Most of the time, your Six Sigma project is charged with improving an existing process. This is made much easier with process intelligence tools. You’re not beginning with a blank page; your work is based on the current process. So before you charge off and just start designing the world’s greatest new process, you must characterize and understand the existing process by using process intelligence tools.

Process intelligence tools help you capture the state, condition, and definition of the current process. They’re often used along with enterprise-class tools because you must capture information from existing systems and points of measure, and doing so requires integration capabilities and access to corporate systems. But the individual tools of the process intelligence toolkit are specific:

  • Process capture: Process capture begins manually: affinity diagrams, interpretations of reference designs, and structured interviews with key participants. From there, you build a model of the as-is process by using modeling tools such as Visio. To validate and refine your model, use tools such as ARIS to attach to your existing network environment and generate a process flow picture based on the transaction activity in your systems.

  • Process characterization: Gain insight into your existing process by capturing the key metrics associated with the as-is process model. Process characterization tools include the system of instrumentation as well as the storage, processing, and display of the results. These results include data aggregated over time that indicate trends and can generate histograms down to the performance and condition of single instances of the process.

Process intelligence tools are continuous improvement tools. You use them the first time you characterize a process so that your analysis and design leads to the improved process state you’re seeking. You then use them to maintain the improved process — keep it in control. And you use them to indicate where to pursue the next round of improvement.