How Six Sigma Works

By: William Harris

Six Sigma Tools

Image courtesy William Harris

Black and Green Belts use a variety of tools to drive quality improvements within the DMAIC model. Many of these tools have been incorporated into Six Sigma software so that the computer carries out the underlying calculations. Most can be classified into two categories: process optimization tools, which enable teams to design more efficient workflows, and statistical analysis tools, which enable teams to analyze data more effectively.

Here's an overview of some of the most important tools:


Quality Function Deployment (QFD): The QFD is used to understand customer requirements. The "deployment" part comes from the fact that quality engineers used to be deployed to customer locations to fully understand a customer's needs. Today, a physical deployment might not take place, but the idea behind the tool is still valid. Basically, the QFD identifies customer requirements and rates them on a numerical scale, with higher numbers corresponding to pressing "must-haves" and lower numbers to "nice-to-haves." Then, various design options are listed and rated on their ability to address the customer's needs. Each design option earns a score, and those with high scores become the preferred solutions to pursue.

Fishbone Diagrams: In Six Sigma, all outcomes are the result of specific inputs. This cause-and-effect relationship can be clarified using either a fishbone diagram or a cause-and-effect matrix (see below). The fishbone diagram helps identify which input variables should be studied further. The finished diagram looks like a fish skeleton, which is how it earned its name. To create a fishbone diagram, you start with the problem of interest -- the head of the fish. Then you draw in the spine and, coming off the spine, six bones on which to list input variables that affect the problem. Each bone is reserved for a specific category of input variable, as shown below. After listing all input variables in their respective categories, a team of experts analyzes the diagram and identifies two or three input variables that are likely to be the source of the problem.

Cause-and-Effect (C&E) Matrix: The C&E matrix is an extension of the fishbone diagram. It helps Six Sigma teams identify, explore and graphically display all the possible causes related to a problem and search for the root cause. The C&E Matrix is typically used in the Measure phase of the DMAIC methodology.

­Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA): FMEA combats Murphy's Law by identifying ways a new product, process or service might fail. FMEA isn't worried just about issues with the Six Sigma project itself, but with other activities and processes that are related to the project. It's similar to the QFD in how it is set up. First, a list of possible failure scenarios is listed and rated by importance. Then a list of solutions is presented and ranked by how well they address the concerns. This generates scores that enable the team to prioritize things that could go wrong and develop preventative measures targeted at the failure scenarios.

Learn about the last three Six Sigma tools on the next page -- and find out where the concept could be expanding in the future.­