A Little Can Go A Long Way

By Dave Overfelt

Developing an in-depth understanding of Six Sigma requires general statistical knowledge but the basics are easy to apply to your day to day work. Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (DMAIC) effectively captures the process and approach that you can apply to make the most out of scarce resources.


Applying Lean Six Sigma


Define First

If you are new to six sigma, you should start small and simple. Select one programmatic or organizational goal and make sure you have a clear understanding that you can easily convey to others in your organization. As you define your goal, pay attention to describing what might hinder or support progress. As you gain experience with creating systems to track, capture, and assess data, this process will become more intuitive.


Measure What Matters

Measurement should again focus on the desired outcome. What is the change you want to achieve? Your goal can be something as simple as increasing the number of volunteers, quantity of donations, or the total clients served. The important part is that of focus on the outcome you want to achieve and create measures that speak directly to that outcome. You may want to consider creating a single simple measure to start. Finally, record the data in a consistent format. The easier it is to capture and record data, the more likely you are to keep this habit alive. Without measurement, you can’t verify change over time!


Analyze the Data

After you have captured 20 or so data points in a consistent manner, generating simple tables, charts, and graphs is next. If you have data captured from the past, you can add it to your new charts to get a broader view of how these activities have varied over time. If you are just starting to track data, you will need to give it some time to find normal variation. Look for changes in the data and work to develop an understanding of why those changes have occurred. Don’t jump into changing the way you do things until you have at least a general idea of why data points move up or down or remain stable.


Improve the Process

With a clear understanding of trends over time, you can begin to adapt and change your activities to better achieve you outcome. With a theory in mind regarding what should happen when changing how activities are conducted, make one change at a time. Whether that is one staff doing something a little different or changing how an entire program approaches a problem, make sure you note when the change occurred. Follow the data after this change and see what happens. If your data goes in the direction you like, you can continue to implement that change!


Control the Process

Now that you have an understanding of the process, the outcomes, and the levers you can pull to shift the process, create triggers or controls that help you pay attention. With a good set of charts, tables, and graphs tied to a specific program, goal, or activity, you can let the process run without constantly paying attention to it. Instead, you can watch for signs that outcomes are headed in the wrong direction and pay closer attention only when needed.


Building Capacity

Link to Internal Resources

With so many things vying for your attention, creating and implementing systems to track and report on outcomes can add time to your day! Instead of pulling your highest value staff into the weeds everyday to deal with the ins and outs of running a program, applying lean six sigma principles to data tracking and control systems allows you to understand activities at a glance, saving time for when you really need it.