Six Sigma practitioners are careful to insert data collection and analysis into a given process itself. This ensures that employees collect data such as the Number of defects per production cycle so that that managers can assess process efficiency and devise improvement methods. Once the importance of collecting data as part of the process itself is established, the discussion shifts to the type of data that should be gathered. The following are examples of data types that could be gathered:
1. Quantitative data – This data is numerical and is usually used to gain descriptive information about products or services. In a manufacturing plant, a manager may wish to collect data on the number of desks produced per 12 hour cycle. Other information gathered could be the number of defects such as desks with uneven dimensions or imperfect paint jobs. In a service environment, a manager may collect information on the number of clients that use online billing and payment services.
This type of quantitative data allows for calculations on their descriptive nature such as mean or median scores. Quantitative data also allows for inferential analysis to be done so that predictions can be made about future performance. A delivery company that correlates specific routes to delivery speed may be able to improve performance by instructing its drivers to use roads that are less congested.
2. Qualitative data – This data is usually non-numerical and can include answers to questions in surveys and questionnaires. Information gathered from employees and clients in a case study, interview, or a focus group is considered to be qualitative. The purpose behind qualitative data collection is to gain more in-depth information than simple numbers can allow.
In Customer Relationship Management (CRM), a company’s relationship with its clients and customers is considered an important business strategy. Understanding what your clients want and exploring their preferences, attitudes, and complaints in depth is important to design products and services to their satisfaction. In CRM, managers often use case studies and focus groups to gain more information about their clients.
For each process, it is important to classify and provide detailed descriptions of each input and output.
Inputs are divided into a number of categories that can be easily remembered as they all begin with the letter M:
Man – This refers to human resources and intervention that are necessary for a process to be completed successfully. From employees to management, this input clarifies the roles and responsibilities of every person involved in the process.
Machines – The performance of individual machines is important to assess a process and to find out whether any improvement will be necessary. To reduce process variation amongst different machines, it is important to provide regular maintenance and replacement as part of the process. A Six Sigma practitioner can assess process capabilities through the construction of control charts.
Methods – Methods used in every step of the process are an important component of inputs. To assess process variation from one production unit to another, a Six Sigma practitioner will need to assess whether production methods are being adhered to or not.
Mother nature – While the environment cannot be controlled in many instances, organizations must assess its impact on processes. The environment, for instance, impacts the availability and transportation of raw materials and products.
Management – Management systems and methodologies are important inputs in processes. Whether formal or informal, a management system ensures that an organization functions as a single unit with a shared vision. When assessing process capabilities and devising improvement strategies, management effectiveness must be assessed.
Materials – Materials refer to both raw and manufactured elements of process inputs. When making furniture, for example, materials include wood products, metal screws, paint, paper and labeling products, and many more production materials. The quality, availability, ease of transportation of materials have a strong impact on a process and its success in producing services or products.
Measurement systems – Every process dictates the type of measurement system that needs to be put in place. Using the right type of measurement system ensures that appropriate data is collected.