrace, projects are also a significant contributor to the downfall of CI program.

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Going overboard and having too many concurrent projects is one way to fail. Not selecting the right projects to pursue is another. Here are few compelling reasons to consider project selection as an important activity rather than opening the floodgates of projects:

Business Priority: Every business has its own priorities and so it’s important to select the right projects that are aligned with your priorities. Having many dispersed projects will blemish, if not nullify the impact of projects. Alignment between leader’s priority & CI program can be easily accomplished if you select projects right at the beginning.

Change due to competition: If your competition is disrupting the industry, well you better select where you need to improve. External environment often forces organizations ruthlessly reform their way of thinking and working. And today, we all live in a world that is fast changing. So unless your right projects are selected and pursued, your CI program will become redundant soon.

High Customer Expectations: Everyone I talk to says, customers are demanding more than ever before. Understanding the changing their needs and aligning the CI program to customers is vital to the success of any organization’s CI program. Organizations sometimes pursue trivial opportunities such as cost saves but miss on acting on big ticket customer facing projects or customer pain points. Of course, while dealing with customers, things are going to be volatile, but that’s not a reason to avoid them. The good project selection process should filter such project opportunities.

Limited Budgets: All organizations must work within the framework of budgets. Improvements need monetary resources to support the change. Sometimes they are direct and hence easily associated to direct cost centers. But projects with intangible benefits or the ones incurring indirect costs usually end up as scapegoats. If an organization commits to project selection, many such failures can be prevented.

Availability of Resources: Human capital is scarce. CI projects need quality time and mindshare from people of importance in the organization. Quite often resource requirements are never considered during the commencement of projects. Even if considered, it’s only the project leader’s time. As CI projects are a cross-functional effort, active participation of experts from all involved functions defines the success of the project. In order to ensure we get the best out of our teams, we need to time our success. Thus project selection is a time sensitive activity.

Optimizing Number of Projects: Not all the areas of your organization need improvement at the same time, And improvement culture building is a slow and steady process which can never be implemented overnight, nor will the results reap overnight. So getting to rush out the organizational adrenaline may not be a success recipe for good CI program. Selection of projects will ensure that you sustain optimum enthusiasm in the system for CI. So it is very evident that selection of projects impacts the CI culture, employee satisfaction, alignment to customers and ROI to business for the investments it makes in CI in a positive way. In the future articles, we’ll take this one step further and talk about the criteria used for selecting projects.

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