Six Sigma is project-intensive. Large firms, such as General Electric, report completing as many as 7,000 Six
Sigma projects in a single year. Even much smaller companies can complete several hundred projects per year. But this should come as no surprise, as projects are the means by which Six Sigma
converts knowledge into bottom-line results.
However, not all Six Sigma projects produce bottom-line benefits; many produce only local improvements. In my June column I
described how to use the theory of constraints (TOC) to decide where in the process to conduct Six Sigma projects. But we need to go even further. In addition to telling us where to conduct Six
Sigma projects, knowing the process constraints also helps us determine what the focus of the project should be.
Six Sigma projects address three different areas of potential
improvement: quality, cost and schedule. Critical characteristics in the product, process or service are identified using CTx notation: Critical-to-quality characteristics are designated CTQ;
critical-to-cost, CTC; and critical-to-schedule, CTS. This classification scheme, combined with the TOC, can help focus Six Sigma projects by defining project deliverables in terms of their
impact on one or more CTx characteristics.
Consider the simple process in Figure 1. The process is producing a product for which there is a market demand of 20 units per week. However, the best
this process can deliver is seven units per week because that's the best step C can do.
Figure 1: A Simple Process with a Constraint
Applying the TOC strategy described in the June column, we know that Six Sigma
projects that affect step C should be given priority, those affecting steps D and E second priority, and those affecting A and B third priority. This tells us where to
focus our efforts. The CTx information can help us determine what to focus on.
Assume that you have three Six Sigma candidate projects all focusing on process
step C, the constraint. The area addressed is correct, but which project should you pursue first? Assume that one project will improve quality, another cost, and
another schedule. Does this new information help? Definitely! Table 1 shows how this information can be used.
Projects in the same priority group are ranked according to their impact on throughput. The same thought process can be applied to process steps before and
after the constraint. The results are shown in Table 2. (Note that Table 2 assumes that projects before the constraint don't result in problems at the constraint.)
Remember, impact should be measured in terms of throughput.
Table 1: Throughput Priority of CTx Projects That Affect the Constraint
Knowing the project's throughput priority will help you make better project
selections among project candidates. Of course, the throughput priority is just one input into the project selection process; other factors--for example, integration with
other projects, a regulatory requirement or a better payoff in the long-term--may lead to a different decision.
About the author
Table 2: Project Throughput Priority vs. Project Focus
Thomas Pyzdek is a consultant in Six Sigma. He has written more than 50 books,
software and training products, including The Complete Guide to Six Sigma. Learn more about Six Sigma at www.pyzdek.com . E-mail Pyzdek at tpyzdek@qualitydigest .