Lean Six Sigma: How to Determine Which Tool or Technique to Use?

Posted by on May 16, 2011 in Lean Six Sigma | 0 comments

Deciding which tool or technique to use is sometimes a problem, but usually becomes less of a problem with experience.  As a MBB I have certain favorite tools and techniques I use more often because I am more familiar with them and am more comfortable using them.
I personally like tools that are graphical in nature, tools such as Pareto charts, box plots, run charts, control charts, VSM, etc.  The reason is that they give me a mental picture of the data and help me visualize what’s going on.  They are also easier to explain to upper management because of their graphical nature.
I recently read an article that debated the use of a 5 Why vs. Fishbone Diagram.  The gist of the article centered on going through the tedious time of putting a fishbone diagram together versus using a 5 Why and getting to the root cause quicker.  Using any tool depends on the diligence in applying it to the situation.  A 5 Why is more specific whereas the fishbone is more general.  The fishbone can identify many more causes of variation that may also need addressed.
My suggestion is to focus on the particular DMAIC phase.  Don’t worry about the particular tool to use, but let the flow of the project determine which tool you will use.  Concentrate more on the deliverables of each phase as a starting point.  An aid to help you do this is a Thought Process Map or TMAP.  It allows you to ask questions about the process you’re trying to improve and then select the best tool to help you answer your particular question.  For instance, if your question is to determine the various sources of variation, a fishbone diagram is probably one of the better tools to use to brainstorm the various sources of variation.
From a Lean perspective, I generally start by identifying and eliminating the various wastes in the process, i.e., defects/errors, waiting, motion, etc.  I then work with the team to develop a current/future state value stream map, develop visual controls, incorporate 5S, or other techniques that would benefit the process.
In every project during the Define phase, you need to assess the current situation.  Make sure you take the time to do this properly and understand what’s going on.  Plan your data collection strategy in the Measure phase so as to target those areas where it will best help you meet the project objectives.  In the Analyze phase, start simple using the graphical tools mentioned above and proceed to more complex tools as needed.  Remember in the y=f(x) relationship, you’re trying to determine which of the x’s have the biggest impact on the project y.  Stay focused on your project objectives and watch to make sure scope creep doesn’t occur.  You can always identify future projects that you discuss with your project sponsor.
Don’t forget when you first are learning the Lean Six Sigma process, as a Green Belt or beginning Black Belt, it is important to receive coaching from your Master Black Belt.  These people have a lot experience in working projects and solving problems and can help guide you through your initial projects.  Make sure you get their advice as you go through each of the DMAIC phases.

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