Culture of Process Improvement

Cultural Aspects of Six Sigma Process Improvement by Walter McIntyre

Whatever the process improvement methodology used, when properly applied, it produces a change in a business’s culture. Outlined below are some behavioral changes necessary to sustain a customer focused process improvement effort.

View the business as an organization of processes:
• If you view the business as an organization of processes, then managing the business becomes managing processes.
• Processes are interrelated and, as a result, they interact with each other. Changing one affects the others.
• If the appropriate processes are in place, managing those processes is managing people. Not the other way around.

How is Your Vision?

How detailed is your vision? I’m not talking about whether or not you need glasses, but whether or not you have enough detailed information to make good decisions.

This is an issue with both business and personal decisions.  It is, in fact, why so many business process improvement initiatives fail. Six Sigma process improvement projects are meant to address this issue for businesses, but you also need a personal strategy to avoid falling prey to poor resolution (lack of detail) How many times have you decided on an action only to find that a critical, missing, detail undermined your success?  .

Collecting Data

Collecting data for analysis is more than a statistical process. All of the math in the world will not compensate for not understanding the behavior of the process you are trying to measure.  Not everything is settled in numbers.  Some things will be discovered in context.  For example, “We really have problems when it is raining.”

 As a result, data collection plans embody four qualities of collected data that are essential to optimize its usefulness. These qualities have to do with the data’s ability to represent the process’ performance.


  • There must be sufficient data to see the process’ behavior.

Practical Significance versus Statistical Significance

Anytime we draw conclusions from statistical inference, other process evidence must support the conclusion. Statistical evidence is only half of the voice of the process. The big picture includes a thorough look at the practical significance of the statistical result.

One area that gives many process improvement teams difficulty is the selection of an acceptance level that is consistent with the reality surrounding the process. There are no hard and fast rules that can help to ensure the selection of the best acceptance criteria. This requires the observation of the process, an evaluation of the business’ objectives, an understanding of the business’ economic realities, and most importantly, the CTQs of the business’ customer base. For example, the acceptance criteria for the safety of an airplane might be set at 0.2 instead of 0.5.

Standardizing Processes

When working to improve a process, it is not enough to implement a solution and stop. Without a plan to maintain the gains, at the first sign of trouble, systems will revert to what has been comfortable in the past. That usually means a return to some past operating procedure. To prevent this, there must be a linkage of the improvement to the management system. This involves monitoring important metrics, documenting methods and procedures, and providing a strategy for dealing with problems in the future.

5S and the Engineering of Waste Reduction


The 5-S philosophy is associated with lean thinking. The objective of lean thinking is to provide a business with long-term profitability by developing a more effective workplace, which is accomplished by eliminating waste in the work environment. The result is a safer workplace, improved product quality, and lower costs for both the business and its customers.

 Lean thinking may result in a reduction in work force, but that is not its purpose. In fact, the application of lean thinking for the purpose of reducing the work force is not lean thinking at all. Since some companies have done this, lean thinking has been given a bad reputation and has made waste reduction efforts more difficult.

Mistake Proofing

Mistake Proofing

Mistake proofing is an effort to stop defects at the source. The prime objective is to prevent defects from occurring in the first place, but if they do occur, to stop their progression through the process. By stopping a defect at its source, its cost impact is minimized.

 The further the defect progresses through a process, the more waste occurs. The more waste that occurs, the higher the cost impact. As a result, the best place to stop a defect is in the design of the process, product, or service. Once the process is in place, waste starts to be generated as a process output along with the product or service.

Central tendency: Mean, Median, Mode

Before discussing measures of central tendency, a word of caution is necessary. Customers do not feel averages. They feel their specific experience. As a result, while central tendency is an important descriptive statistic, it is often misused. For example, a customer is told that the average delivery time is noon, but his actual delivery time turns out to be 3:00 PM. The customer, in this case, does not experience the average and may feel that he has been lied to.

Six Sigma Performance Teams

If you were selecting a basketball team, what criteria would you use for the selection of players? If an academic team were being selected, what would your criteria be? If the selection of a Six Sigma process improvement team were the objective, what criteria would be used?

It seems so simple, but we can sometimes make things complicated. Too much attention to politics and control will spoil the team’s chemistry. There are some simple rules, though, that can make the process less painful and more successful.

Six Sigma and Process Analysis

There are different ways to see a process.  As we think it is, as we think it should be, and as it really is.  When we see a process as we think it is, we are disconnected from reality.  When we view a process this way, we cannot see the source of the process’s defects and waste.  This is the most common way that people see processes.