Getting Through This Economic Downturn With Style

Rosa Oppenheim

Business Process Improvement During an Economic Crisis

These may not be the worst of times, but they certainly aren’t the best of times. The current financial climate is creating challenges everywhere, ranging from business survival to meeting business projections in an economic "downturn." Your task is to improve business performance and earnings. Easy, right?

Well, it might not be easy, but it is far from impossible; and there is a powerful array of process improvement tools you can use to help guide you. This column will familiarize you with methods and techniques for meeting your needs and allowing you to achieve your business objectives with professionalism and style.

Six Sigma–A Premier Business Process Improvement Tool

Six Sigma was developed at Motorola in the ‘80s and is still widely used today in many industries. The basis of determining Six Sigma performance capability is measuring performance around specifications set by the customer using a data-driven process. The quantitative focus of the method insures objectivity and accuracy. In other words, this approach allows you to determine the factors that significantly contribute to process variation, or the deviation between what you want and what you have. Once you have narrowed this list of factors, your change efforts are targeted to the areas that will do the most good. Change is both difficult and expensive, so you want to be sure your efforts are on target; Six Sigma can help you in zero in on targeted results.

DMAIC–The Foundation of Six Sigma

One of the typical models in use today is referred to as the DMAIC Model. DMAIC is a quality management tool for business process improvement. The acronym represents the five improvement phases of this method. DMAIC stands for:
  • Define: In this phase the customer specification, metrics, performance goal and projected business case are compiled to complete the project charter.
  • Measure: The capability of your current process is evaluated. This measurement establishes the baseline of your process performance. Factors that may contribute to variation are identified and measured.
  • Analyze: The factor performance is measured to determine the areas of significant variation and to identify the potential areas to focus the improvement strategy.
  • Improve: The improvement strategy is developed for process improvement. A pilot is defined and implemented, measured and evaluated to assure success of your solution.
  • Control: This segment is devoted to establishing metrics that will measure the continued success of the improvement and serve as a performance dashboard for the process owners.
While this is a simplistic overview of the DMAIC method, it has been proven to be effective in solving complex business process challenges. DMAIC is particularly effective in unraveling complicated problems and achieving desired results. It has been referred to as a "Breakthrough Strategy" for business process improvement due to the ability to sustain business process improvements, surpassing many other business process improvement strategies. Simply put, you must know where you are, so you must measure. If you don’t measure ityou can’t manage it. Sounds like common sense, but it is not always common practice, especially in the absence of compelling eventsfor example, in good financial times, it is easy to take your eye off the ball. Once that focus is lost, performance can suffer and things can get out of control quickly. Getting a process back in control can sometimes be complicated.

In the current environment, these tools can be utilized to right a strategy and improve performance in an organized and professional way. It is anticipated that there will be an increasing demand for experts in the Six Sigma field with experience in successfully implementing business process improvement solutions.