When Paper and Pen Beats a Computer for Six Sigma Applications
Most people use computers to do their work, and Six Sigma is naturally computational and collaborative, so manual tools have limited use. But with all the computer programs available — and the need for accuracy, sharing, and control — some situations support using a pen or marker, for a couple of reasons:
It’s fast and free-form. Whether you’re describing what you understand a current process looks like or designing a new process, it’s a quick way to put your ideas out there — especially if you don’t have more sophisticated tools handy.
It’s inexpensive. You don’t need a computer, software, or training — or even electricity — to draw a process map with a pencil and paper. With a ruler, template, and graph paper, you can draw pictures of processes.
You can make fast progress utilizing selected tools in manual mode. Mostly, these apply in the early-stage or more qualitative situations.
Affinity diagrams: Affinity diagrams are the output of group collaboration and brainstorming sessions. These sessions are often best conducted in off-site casual settings, and the tool of choice is the sticky note: It’s fast and portable. You need to copy and organize the info into a spreadsheet or table later, but these manual diagrams are a natural way to start.
Fishbone (Ishikawa) diagrams and CT (critical-to) trees: Save time by brainstorming causal factors by hand before you start making pretty charts in a drawing tool.
Data entry: Some circumstances, such as spontaneous conditions and environments, favor manual data capture. For example, quick updates on a shop floor or in a meeting may best be initially captured on a whiteboard.
Instructions: Many environments are well-suited to handwritten instructions for controlling behaviors and keeping processes in control. Shop-floor instruction boards are often handwritten; pit-crew instructions to race-car drivers are on handwritten boards.
Because the discipline in hand-drawn processes lies solely with the person drawing them, they’re especially susceptible to being wrong. Someone’s description of a current process is likely to be incomplete or inaccurate. Icons drawn to represent process tasks, decision points, data, storage, and so on may not follow conventions. People often leave out exception branches or improperly represent systems or information.
So watch out: If you’re beyond the quick-idea phase and you find yourself drawing processes or value stream maps manually, the only acceptable reason is that you’re constrained by the expense of computerized tools — relatively modest as it may be. If you’re in an organization with the staff and systems to support computer-supported standardized process mapping, step up to it.
Along those lines, you should avoid doing several classes of activity by hand:
Tables and matrices: A QFD (quality function deployment) house-of-quality table, a C&E (cause-and-effect) matrix, or any other matrixed data — these items all belong in a computerized spreadsheet or relational data table.
Input forms: Data input on paper just begs for error; you can’t Poka-Yoke (mistake-proof) any of the entries, and someone else has to translate and enter the data later anyway. Fix it at the source.
Process diagrams: The language and controls of process mapping are complex and specific. A protocol called the Business Process Modeling Notation governs the many aspects of process mapping. There are so many process drawing and process mapping computer tools available that you really have no excuse to be drawing processes by hand anyway.
Every Six Sigma tool is supported by multiple software products. You’re not forced to do any of it by hand.