As part of our continuing discussion of Six Sigma and how it is applied, we will use this space to discuss the “define” phase—the first part of Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control phases.

Six Sigma is a highly structured program developed by Motorola and used to improve quality. Quality improvements are achieved through focused projects. And project teams are used to find improved methods/practices. The success of Six Sigma projects is dependent both on the project selection and the project team.

Successful projects are definable. That is to say, the problem can be described objectively, with numeric measurement. If, for example, a nursery manager is complaining that weaned pig quality has slipped, then the definition phase of Six Sigma requires that “quality” be translated into measurable terms. These measurable terms are also referred to as “CTQs” or Critical-to-Quality (points).

As well, for successful projects, the performance gap should be identified. The performance gap is the difference between the current situation and the desired situation. For example, if the employee turnover rate is currently 50% annually and the desire is an employee turnover rate of 30%, then the performance gap is the 20% annual difference.

If the current average wean age on pig deliveries is 15 days and the desired average wean age is 17 days, then the performance gap is two days of lactation length. A cost of the “current” state compared to the “desired” state should also be estimated. This is used to help determine which projects to pursue.

To find a solution to a problem, it is important to define a problem in terms of suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs and customers (SIPOC). Figure 1 shows a sample SIPOC model for a weaning process.

As part of the definition phase, one must also identify the team to be used to address the problem. For larger organizations, formal teams with trained members are used. For smaller organizations, external consultants can be brought in to help when necessary.

The core structure of a team contains four types of roles: The first, the “Champion,” is the person who oversees the project and makes sure that the necessary resources are available. The second, the “Master Black Belt,” acts as a coach who draws ideas and potential solutions from members and helps with experiments designed to identify the best solutions. For smaller organizations, a consultant may fill this role. The final roles are the “Green Belts” (first timers) and “Black Belts” (members having completed a previous Six Sigma project). These team members have intimate knowledge of the problem and processes—their daily work is in the problem area.

Because of its highly structured nature, Six Sigma comes with its own nomenclature. If we look beyond the words, Champions, Belts, etc., we find some key concepts that contribute to Six Sigma’s success. Namely, projects are supported from the top. And not only do they receive support from farm ownership, they utilize the expertise within the farm/organization to find farm/organization-specific solutions. Six Sigma produces tailored solutions for problems that occur under a system’s unique set of conditions.

In the coming weeks, we will continue our discussion of Six Sigma from the perspectives of Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

By Stephanie Rutten, DVM
University of Minnesota
E-mail: rutt0011@umn.edu

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