Microsoft feels your pain. Well, maybe not all of your
pain--but at least the pain that software can help alleviate.
Specifically, the company feels the pain you experience
with information management as you deploy Six Sigma in your
enterprise. And better yet, Microsoft wants to help, for
free (sort of).
Although it's often said that Six Sigma doesn't add anything
new to the TQM/SPC toolkit, one sizeable exception is the
intense use of computer technology to speed up and simplify
analysis of complex problems. Six Sigma organizations now
have access to a new tool in the Six Sigma software toolkit:
the Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma, which provides
added functionality designed specifically for Six Sigma
organizations and even maps to Six Sigma's five DMAIC phases--define,
measure, analyze, improve and control. The Accelerator enables
companies to better utilize existing Microsoft products
such as Microsoft Office, Project and Visio--as well as
third-party products to keep track of Six Sigma projects--and
to track the financial results from those projects, manage
resources while working on Six Sigma and other projects,
and report results and project status. The Accelerator also
assists with e-learning through the Microsoft Enterprise
Learning Library v. 2. MELL provides powerful, in-depth
software training and reference materials on Microsoft products
and technologies. The Accelerator is free and will be available
through partners by midyear. The catch: You'll need to purchase
the software that the Accelerator accelerates.
Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma offers customized
functionality that helps customers draw more from
their existing software. A browser-based dashboard
leverages Microsoft SharePoint Team Services and Project
Web Access to provide Six Sigma professionals with
customizable project tracking tools that map to DMAIC
project phases and can provide Master Black Belts
with at-a-glance views of whether projects are on
schedule and how they are tracking financially.
DMAIC Project Guides
Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma provides added
functionality designed specifically for Six Sigma
organizations. The Accelerator tools provide Black
Belts and Green Belts with custom interactive Project
Guides that lead Six Sigma teams through each DMAIC
project phase, including integrated tollgates.
Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma is an integrated
set of products and services that leverages existing
software such as Microsoft Project and SharePoint
Team Services and is customized for Six Sigma practitioners.
SharePoint Team Services and Project Web Access provide
teams with online libraries in which they can store
documents for review or collaboration, start online
conversations, conduct team surveys, arrange notifications
or specific updates, and more.
Microsoft makes a distinction between Accelerators and
solutions. Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma's role is,
logically enough, to accelerate the process of creating
a complete Six Sigma solution using various applications.
In fact, the product might be better named "Microsoft
Solution Accelerator for Six Sigma" or "Microsoft
Six Sigma Solution Accelerator." The complete solution
requires added effort from what Microsoft calls its "Microsoft
Partners." These partners include Microsoft Project
partners, who use Microsoft Project to create the project
plans that form the basis of the Accelerator; Six Sigma
consultants, who integrate the Accelerator into their client
offerings; and vertical industry partners, who develop new
Accelerator solutions. In a sense, if you develop your own
Accelerator solution, you're also a partner.
According to Ingo Heel, senior product manager of Microsoft's
Information Worker Enterprise Solutions Group, there are
five pillars to a complete Six Sigma solution: business
scorecard management, enterprise project management, Six
Sigma tools management, knowledge management and e-learning.
Six Sigma personnel don't operate in a vacuum. To make
change happen, Black Belts, Green Belts and others must
communicate their insights. The Accelerator makes it easier
to do this by linking PowerPoint directly to data sources
such as Excel files. The Accelerator can automatically generate
PowerPoint reports, thus eliminating the tedious (and inefficient)
use of highly trained Black Belts and Green Belts to copy,
paste, resize, reposition and otherwise dress up data for
presentations. Such work often consumes an inordinate amount
of time, so this should be a welcome relief. With the Accelerator,
creating a presentation-quality graphic or daily financial
report is a simple point-and-click operation.
The Business Scorecard Management tool also enables organizations
to customize views using a "stoplight" metaphor.
Red, green and yellow indicators tell Master Black Belts
and Black Belts whether they're on budget (green), in danger
of going over budget (yellow) or already over budget (red).
The indicators can be customized for whatever function best
matches a team's needs--whether that be budget, schedule
or something else.
To simplify the process of managing Six Sigma projects
across the enterprise, customized Project Guides lead Six
Sigma teams through each DMAIC project phase. The Accelerator
provides customizable browser-based dashboard views showing
Six Sigma financial results on executive dashboards and
providing drill-down capabilities to help identify root
causes. It's possible to do real-time analysis of financial
data with direct links to financial systems. Project status
and resource utilization can also be monitored in real time.
Six Sigma leadership can use the Accelerator's views to
see how Green Belts, Black Belts and other Six Sigma human
resources are being used. This information can be analyzed
automatically to identify, store, access and apply best
The Accelerator enables organizations to work with software
they already know and in which they've already invested.
It also works well with non-Microsoft products. Third-party
tools for training, statistical analysis and process simulation
can be accessed directly using the Accelerator. The same
approach--adding integration code to create an Accelerator
interface--can be used to integrate back-office systems.
Organizations will enjoy the additional DMAIC customization
that Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma provides for SharePoint
Team Services. Documents stored on the team site can be
organized according to phase. And, because the SharePoint
site is accessible from any Internet-connected PC, Master
Black Belts and Black Belts can make decisions based on
the most accurate data available, regardless of where they
For a variety of reasons, including cost of travel and
pure convenience, it can be advantageous to offer training
tools online. Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma seamlessly
integrates with third-party learning tools and offers online
training via SharePoint Team Services. In addition to serving
as "home base" for the training information, the
site also tracks completed training.
The Accelerator helps key Six Sigma personnel in a variety
Executives/Champions. Executive dashboards present
various views and summaries of Six Sigma project data. Views
can be top-level "Big Y's," or you can drill down
to get closer to root causes before selecting specific areas
Master Black Belts. Operations- and business-level
scorecards take executive drill-down a step further, to
actual project selection, chartering, project tracking and
resource management. This includes the ability to monitor
the activities of Green Belts, a resource too often mismanaged
in many Six Sigma deployments. Master Black Belts can also
use the Accelerator to build the dashboards needed by executives
or to create special reports in response to requests from
Executives and Champions.
Black Belts. Black Belts can monitor progress on
their project portfolio and ensure that "tollgates"
are closed as projects move along the DMAIC cycle.
Green Belts. DMAIC project activity guides, story-boarding
and collaboration tools are accessible. Team members have
access to collaboration and project progress reporting tools.
Keep in mind that Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma
only addresses the information dimension of your Six Sigma
deployment. Although this is a very important piece of the
puzzle, there's still leadership, customer and stakeholder
relationships, training, and a host of other critical issues
that you'll have to deal with person-to-person. Still, even
if the Accelerator can't win over that cynic in accounting,
it can make it easier for you to effectively manage your
Six Sigma information. And that may just give you enough
extra time to find a way to convert those cynics to your
way of thinking.
As of press time, Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma
is not yet available. (It's scheduled for a release midyear.)
If it lives up to its advance billing, it should be a welcome
addition to the Six Sigma toolkit.
Thomas Pyzdek is a consultant in Six Sigma. He has written
more than 50 books and software and training products, including
The Six Sigma Handbook and The Six Sigma Project Planner
(both available from McGraw-Hill, 2003). Learn more about
Six Sigma at www.pyzdek.com.
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