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Venugopal R

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About Venugopal R

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    Venugopal R
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    Benchmark Six Sigma
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    Principal Consultant

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  1. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R We all would have learned about DMAIC and DMADV during our Six Sigma courses and many of us have used these approaches in our projects. Hence there may not be a need for any introductory explanation for these acronyms. However, I wish to provide my view point based on my experiences through handling projects under various circumstances. DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control) is more commonly seen as the methodology used in most Six Sigma Projects. The usage of DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyse, Design, Validate) is usually seen less often. In general, it has been explained that DMAIC is used for ‘Improving’ a process and DMADV is used when a process needs to be designed. Projects are taken up to address some pain points or to improvement opportunities. Do we know every time we take up a project, whether a process has to be improved or designed? If no process exists, then of course, we will have to design a process; however if there is an existing process, we may have to either improve it or re-design it. Some times only after completing the Analyse phase, we would be able to take a decision whether it is worth improving the existing process or it needs to be re-designed. In the above situation the DMA phases are common and our decision to improve or (re)Design the process is taken only after doing some analysis. For example, we have a problem relating to Supplier Quality and we find that parts supplied by certified suppliers are defective. We go through the Define and Measure phase and collect sufficient and relevant data. Once we analyse the data, and if we find our problem to be confined to very few suppliers or most of the issues are relating to one or two parameters of the process, then we may decide that the existing supplier selection and certification process is by-and-large successful, but needs improvement only on a few areas and parameters. On the other hand, if after our Analyse phase we are convinced that majority of the suppliers certified through the process have issues or we see issues across many parameters, then we may conclude that it may not be worthwhile fixing the existing process, but rather go for re-designing the process. In such a case, if we may want to trace back on our DMA phases and to re-define our objective and goals. If we are using DMA as part of DMADV, some of the tools would be same as we would have used in DMAIC, but the intent may be different. For example, Process FMEA may be a common tool. For DMAIC we might use it for specific steps of the process that are identified for improvement, whereas in DMADV, we would use it for the entire process. There would be some tools that may be more applicable in DMADV, such as Customer surveys and QFD. It may also be noted that mostly, when we are clear about our need to design a process, we may straight away go for DFSS (Design For Six Sigma). IDOV (Identify, Design, Optimize, Verify) is one of the popular approaches for DFSS.
  2. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R Among the factors that hinder the progress and success of a project, the inadequate involvement of stakeholders is quite common. The reasons for not involving stakeholders are many. Sometimes enough efforts aren’t taken to identify the stakeholders. Some times the team takes a ‘cautious’ approach and keeps postponing the involvement of certain stakeholders, saying that it is better to involve them after showing some success on the project. Sometimes the team fears that certain stakeholders, if involved in the beginning could put too many questions and retard the project. However, with the experience with many projects, successful or otherwise, it is seen that the risk of not involving the right stakeholders is much higher than any perceived risk by involving them. The very first step is to identify the stakeholders relevant to the project. 1. Involve key leaders during project identification There are some stakeholders who will be part of even identifying the project. Identifying potential stakeholders across functions, who could be leaders of key functions and involving them to rate and prioritize the list of projects is a good beginning to build ownership. A tool such as Pareto Priority Index would help bring objectivity. 2. Project Chartering Once project is identified, certain stake holders associated with the project will be obvious while preparing the project charter itself. For instance, a project that has to improve a business process will identify the concerned process owner(s). The requirement of Subject Matter Experts, who need not be full time members of the project would emerge. While estimating the financial worthiness of the project, it will be important to involve appropriate staff from Finance function. 3. SIPOC While preparing the high level SIPOC, it is possible to identify stakeholders who may be suppliers or customers to certain process steps or could be even enablers. For example, a project involving a process improvement in Data aggregation services that may call for mass testing will require high bandwidth management. Hence the early involvement of IT support function may be essential to avoid an otherwise potential hurdle in due course. 4. Stake holder Impact All stake holders would not be equally impacted by the project. It is very important to understand the stakeholders on whom the impact is high and winning their confidence would help in obtaining their support on the project. On the other hand, there will be stakeholders on whom the impact is low, but their support, expertise or authority are required during certain stages of the project. The leader has to keep in mind that these stake holders are always kept in the loop with necessary involvement. Preparing a table laying out the extent of stakeholder impact will be useful tool for their involvement planning 5. Stakeholder Involvement planning While, not involving a stakeholder adequately can cause issues while the project progresses, over involvement of a stakeholder is also not desirable. Over involvement could result in grabbing too much of the stakeholder’s time and later lead to withdrawal tendencies. Sometimes it could result in too much influence of a stakeholder into the project. Hence it helps to plan in advance, to identify which stakeholder(s) should be involved at various process steps and also the degree of involvement – could be low, medium of high. A process map with extended columns to include the stakeholder’s involvement and degree of involvement will not only help in planning but also will remain as a reference document during the course of the project. This may be referred as Stakeholders Involvement plan 6. Stakeholder communication plan At each stage of the project plan the communication to stake holders – what should be communicated, at what point of time, extent of communication. Any good communication matrix will be helpful. There could be certain projects that involves customer value-add. In such projects including the customer as stakeholder for the project and necessary planning for involvement and communication apply. Interestingly I remember leading a customer value-add project where one of our competitors was a stakeholder! 7. During Project involvement of stake holders Though the above discussion covers some practices the early involvement of stakeholders in a project, we will also touch up on the selective involvement in further areas: a) For Identifying root causes b) For identifying / selection of final solutions and actions c) Obtaining stakeholder buy-in on solutions d) Sharing of results with stakeholders e) Appreciating and thanking stakeholders
  3. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R The is no organization that does not want improvement, right? While all organizations do want improvements, the world has been evolving and inventing various management methodologies for bringing improvements to business. Some of the popular examples are PDCA, 8D, and DMAIC. The logical sequence of all these methods are comparable. So long as you follow the underlying expectations of each phase using any of these methods in the right sequence, it will work. The question being discussed can be interpreted in two ways – “Why are some Leadership not supporting DMAIC ?” or “Why are some Leadership not supporting any of these systematic approaches ?” The answer to first version could be due to specific reasons. For instance, an organization that has been very sincerely following the Japanese methods of management would have very well imbibed a continuous improvement culture in their organization and may not feel the necessity to have a branded Six Sigma program (under which DMAIC resides). However, if we carefully examine their approach, it probably satisfies the expectations of DMAIC. This is indeed a positive situation, where DMAIC is not followed literally, but is followed in spirit. The second version is where the Leadership does not seem to have any resistance particularly towards DMAIC, but have problems in supporting any such systematic sequence of approaching a business problem / opportunity. We will discuss it keeping DMAIC as reference. As many of you will be aware, improvement opportunities are classified into 4 categories viz. 1) Cause known, Solution known 2) Cause known, Solution unknown 3) Cause unknown, Solution known 4) Both cause and solution unknown Point 1 and 2 may not require a full DMAIC cycle. However, even for points 3 and 4, sometimes, experienced leaders might feel that they know the cause and solution and tend to by-pass the full DMAIC cycle and force the company directly into the Improve phase –' just implement a solution that is considered right'. Later, if the understanding of the leaders proves wrong, then you will be forced to go back and try alternate solutions. To do a ‘Define’ phase properly, there could be a need to gather data. The problem statement which is part of the Define phase, requires not only a description of the problem, but also some quantification, that too for a certain period of time. Where historical data is not readily available, efforts need to be put in to collect sufficient information to express the problem statement with numbers for magnitude, duration and Impact. Sometimes, there will be a resistance to get this done, supported by a feel as if ‘we know it all, so why not move ahead without wasting time and effort on defining known problem ?’ Another point that is often not completed in Define phase is the projection of Financial benefits, since this would require involving a Finance personnel and getting their sign off. Measure phase requires efforts for not just building the baseline data, but also to initiate a ‘Dashboard’ for the project metrics. This dashboard needs to be updated continually till end of project and beyond. Another associated activity is the Measurements Systems Analysis, the importance of which may not be understood by some. Complying to MSA requirements, especially for attribute metrics requires good amount of discipline and management support. By the time a project reaches the ‘Measure phase’ it is not uncommon to see some improvements on the ‘Y’ metrics. This happens due to the awareness generated by the project definition and the data by the dashboards. However, such improvements may be considered as ‘Quick wins’ and may not sustain unless a complete analysis is done on the influencing factors and ensuring the right control measures. The improvements at this stage sometimes sets complacency and the momentum to proceed with DMAIC may get reduced. For a project that moves to Analyse phase, one of the activities that is often resisted is the need to validate the causes. The tendency to ‘assume’ the causes some times deprives some of the primary causes to be evaluated using recommended tools. This results in by-passing DMAIC. Reasons could be due to the time and cost involved in carrying out certain validations. Sometimes it may also happen that while one team is trying to systematically approach using the DMAIC method, a parallel team may work on the same problem and may hastily come up with recommended solutions, which could tempt the Leadership to support them, especially if there is an urgency to implement a solution. For various reasons, if the DMAIC cycle prolongs too long, there is likelihood of losing interest in the method and tendency to proceed and ‘try out’ some solutions. The DMAIC approach, like many others is meant to be driven by a team with a qualified leader. However, sometimes, the responsibility of driving it will rest on an individual, with inadequate team support. This can also result in break-down of the approach. As per the original philosophy of Six Sigma, DMAIC is the tactical part of a larger governance program, which also has a Strategic and Cultural component. But many organizations no longer drive the Lean Six Sigma program with a holistic view. Even the series of in-house program that will impart awareness to all levels of employees, including an exclusive 'Champions Program' are not availed by many organizations. Instead they tend to directly hire qualified Blackbelts and Greenbelts. This would have eroded the awareness levels across organization and limited to a few individuals. This subject seems to require long discussion and there would be more points to discuss. However, I am limiting my response here and sitting back to read the view points from others.
  4. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R Most large organizations in the B2C sector perform customer satisfaction surveys. Various methods are employed, be it CSAT surveys or the recently popularized NPS. One of the issues about such surveys is that the possibility of variation in the measurement is very high. Unfortunately, the surveys are quite time consuming and expensive, that we may not be able to perform a classical R&R. Hence it might be quite difficult to decide whether any change in the scores between two surveys are due to random variation or genuine change towards the better or worse. Based on my experience with B2C organizations, while we need to consider the customer satisfaction scores seriously, it is more important to delve into specific details viz. Product characteristics, Quality, Service support, Value for money etc. It is also important to be clear why the satisfaction survey is undertaken. Is it for studying the areas of customer dissatisfaction? Or is it for improving the already positive satisfaction scores? Or is it to see whether we can differentiate our product compared to competition and delight customers? Or, it could be a combination of all of the above. While I look forward to read multiple ways of making the CS scores useful, I am providing a thought of keeping in mind the Kano Model and use it as a basis for structuring, evaluating and interpreting the customer satisfaction scores, especially in a B2C situation, where the variation of inputs is expected to be higher. Plan and classify the survey elements as best as possible into the 3 categories per Kano model viz. Threshold or basic, Performance and Excitement features with appropriate sub-stratification. The percentage of positive, negative and neutral responses need to be compared with previous surveys to assess improvement in each of the categories. This will also help to prioritize the efforts on improvement actions. Obviously, the threshold factors need immediate attention to reduce the negative scoring, though we may not expect them to go very positive. We will also be able to give a balanced attention to the other categories as well and monitor the progress on each category.
  5. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R While the respondents can approach this question from various angles, let me ride upon the principle of control chart to address the discussion on outlier. The control chart is a wonderful tool that helps us in monitoring process stability. To build the limits of the control chart we usually take data points from a process that is considered statistically stable – and the plotted data will determine its own control limits. While the control limits are formed, we would expect all the data points to be contained within the limits – any point that fall outside indicates a high likelihood that it does not belong to the population and is considered as a outlier. Many of you will be aware that there is a practice known as ‘control chart homogenization’, where we remove the outliers and re-calculate the control limits. In the case of charts such as X-bar R charts, where range charts are available, the outliers need to be removed from range chart first and then check whether the data gets homogenized. From the above practice, we can see that for making the data “statistically pure”, we have to ignore the outliers and recalculate. (Here too, we cannot keep removing the outliers beyond a certain point!). The objective here is to establish the mean value and control limits that are representative to the population and may be used for future process monitoring. However, if we are viewing the control chart for improving the process, the first step is to examine the stability of the process. More the outliers, more the instability. Then, the outlying data points need to be analysed to understand their cause, even if there are outliers on the ‘favorable side’ of a control chart. The ‘abnormal’ conditions that caused an outlier could also be a measurement error, that needs to be identified and corrected. For example, if we are studying the pattern of the quantum of fuel being purchased per day for cars from a fuel outlet and we start collecting data for a 3 month period. In between, if there was an announcement for fuel price increase, we will can certainly expect and high outlier point on the day prior to the hike and subsequently a dip, or low outlier immediately after the hike was announced. Such outliers with known reasons may be ignored for our study. To summarize.. In general, outliers are important information that help us identify a problem, (or sometimes a very favourable condition) and need to be examined in detail. Where our interest is to understand the statistical distribution of a set of data (either to set a baseline, or to validate an improvement), we may not want to get biased due to few stray outliers – hence we may exclude them from our calculation with discretion, though we may still analyse them. While monitoring a process, If we know the exact reason of particular outliers and such reasons being very extra-ordinary and usually not in our control, we may exclude them from to prevent mis-representation of a normal situation.
  6. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R As most of you must be aware, the Net Promoter Score (NPS) gives an indication of how well the customers of a business are likely to recommend a product or service to their friends, colleagues or relatives. Those customers, who are highly likely to continue to avail the product or services and also recommend to their friends positively are called “Promoters”. Those customers who are unlikely to avail the product or services and would spread negative publicity are called “Detractors”. We may have some customers who fall in between i.e. they are neither Promoter or Detractor, but are people who behave neutrally. They are neither very excited about the product or Service, nor are they very unhappy. The actual NPS score is calculated by subtracting the % of detractors from the % of promoters. NPS score = (% of Promoters) – (% of detractors) Obviously, once we know the % of the discrete categories viz. Promoters and Detractors, we can calculate the NPS scores. However, the process for obtaining this discrete data is through a survey of a sample of customers. During the survey, only one question is asked “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this company’s product or service to your friends, colleagues or relatives?” Those who give a score of 9 or 10 are classified as “Promoters”. Those who give a score of 6 or less are classified as “Detractors”. Those who give a score of 7 or 8 are classified as “Passives” or “Neutral”. We can see that the purpose of using the ordinal scale is to gather the data objectively from a pool of customers. However, the way the NPS is defined, we need to identify the “Promoters” and “Detractors”. Hence the need to classify the ordinal data into discrete categories. The NPS score will not be influenced by the individual scores within Promoters or Detractors. One may also wonder how the line is drawn on the ordinal scale to define the Promoters, Detractors and Passives. It may so happen that even customers who gave score of 7 and 8 could be promoters. Also, when we classify one who gave a score of 6 as detractors, isn’t there a possibility that someone who gave 7 could also be a detractor rather than being passive. Or, looking at it the other way, even a person who gave a score of 6, need not be a detractor. Bain and Company have done several researches on this topic and the customer behaviors and it has been decided that the scores of 9 and 10 represent customers who are extremely likely to recommend whereas the scores of 6 and below represents extreme unlikeliness - and these guidelines are being used as a standard for deciding the Promoters and Detractors - and to be applied on the defined calculation for NPS.
  7. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R One of the very important goals of every business is to expand the customer base and to excel in customer services. However, there could be numerous situations where a business finds itself unable to accept certain customers. Often, this inability to accept a customer could be temporary and may get reversed when the situation turns favorable. Below are some situations when, it may not be possible to accept an approaching customer: 1. Inadequate price offered by customer 2. Insufficient bandwidth to accommodate the customer 3. Lack of competency / capability to serve customer’s requirement 4. Customer not satisfying security requirements 5. Merit based acceptance 6. Customer supplied part not meeting requirements 7. Rejection due to unacceptable data inputs 8. Upholding professional ethics 9. Competitor to existing customer 1. Inadequate Price offered by customer This would probably be one of the common reasons for rejecting a customer. Over time, the price would be determined by a competitive market. However, businesses who have earned reputation for higher quality, delivery and service will expect premium price for their products / services. 2. Insufficient bandwidth to accommodate the customer When the supply is not sufficient to meet the demand, customer rejections happen. A very popular example would be to turn away a passenger because the flight is fully booked. You would be aware that some airline do ‘overbooking’ with the anticipation that there would be some last minute cancellations, but then there is a limit beyond which you will have to regret customers, who might be lost to competition or may come back subsequently 3. Lack of competency / capability to serve customer’s requirement It is important for any business to understand needs and expectations customer – and evaluate whether the business has capability and competency to meet those expectations. I once witnessed a motorcycle service center who had clearly displayed the brands that they would service, and turning away one customer whose product was not one among the displayed list, though they would certainly have had the necessary tools and expertise. This occurred to me as an example where the service provider did not want to perform outside his circle of capability and competency, for which they are reputed. 4. Not satisfying security or ‘worthiness’ requirements These situations are common with bank customers who seek loans or credit cards. Banks will have a defined criteria to evaluate the risks and credit worthiness to approve a customer or not. An air passenger may also be rejected, if there are security concerns. These are situations, where accepting a wrong customer can put the other customers or the business into jeopardy. 5. Accepting based on certain merits / qualifications The parent of a student would be a customer for an educational institution. The institution is going to accept the student only based on the students past academic records and / or an entrance test. Students who do not satisfy these requirements will not be admitted and amounts to ‘customer rejection’ 6. Acceptance based on Customer supplied part This is similar to the situation as per point no.5, but applicable in an industrial situation where a ‘customer supplied’ part has to be utilized for delivering the product / service. This is a situation where the customer is also a ‘supplier’ and if the ‘supplied part’ may not meet the requirements for manufacture-ability 7. Rejection due to unacceptable data An advocate may sometimes reject a case from a plaintiff, if the evidences available are insufficient or not convincing enough. 8. Upholding professional ethics Where there is risk of violating statutory or legal requirements, customers may not be accepted. A goods forwarding company may refuse to provide services to a client, who is not willing to follow the customs and import regulations as applicable. 9. Competition to existing customers For certain contractual agreements, there could be a requirement that services by a service provider be dedicated to a client. It could either be as a captive supplier or with a restrictive clause to prevent providing parallel services to a competing customer. This could result in rejecting such customers to comply to the contractual requirements. While a few situations have been discussed above, I look forward to read the varied experiences from the other responses. While writing this, the thought that occurs to me is that, out of the above situations, there are some where the business can work on actions that would enable them to overcome the situations and make the customers acceptable to that extent.
  8. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R Process FMEA is usually done to evaluate the potential failure modes in a process that is newly developed or has undergone some modifications. For determining the probability of occurrence, the process capabilities and historical data from similar processes are taken as inputs and the ‘Occurrence ratings’ determined using the rating guidelines. The ‘Detection’ ratings are determined based on the existence and effectiveness of “Current Process Controls” that are meant to prevent the defect from going undetected. Strictly speaking, the idea of ‘Current Process Controls’ is to improve the detection and prevent the ‘occurred’ defects from escaping unnoticed and reach the internal or external customer. There are certain situations where the ‘detection’ is not practically easy. Some of you would recall the term ‘Special Processes’ introduced by the ISO 9000 standards. The quality characteristics of such processes cannot be fully assessed after the process is completed. One of the examples that I have experienced is that of ‘soldered joints’ on a PCB. Sometimes we may need elaborate testing or even destructive tests to fully evaluate such special characteristics. For these characteristics, by their inherent nature, the detection will be poor or the ‘Detection rating’ will be high in the FMEA. Here, it is extremely important that the ‘Occurrence’ possibilities are kept very low and hence a low Occurrence rating is essential. Coming more specifically to our question as to whether Process Controls help in affecting not just ‘Detection rating’, but can they also influence the ‘Occurrence rating’, I would like to take a look at the guidelines given for detection rating as per AIAG or any other major standard. For a Detection rating of 2, it says “Error detection in station (automatic gauging with automatic stop feature). For Detection rating of 1, it says “Discrepant parts cannot be made because item has been error proofed by process / product design”. Thus, if a particular failure mode gets 1 or 2 as detection rating, as per the above guidelines, it means that the occurrence of the defect has been eliminated! So, doesn’t it appear that due to effective process control, not only the detection rating has been made favorable, but also the occurrence rating? However, there’s one thing that I would like to add. In the above situation, we are highly dependent on some mistake proofing technique, that is very often dependent on technological methods. I would be concerned that one fine day the ‘mistake proofing’ shouldn’t fail to work, for which a ‘control’ to assure the continued effectiveness of the mistake-proofing would be essential. For example, while doing payment processing, one of the critical failures was a mistake in the cheque amount, which resulted in cheques being returned. An automated mistake proofing was successfully introduced for digital comparison of the cheque amount with the invoice amount using a script. However, a periodic validation to keep a watch that the script remains 'active and effective' is a necessary control to be introduced.
  9. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R People who are not trained or exposed to the principles of Control charts often find it difficult to understand the significance of the Control limits and their interpretation. A good understanding of control charts starts with understanding data types. Then one has to understand some probability theory. Then the principle of Normal distribution. Good clarity on Special and Common causes. Then preferably an insight into Central Limit Theorem. Such a foundation prepares a person to have a good grasp of the underlying principles of Control Charts, their different types and application of each type of chart and so on. Even with all this understanding, usually the control charts are used for the observing any points falling outside the control limits, though there are 8 rules defined to observe statistical instability. There still remains the confusion in the minds of some as to how the Control limits differ from the specification limits and some are not comfortable with out including the specification limits also on the control charts. The run charts are much simpler and their understanding and interpretation do not require the extent of subject knowledge as above. Run charts do not have ‘Control limits’ much to the relief of those who had discomfort with control limits of control charts. Those who use Minitab to create run charts would have seen the chart has p values pertaining to the types of instability viz. Mixtures, Clusters, Oscillations and Trends. I am not explaining these terms here, since I am sure many respondents will do a good job there. However, if we go through the rules to detect instability as per the control chart, we can see that not only the four terms that are used for run charts are well covered by those rules, but additional ones as well. One may choose to use Run charts or Control charts depending upon the situation and the ease of comprehension by stakeholders involved. In many instances, some of the instability observations will be quite evident on a run chart and one may proceed by taking decisions for improvement.
  10. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R The terms ‘Verification’ and ‘Validation’ have been popularized in Quality Management systems from the days of introduction of the ISO 9000 standards. However they have been indistinct for many people, and continues to be so even today. This may be because if one refers a normal English dictionary, these terms could appear as synonym to each other. In the industrial world, be it manufacturing, services or IT, any Product, Process or Design has to be defined using specifications. The evaluations that help us to ascertain that the Product, Process of Design meet the ‘specified’ requirements is termed as ‘Verification’. However, once we create a Product, Design, or a Process as per the specifications, we still need to ensure that it is capable of performing under real time circumstances, also referred to as field performance. The assessment process to ensure the performance under actual conditions under which it is intended to perform is termed as ‘Validation’ As mentioned, these terms can apply to Design, Product or Process. Let us discuss each with example. Imagine a packaging company was entrusted with the task of developing a special packing for packing a complex and sensitive medical equipment that has to be transported to a long distance. The packaging company can come up with a design and perform ‘verification’ on the design to ensure whether all the requirements have been adequately captured by the design. The company may then proceed to ‘validate’ the design by creating prototypes and ensuring that the intended purpose is served when the design is put to real use. Feedback from the design validation is used to carry out necessary corrections on the design. In a similar manner, when a process is setup, say for assembly of a TV, there will be a process lay out, specification of the equipment, resource requirements and so on. It will have to be ‘verified’ whether the process has been set-up as per the specified requirements. However, we need to perform trial runs of the process and ‘validate’ whether the entire assembling process performs to deliver the desired outputs. Hopefully, now it will be clear how the verification and validation apply to a Product. A product, once build gets ‘verified’ using certain evaluations and tests to ensure whether it complies to Product specification and regulatory requirements. For example a manufactured refrigerator undergoes various verification such as visual, measurements, electrical tests etc. However, it will further have to be validated for its performance under actual usage conditions. Accelerated tests are used by simulating field conditions. Other validation methods include subjecting products to actual field conditions using monitored trials. Moving to software, let’s take an example of a software used for credit administration in a bank. The software developer subjects it to code verification and also perform verification tests using specified test cases. However, installing the software in the actual workplace and getting it used by the employees who execute the process, and seeing whether it performs as required by the business is the actual ‘validation’ for the software. In brief, verification is always necessary before we get into validation. What could have been identified through verification, should ideally not get identified during validation, since the correction process will prove costlier.
  11. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R ‘Priority Consciousness’ is one of the key topics discussed in Management. Sometimes we do hear people saying the ‘Everything is equally important’.. however, in reality it becomes difficult and even inefficient if we do not prioritize our tasks. Principle of Pareto Analysis would not require any explanation for most members in this forum. Pareto principle, though named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, was popularized and adopted in the field of Quality Management by Joseph Juran. All the seven Quality tools are excellent methods to provide guidance to problem solving, but teams have to apply their minds, process knowledge and situational requirements for the best decisions. This applies for the usage of Pareto analysis as well. There could be many ways by which the Pareto analysis may not be done to get its best benefits, and some misuse as well. 1. Not considering severity We may use Pareto analysis to classify the defects of a product based on the frequency of occurrence for a period of time… for example, take the case of an electrical home appliance. Top most occurring defect could be a scratch on the panel, and the least occurring could be an insulation breakdown. Obviously, if the priorities are judged based on frequency of occurrence alone, without considering severity, it could be disastrous! It will be a good practice to perform FMEA as well, so that the priorities are not decided just based on the occurrences alone. 2. Using Pareto charts only as a presentation tool Pareto charts are meant to be tools used as part of causal analysis, but they also serve as good presentation method. If we draw up the pareto charts just for project presentation, and do not build them during the appropriate phase of the problem solving, it is a misuse. 3. Labeling ‘stratification’ as ‘cause’ Pareto analysis can be used for stratification of data as well as for causal analysis. For example, the sales figures of a particular product across 12 cities can be depicted using a pareto, as a stratification exercise. However, if you drill down to 10 reasons for poor sales and depict them using pareto for each city, then you are using the tool for causal analysis. Sometimes, the failure to differentiate between the two, could result in labelling ‘stratifications’ as ‘causes’ 4. Improper Grouping The purpose of pareto is to identify a pattern of “Vital few and Trivial many”. If one type of grouping is resulting in a flat pareto, you may have to try some other type of grouping. For example, if you are working on improving the productivity of processing invoices and you develop a pareto of the productivity by grouping them vendor wise… assume you get quite a flat pareto. This does not allow you to differentiate productivity levels across vendors, so, you may try to group the data based on types of invoices, irrespective of vendors and develop a pareto. Similarly, different types of grouping need to be tried to identify a pattern of ‘vital few’. 5. Making ‘Others’ too tall Lack of adequate grouping can result in a very tall ‘others’ bar. We have seen pareto charts where the ‘others’ bar come up as the tallest! Certainly, the thoughts and efforts for grouping have not been adequate. 6. Missing out on ‘Quick wins’ Many times, an occurrence with lower frequency could have an easy solution, with less efforts. You should not just keep putting efforts only as per the pareto sequence, failing to notice the quick wins. Pareto analysis finds application in all phases of DMAIC phase. However, this tool has to be applied with some logical thinking and subject matter knowledge. It is a tool that helps in giving a broad level of prioritization, which has to be used along with other considerations.
  12. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R How does a Six Sigma Project differ from a regular improvement initiative? While many improvements do happen continually in any organization, an improvement that is led through a Six Sigma DMAIC approach aims to improve the process. Based on the condition of the process, it may be decided after the ‘Analyze’ phase, whether we need to ‘Improve’ the process or ‘re-Design’ the process. On many instances, the project is identified and the charter created, but when we ask a question… “What process are we trying to improve?”, the team gets into a debate. Some of the issues faced at this juncture are: The team is not very clear about the process that is associated with the objective Team members come up with multiple processes and go into a discussion Team feels that a process does not exist at all What should be considered as the start and end points of the process, as relevant to the project? Team hesitant to discuss the process since they do not have direct control on many of the process steps. Once the team is facilitated to work on the ‘As-Is’ process mapping, they will be forced to clarify all the above points. A few guidelines that would help while mapping he ‘As-Is’ Process are: 1. Identify the relevant process or processes This is possible only if we have some team members who are reasonably familiar and experienced in the processes associated with the objective. For instance, if your objective is to improve the response to ‘customer inquiries’, we need to be clear about all the channels through which customers make inquiries and in turn identify the relevant processes. 2. Work back from the point of final objective. The final objective for a given project will be dependent on several outputs from previous activities. Working back will help in identifying the intermediate outputs and the corresponding process steps from which they emerge. For example, if the objective is to improve the conversion rate of hiring, the ‘as-is’ recruitment process has to be mapped. While the ‘Hired resource’ is the final output, the intermediate outputs may include the screened resources, shortlisted profiles, the job profile document from the requester etc. It may be noted that some of the intermediate outputs become the ‘inputs’ for the subsequent process step. 3. Decide the scope (start and end points) of the process Once we have identified the process and its steps at large, we need to be clear about the scope within which the project is defined. For instance, if we are trying to improve the ‘effectiveness of training’ programs, we may take the start point as the ‘Request for training’ and end point as ‘Qualified resource’. However, it is also possible to take the start point from ‘Training need identification’ to ‘On job performance of trained resources’. Both are different bands of scope that could be relevant depending on the need of the organization. However, the scope has to be specified clearly in the beginning and the ‘as-is mapping’ should be done appropriately. 4. Start with a high level ‘SIPOC’ It is a good practice to initially develop a high level ‘SIPOC’ consisting of 6 to 8 process steps. On these process steps you may identify the final and intermediate outputs, also known as KPOV (Key Process Output Variables) 5. Fine tune the SIPOC with the KPOV chart Some leaders mention their primary metrics relating to main objective and sub-objectives and secondary metrics on the project charter, whereas some others use a KPOV chart to depict the Big Ys, Small ys, Contradicting Factors and Boundary conditions. It is quite possible that while developing the KPOV charts, more clarity would emerge on the relevant intermediate outputs and you may go back and modify the SIPOC accordingly. 6. Do detailed mapping for select process steps. From the SIPOC, you will be able to identify those intermediate outputs that are considered relevant for the project under study and you may give preference to those process steps and do a detailed process mapping for them. Otherwise, doing a detailed process mapping for all the steps could be consuming high time and effort. 7. Include relevant metrics The very purpose of the As-Is Process mapping is to assess the baseline. Hence, for all the relevant KPOVs and KPIVs, indicate the metrics (targeted and actual). In case there are variables without metrics, this is the time to decide on their quantification and measurement methods. Make use of the As-Is Process map while you move on with your subsequent phases of the project. This will ensure that the exercises that you perform during the Measure and Analyse phase are relating to the process steps outlined in your As-Is Map. Where needed keep fine-tuning the as-is map for any information that you might not have added in the beginning.
  13. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R Drum, Buffer and Rope is a phase used in ‘Theory of Constraints’. It refers one of the methods for ‘synchronous’ flow in a production line. The Drum refers to a workstation that could be a constraint or bottleneck. For instance if we have a production line, where we have 3 workstations, A, B and C of which 2 of them (say A and C) are capable of producing at the rate of 120 units per hour and one workstation (say B), can produce only 100 units per hour, then the overall production rate for the line is 100 units per hour. Here, the production rate of the entire line is determined by workstation B, which is the constraint, or known as ‘DRUM’. We can afford some slackness for workstations A and C without impacting the overall production rate, but no slackness is affordable for station B as it will directly impact the production rate of the production line. Since the workstation B is a constraint, it is important to place some ‘Buffer’ stock of the material being fed into it, so that there is no chance of this workstation to run out of stock. This precautionary inventory before the DRUM is know as the BUFFER. The buffer does not mean that more material will be produced than required, but it is an inventory in terms of time. This means that the buffer stock is an advance quantity of input material that will be made available to workstation B, even as it starts producing the first unit. If the buffer inventory level decreases or increases, the communication that is provided to the previous process(es) is know as the ‘ROPE’. The ROPE ensures that the system is always maintained with a required level of inventory, neither excess not short. The DBR approach helps to plan the production schedules based on the output requirements. The quantity to be produced is determined by the market / client requirement. The maximum production rate that the production line can produce is determined by the DRUM workstation. The starting time for each workstation can be worked backward from the output requirement, taking into account the production rate of each workstation and the buffer requirements. The representation shown above is a simple one for purpose of easy understanding. We can also apply the DBR on multiple lines leading to a final assembly line. Once we address a DRUM workstation with buffer, it is quite possible that we may have the possibility of another potential constraint to emerge. This would call for buffer requirements for other workstations as well. The entire network of the process flow can be mapped with this concept and the timings and buffer requirements be worked out. The DBR approach helps as a planning tool and provides inputs to Kanban dashboard for regulating the production flow, scheduling the timing for workstations and to prevent inventory build-up.
  14. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R As most of you would have gathered, Bessel’s correction refers to using n-1 while computing standard deviation from a sample. The answer to this question can lead to an in-depth statistical discussion. However, let me try to make it simpler by elucidating the below two points of view. It is assumed that the readers are familiar with the equation used to compute standard deviation and the term ‘degrees of freedom’. Readers are also advised to do more thinking and work out some examples to gain more clarity. Whenever we take samples from a large population, the sample means can vary, whereas there can be only one population mean. Many times, the population mean will not be known, and hence we have to use the sample mean from each sample value (xi – xbar) in the calculation for sample standard deviation. You can observe that if you substitute the sample mean (xbar) with any other value, you will get a larger standard deviation. So, assuming we know the population standard deviation and we substitute it for the sample mean, we would be getting a larger value for the standard deviation, (unless of course the population mean happens to be exactly equal to the sample mean!) This implies that the sample standard deviation calculated using the sample mean will always be lower than the true standard deviation based on population mean. We may correct this bias by reducing the numerator in the equation for standard deviation; Bessel’s correction reduces the denominator by using n-1 instead of n. Another related aspect is about the ‘degree of freedom’. When we have ‘n’ samples, for a given mean value, except for one sample, all others have the freedom to assume different values and still achieve the same mean. In other words, n-1 samples have the freedom to vary and hence the degrees of freedom is n-1. When we calculate the ‘expected’ value of the standard deviation, we need to divide the summation of the square of differences from mean by n-1, instead of n. When the sample size becomes larger, the difference in the standard deviations computed based on n and n-1 will narrow down. The Bessel’s correction is applied to reduce the bias on the standard deviation calculation for a sample.
  15. Benchmark Six Sigma Expert View by Venugopal R If we look at various Business Excellence models that emerged from different parts of the world, we will be able to see that all these models have modules addressing Financial, Customer, Operational and very importantly ‘Employee Engagement’ requirements. For instance, the Malcolm Baldrige Excellence systems address ‘Leadership System’ that includes Organizational performance. It has customer management system, Operations focus system and Workforce Engagement and Knowledge Management Systems. Of course, there are other modules as well, however, I am picking these topics in relevance to those addressed as part of the ‘Balanced Scorecard System’ Organizations that practice Six Sigma as an enterprise program, will have to address the Strategic, Tactical and Cultural elements. In the strategic element, the key focal areas are consented, which would certainly include the goals with respect to Financials and Customer focus. These goals are further deployed into Operational goals and converted as projects. While undertaking these projects, the requirements relating to knowledge and organisational capabilities get surfaced and addressed. The cultural element focuses on various human aspects relating to Change Management, motivation and inspiring innovations. The balance scorecard framework which covers Financial, Customer, Internal business processes and Organizational capacity is a very useful methodology that integrates into any such excellence programs. Just like any other Companywide program, the Balance Scorecard must be viewed not just a scorecard, but a program that integrates and involves the entire organization to get oriented towards the overall vision and mission. Ultimately, the financial goals matter most; however the focus needs to be on understanding the enablers to achieve it. Even during Balance Scorecard implementation, we do come across undue focus being given on Financial objectives, which is against the very intent of the Balance Score Card System (BSCS). Incidentally, one of the challenges that I had faced while driving six sigma programs is that many project charters were turned down because the projected benefits could not be expressed monetarily. Then a scheme was introduced that will permit such projects as ‘Yellow Belt’ projects with intangible benefits, and if in due course, the team is able to figure out the financials, the project would be considered for being upgraded as 'Green Belt'. This not only encouraged to initiate more projects, but it was also seen that for many such projects, the teams were able to express the benefits tangibly by the time they reached the Improve phase! Thus one has to find ways of integrating 'non-monitory' objectives that deserve attention. Not preparing a BSCS mapping is another pitfall. The mapping is a good representation of how the broad initiatives under each element of BSCS relate and link up to the overall business goals. Choice of KPIs is an important area – we should not over do the KPIs at the same time not miss out the key ones. There are bound to be numerous metrics, that could relate to certain key performance indicators. Adequate ground work, deliberation and cross functional consensus are required to decide the most important and workable ones. All KPIs need to worded, defined and quantified in such a way that they focus on the outcome and not on the initiative. For example, ‘Setting up a Service Incidence redressal system’ is a good initiative but an example of a good KPI would be to “Reduce the cycle time for closure of Service Incidences from current 72 hours to 24 hours”. Not having periodical reviews, say, once a quarter of the organization goals will be another pitfall. The conditions of the market, business and other factors do keep changing and it is likely that the relevance of certain goals could have changed over a period of time. A periodic review and relevance check of the goals with appropriate corrections, if applicable will be important to ensure the validity of the KPIs.
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