Six Sigma’s Four Domains of Activity

The sole purpose of Six Sigma is to increase productivity and using the four domains of activity can help achieve better efficiency. You can apply Six Sigma to four areas, or domains of activity:

  • Thinking for breakthrough: The domain of thinking focuses on improving the capacity and efficiency of every employee.

  • Processing for breakthrough: The domain of processing focuses on improving existing processes, and a large number of employees are involved in this task.

  • Designing for breakthrough: Fewer people are directly involved in designing, which focuses on improving the designs of new products and processes.

  • Managing for breakthrough: Every organization has a small number of leaders who are responsible for setting strategy and driving overall business results.

Think for breakthrough

Thinking for breakthrough is a set of guiding principles that fuels culture change and gets many people speaking the same language of performance improvement. Thinking for breakthrough is the realm of activity focused on the underlying principles of Six Sigma because directives and procedures aren’t the only things that guide the performance of a business.

Improvement projects and initiatives aren’t just about methods and tools. And wholesale change isn’t driven by the minority but by large masses of people who together constitute real and lasting culture change. Sweeping culture change and improvement require you to get everyone in an organization aligned to the same direction, values, and way of thinking.

The traditional path of Six Sigma has been to first lead and then do. First stimulate change and then perform the change process by following a stepwise methodology. Six Sigma change agents apply the guiding principles of Six Sigma as they lead and do.

Thinking for breakthrough emerged only after Six Sigma was proven and became pervasive and only after its underlying principles were well understood by so many practitioners. Whereas processing, designing, and managing for breakthrough are methodology- and tool-driven, thinking for breakthrough is mind-driven.

Process for breakthrough

Processing for breakthrough is the realm of activity that focuses on optimizing the performance of existing business and operational processes. Any process is theoretically capable of operating at its entitlement level, the performance level it has demonstrated it can operate at in the best case, even if it doesn’t perform to that level all the time.

If a budgeting process is capable of operating at a 95-percent acceptance level for several weeks out of the year, you can say that 95 percent is the entitlement level for that process. Generally speaking, entitlement is the very best a process, product, service, or transaction can do without needing a redesign.

When you’re processing for Six Sigma, you take actions and implement improvements that enable your process to perform to its utmost potential all the time, not just part of the time, within the limitations of its current design. You do so by applying the DMAIC methodology through Six Sigma improvement projects — all of which are focused on improving processes that are aligned with business priorities set by management.

The people who are directly responsible for processing for breakthrough are called Process Owners, Project Champions, Master Black Belts, Black Belts, Green Belts, Yellow Belts, and sometimes White Belts.

Design for breakthrough

Designing for breakthrough is the realm of activity focused on optimizing the design process prior to manufacturing products, delivering services, or conducting transactions for customers. Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) is an approach for planning, configuring, qualifying, and launching products, services, transactions, processes, systems, and events that move quality upstream in an organization.

By upstream, that is the DFSS methods and tools enable you to anticipate the source of development, manufacturing, or performance problems before they occur so that you can design and plan in a way that allows you to avoid them. Designing quality into products, services, transactions, processes, systems, and events from the beginning is what prevents the hidden factory from arising, eroding value, and ultimately eating away at profits.

DFSS maximizes the confidence that a product, service, transaction, process, system, or event design will perform to its entitlement level in the presence of uncertainties that can’t be feasibly managed. First, DFSS reduces the risk in the performance and attributes of a design (customer satisfaction issues). Second, it lowers the risks associated with the business and operational viability of a design (provider satisfaction issues).

DFSS isn’t just an area of focus for design engineers in a company; it’s applicable to the design process within any domain. DFSS enables you to build quality into processes and outcomes such that the opportunity for damaging variation and defects never occurs.

Manage for breakthrough

Managing for breakthrough entails all the plans, systems, and processes for leading improvement within an organization. It’s the mechanism by which an organization drives and supports the activities in the domains of thinking, processing, and designing for breakthrough.

W. Edwards Deming (1900–1993), arguably the most influential thought leader in the realm of quality over the last 100 years, asserted that the realm of management is where quality improvement starts and where its solution resides. In fact, Deming said that management is responsible for 85 percent of all problems because it creates the systems that prevent workers from being fully effective.

Managing for breakthrough involves selecting and training the right people; installing an improvement infrastructure; assimilating certain software tools; and establishing a management system, methods, and practices that are robust enough to set an organization on a new performance path.

Because Six Sigma is an intervention that sets an organization on a new performance path, managing for breakthrough is a matter of leadership. Positive leadership moves people and organizations in a new direction, disrupting the status quo. The executives, Champions, and deployment leaders are directly responsible for managing the Six Sigma initiative. Sometimes a Master Black Belt is also involved in managing for breakthrough.

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