"Improve" is the forth phase of the Six Sigma project lifecycle. Its purpose is to implement and confirm an optimal solution that improves performance and efficiency of a process/system. The project team needs to seek such a solution, develop it, and conduct necessary tests and evaluations. The Improve phase ends up with a range of modifications applied to the process/system, so the new condition of the process/system ensures higher performance and meets expectations of the project customer.
The Improve phase can be smoothly and quickly completed if the previous work has been done with great care. For example, the Analyze phase shows a static solution without any practical sense. By using estimations of that phase your project team can step into the next phase to conduct necessary evaluations and tests and develop a practical solution.
The Improve phase can be broken down into two key processes that are targeted at developing an optimal solution having a practical sense. Hereíre these processes:
- Conduct design of experiments (DOEs)
- Implement corrective action
Both processes are easier to manage if they are further divided into a range of simple tasks that have basic parameters such as due date, status, priority, finish time, start date, cost, and so on. With help of VIP Task Manager you can plan tasks for the processes as well as for the entire phase. This software allows using groups and sub-groups to gather tasks into to-do lists, hierarchies and templates. Letís find out what typical tasks can be planned for implementing the processes and how VIP Task Manager can help your project team to do the tasks and report on performance to senior management.
Conduct Design of Experiments
This process of the Improve phase requires your team to design one or a range of experiments to test and evaluate each solution proposed during the Analyze phase. Every designed experiment will analyze three aspects of the product/system being improved. These aspects are:
- Factors, or inputs to the process/system.
- Levels, or settings of factors.
- Response, or outcome of the experiment.
For example, you want to improve the sausage making process in your food industry organization. If you design an experiment dedicated to developing an improvement solution, then the aspects of your sausage making process will be:
- Factors (inputs): ground meat, fat, herbs, spices, other ingredients.
- Levels (settings): oven temperature setting, portions of salt and herbs, etc.
- Response (results): taste, color, aroma, consistency, appearance, and other characteristics of the newly-made sausage product.
If your experiment is well-designed your team will conduct it quickly and easily. By using brainstorming and cause & effect diagrams the team can capture information on the required aspects in a cost-effective and reproducible manner. In general, the team needs to carry out the process of conducting DOEs in eight steps, including:
- Define the problem(s)
- Set up objectives
- Design an experiment(s)
- Run the experiment(s)
- Collect and analyze data
- Interpret results
- Verify results
The manager of your Six Sigma project needs to define an amount of working hours required for taking all the steps of the experimental design process by the team. When the last step, "Verify results", is completed the manager summarizes the experiment by creating a report documenting the most significant factor(s), related levels and responses. This report will be used as the basis for carrying out the second process of the Improve phase.
Implement Corrective Action
This process requires your project team to analyze results of your DOEs to develop a detailed plan of permanent corrective actions that help prevent special cause variations. The project manager will control and monitor progress of the process. This person also creates timelines and defines time required to implement the optimal solution for improving your process/system.
The team will need to correct and modify the process/system taking into account results of DOEs. In case improvements and changes are successfully made, the manager will need to demonstrate process stability and predictability and define benefits that are gained after your process/system is improved.
For example, your team has conducted experimental designs and determined the most significant ingredients (factors) and the best manufacturing environment conditions (levels), so now sausage products of your organization are much tasty and made with higher quality. You need to develop a plan of actions for correcting the sausage making process and adjusting it to the new requirements. When this job is done the Improve phase of your Six Sigma project can be regarded as successfully completed and closed.
Using VIP Task Manager
With help of VIP Task Manager you can create lists of tasks related to the processes of the Improve phase. The software features Task Tree view that lets group tasks by categories and sub-categories. Members of your team can be assigned to tasks by using Resource Assignment Panel. The project manager can use Filter Bar to track and monitor tasks by many attributes, such as Status, % Complete, Assigned, Due Date, Estimated Time, Cost, Duration, and others. Below you can see an example of tasks related to the processes.
- Conduct design of experiments
- Define the problem to be addressed by DOEs
- Identify the number of experiments
- Set up time duration per experiment
- Define the aspects for each experiment
- Set up objectives per experiment
- Brainstorm the experiments during team meetings
- Develop a design for each experiment
- Run the experiments
- Collect and analyze data during every experiment.
- Interpret results of the experiments
- Verify results
- Document a report on results
- Implement corrective action
- Develop a plan of corrective actions
- Define time duration required to implement the plan
- Implement improvements to the process/system
- Define benefits of improvements
- Confirm stability and predictability of the process/system
- Report on results of the improvement process.