How Six Sigma Principles Can Improve Your Productivity

How Six Sigma Principles Can Improve Your Productivity
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R Bhargav

Published on July 15, 2015


  • 3696 Views
Matt is a Six Sigma veteran with twenty years of professional experience. His resume boasts of his many achievements as Master Black Belt, including a list of projects and businesses he rescued from the brink of disaster. All by applying what he proudly calls his ‘simple, magical personal Six Sigma toolkit’.

Unfortunately for Matt, the one project he couldn’t rescue from turning into an utter, unmitigated disaster was his own, personal life.

Wasteful expenditure and lack of financial discipline, ignorance of the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, lack of planning and monitoring while executing personal projects, irrational decision-making –all this and more- have meant that Matt is today broke, has no social life to speak of, and has to deal with a family who loathe him and are openly hostile.

It has never occurred to Matt –or to the hundreds of thousands of others like him- to transfer the skills that deliver results from the professional domain to his personal life.
And you…You may be the most efficient, productive employee at work, but how transferable are your skills?

Read on to find out how to make your personal life as rewarding, fulfilling, and productive as your professional –with the wonders of Six Sigma!

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is an overarching quality management philosophy that finds widespread applicability in businesses and industries across domains. Developed by Motorola in the late 1980s, the Six Sigma body of knowledge has had contributions pouring in from several sources over the decades, finally being codified and given shape to by Harry Mikel’s Six Sigma academy. Hugely popular in today’s world, Six Sigma is a problem solving, high-performance approach to analyzing the causes of variation in processes and determining appropriate solutions.

Apart from helping increase productivity, application of Six Sigma reduces variability and waste in the business. It helps deliver products that are as close to perfection as possible.

What lies at the very core of Six Sigma?

At its core, Six Sigma is built around the notion that elimination of unwanted variance from the standard mean results in more efficient, leaner, and more productive processes. If the number of defects and variation in a process could be measured and kept to a minimum, you would be able to figure out how to eliminate these problems and create a next-to-perfect product.

What is Lean Six Sigma?

Lean Six Sigma is a management tool that blends the best of Six Sigma principles with Lean Management practices. The goal of both practices is to reduce waste and maximize return on investment; however, while Lean borrows heavily from Lean Management, Six Sigma is a mostly self-contained body of knowledge.
Can the principles of Lean and Six Sigma be applied to personal life?



 

You bet they can!
Like the principles of economics, many of the ideas and concepts of quality management in general –and Six Sigma in particular- serve as codified common sense, and could effectively be applied outside of the professional sphere to great effect.
 
Here’s what Six Sigma can help you achieve:

  • Maximize sleep without compromising productive time, normalizing sleep cycle
  • Maximize strategic reserve time (SRT) to devote to personal projects
  • Maximize productivity at work, or at home
  • Eliminate waste in personal finance
  • Eliminate waste in time management, thus reducing downtime
  • Optimize your relationships for a stress-free personal life
  • Develop a work-life balance you are more comfortable with
  • Nurture personal leadership and managerial competencies
  • Get things done: on time, to schedule, and within budget

All right: I’m all set! How do I begin to apply Six Sigma for personal advancement?


Six Sigma theory advocates using a handy set of tools and techniques for process improvement. Of these, three techniques in particular stand out as being exceptionally well-suited for application to the personal domain-

  • The DMAIC Process – Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control- for all-round improvements
  • The 8 Wastes Technique –to cut waste and save resources
  • The Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing Model –to alleviate stress and strengthen personal relationships
Let’s consider each of these techniques and methodologies in turn, and examine how they could be applied to achieve a happier, more fulfilled, and more productive life.

DMAIC


DMAIC – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control- is an acronym that refers to the five phases in the structured problem-solving methodology that is part of any basic, barebones Six Sigma implementation.

The DMAIC technique offers a structured method to plan a project in advance, and a logical series of steps that, with repeated application, will help catch and correct aberrations quickly.

Using DMAIC to maximize your Strategic Reserve Time

In simple terms, Strategic Reserve Time is the amount of time left over when all our professional commitments have been met. SRT may be used by individuals to work on their personal projects of interest, or may be devoted to personality development activities.

Because personal advancement can never occur in short, isolated bursts, there needs to be continual, incremental investment of time and resources into enhancing the quality of our lives.

Let’s apply the DMAIC methodology to investigate if we can maximize our pool of strategic reserve time, thus being able to devote more time to personal development!

Define

Define the problem: A low Strategic Reserve Time (SRT) that leaves very little room for personal improvement
Define the end-objective: What do you hope to achieve by the end of this exercise? A higher SRT, of course –more me-time!

Define the improvement activity to arrive at solution:
  • Cut down on the amount of time you require to meet all professional commitments; OR
  • Maximize the net amount of time you have on your hands, in any given week
Focusing on improvement activity #1, we would now need to identify and eliminate-
  1. Leaks in productive time. E.g. water-cooler conversations at work; a needy pet at home.
  2. Sources of inefficiency. Don’t be afraid to follow the causal chain a little! E.g. the office canteen’s Wednesday brunches may be causing those unproductive Wednesday afternoons at work!

Measure

Measure current levels of performance to determine how much catching up you need to do!
  • Is your SRT less than 4 hours a week, while your neighbor seems to be able to eke out over 10 hours a week to devote to his sculpture project?
  • Are you having to expend more time to do less at work than some of your colleagues?
Accurate self-evaluation and measurement helps you figure out where you stand with respect to the average person, quantify various parameters of performance, and plug leaks in productive time.

Analyze

Analyse the current process to determine defective steps in the process, and identify causes of variance.
  • Are you perhaps being drawn into water-cooler conversations because you have to traverse the entire floor to get to it, thus wasting more time than is ideal?
  • Would the fact that your cook takes an off on Wednesdays explain why you’re forced to visit the cafeteria, instead?

Improve

Improve process performance by eliminating these root causes of variance. For example, you could-
  • Consider carrying a flask of water to work, eliminating the need for frequent visits to the water-cooler.
  • Carry a self-prepared meal for Wednesday lunches.

Control

Once you have improved the process, do keep an eye out for any variance that threatens to creep back in.
  • Maintain a set of spare water-bottles in case you misplace your first one!
  • Colleagues taunting you into joining them for lunch downstairs, every Wednesday?

The 8 Wastes Methodology


Lean Six Sigma identifies eight different kinds of wastes that clog up and delay processes:
Identifying and eliminating these sources of waste would streamline processes in your personal life, resulting in benefits ranging from greater savings to greater peace of mind!

Waste caused by defects

What is it?
This type of waste results from defective processes, incorrect or insufficient information and defective communication, low-grade workmanship, etc.

Sources and examples of waste caused by defects:
  • Not being informed of the items to be purchased before you leave for the store
  • Driving a vehicle with defective suspension that is in need of repair to work, daily
How do I reduce waste caused by defective processes and products?
  • Dealing in complete information: acquire comprehensive information on all aspects of a project before embarking on it.
  • Open channels of communication.
  • Conducting quality checks after each stage of a complex project.
  • Regularly upgrading the tools and equipment utilized.

Waste due to overproduction

What is it?
Overproduction waste results from producing more or producing at a more rapid pace than is necessary, causing stock to pile up in the inventory. Like defective waste, overproduction is also caused by poor communication and inaccurate requirement estimates.
Overproduction can be avoided by balancing supply with demand, in all cases.

Sources and examples of waste caused by overproduction:
  • Purchasing perishable items in bulk for the entire month, resulting in wasteful expenditure and rot
  • Cooking enough food to feed an army…when you’ve a family of four.
 
How do I reduce waste caused by overproduction?
  • Produce, buy, manufacture, or create to specifications and accurate requirement estimates.
  • On an individual level, by curbing compulsive behaviours.
  • As with waste caused by defects, maintaining clear and open channels of communication.

Waste caused by waiting

What is it?
Perhaps the most widespread and ubiquitous wasteful activity of the eight, waiting –for transportation, for deliverables, at queues- causes stress, delays, and sometimes results in financial losses for individuals and organizations the world over.

Sources and examples of waste due to waiting:
  • Delaying every stage in a cross-disciplinary project as you await the output from the phase before.
  • Wasting far too much time waiting to catch the bus to work.
  • Waiting on your better half to return your phone call.
How do I reduce waste caused by waiting?
  • Consider private transport over public.
  • If waiting on output from someone else, commence work on another task.

Waste caused by poor utilization of talent

What is it?
This waste is caused by under- or non-utilization of talent on a team. A hidden additional cost of this waste is the opportunity cost associated with retaining said talent that may be spent on some other activity of use, such as on upgrading the infrastructure.

Sources and examples of waste due to non-utilization of talent:
  • Putting an investment professional with 5 years of experience in charge of purchasing office supplies!
  • Hiring a skilled carpenter to double as house-painter.
  • A professional writer delegating the task of writing family invitations to his used-car salesman cousin.
How do I reduce waste caused by non-utilization of talent?
  • When embarking on a project, map out the talent and core competencies of all members before assigning tasks.
  • Ensure everybody on the team or group has something to do and work on.

Transportation waste

What is it?
Transportation waste results from the unnecessary movement and displacement of people and materials from one location to another. 

Sources and examples of transportation waste
  • Lengthy commute intra- and inter-city commute and travel times.
  • Finding parking space. It is estimated that the average driver spends up to 106 days of their life looking for good place to park –and flitting from store to store because you keep changing your mind because you didn’t plan beforehand only adds to the time wasted.
  • Lack of clarity on documentation required. Carrying a brief with several dozen hard copies of your artistic magnum opus may not really be necessary when attending an interview for an investment banking position.
  • Moving patients at your hospital from ward to ward.
How do I reduce wasteful transportation?
  • Consider your options!
If driving your four-wheeler to work sees you getting stuck in jams, consider an alternative means to commute. Two-wheelers average higher speeds in city traffic than cars and, depending upon the distance to your place of work, can cut down commute time by as much as 30 minutes a day!
  • Waste to value!
Find ways to derive value while you commute. Listen to an audiobook, catch up on your reading, read the news, discover professionals in your network online, or carpool with a group of friends you haven’t made time for in a while.
  • Eliminate wasteful transportation!
If all else fails, you could always move closer to your workplace or start working from home more often. Although the ideal solution, eliminating wasteful transportation is not entirely practical, and must be considered only as a last resort, and only if the situation warrants it.
 
And the next time you are invited to a meeting, reconsider the urge to carry your laptop: are you perhaps wasting too much time unplugging peripherals, closing programs and open tabs, or preparing notes –for a meeting expected to last all of five minutes?

Inventory Waste

What is it?
Any excess material that is either unutilized, underutilized, serves no purpose, and is not being processed makes up wasteful inventory.

Examples of inventory waste
  • Ordering twenty sheets of timber for a home improvement project that would require no more than five -because you ‘got it at a discount’
  • Hoarding up on old computer accessories and laptops that have fallen into disuse
  • Signing up for a fitness class you don’t have the time to attend would constitute a service inventory waste.
How do I deal with inventory waste?
  • Spring cleaning! Start by purging your wardrobe, your garage, and your storeroom of any and all unwanted and unutilized clothes, items, and equipment.
  • Spend money only on purchases whose purpose and utility can be justified.
  • Estimate needs and requirements more accurately to avoid overspending.

Motion

What is wasteful motion?
The waste of motion refers to the movement of people and equipment that is unnecessary and extraneous to workflow processing. Wasteful motion causes delays and is energy-consuming, resulting in a waste of both time and resources.

Examples of motion as waste
  • A haphazardly laid-out office space where employees have to navigate obstacles to get to point B from point A.
  • Taking two flights of stairs to deliver messages to your downstairs neighbor.
  • Environment-driven waste: having to waste time searching for items on your disorganized work desk.
How do I curb wasteful motion?
  • Bypass the need for wasteful motion! Get your neighbor’s number, and have administration reorganize the floor layout.
  • Organize! Categorizing items and labelling them will help you find what you need quickly.
  • Plan in advance! Create a list of tasks you wish to accomplish before you leave your desk, cutting down on shuttling time.

Wasteful Processing

What is processing waste?
Wasteful processing or over-processing occurs when inordinate amounts of time, effort, and resources are expending into achieving a diminished return. Over-processing almost always results in work that needs additional attention to reverse and trim excess.

Examples of wasteful processing
  • Striving for obsessive perfectionism when the situation does not demand it, such as cleaning every unused nook and untouched corner at home –daily!
  • Over-evaluating interpersonal situations, interaction, and body language.
  • Spending five minutes to craft a two-line email communicating a minor point of interest.
  • Meticulously washing and cleaning an off-road vehicle hours before an off-road event.
How do I prevent excessive processing?
  • Parametric estimation is your friend! Before setting out on any task, ask yourself how much effort is required to get the job done; if uncertain, base an estimate on a similar task you may have undertaken in the past.

Optimizing relationships: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing

Tuckman’s Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing model is a tool that is often used by Six Sigma professionals to explain and predict the behavior of teams at work.
But all too often overlooked is the applicability of the FSNP model to personal life. Families are, after all, teams of people bound together by relationships that work together toward a shared set of objectives, such as maximizing household income, ensuring rationing of food and other resources, etc.

How do I apply the Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing model to my personal life?


Forming

At this stage, individuals comprising your ‘team’ are still getting to terms with the idea of working with the rest, and are focused more on themselves. The group is not yet cohesive, and will not respond as you may expect. A lack of information and knowledge of motives characterizes the group.

How do I deal with a team that is forming?
When dealing with a team at the forming stage in its evolution, it’s important to-
  1. Give members the time and space they need to settle in.
  2. Introduce all members to one another and initiate one-to-one conversations.
  3. Not delve into details right away!
Examples of forming scenarios in personal life:
  • Meeting your dorm-mates on the first day at university. While the dorm group is still forming, small talk is preferable to academic conversations –unless you’re looking to antagonize everybody and their dog, drawing your engineering major batch-mate into an argument about political ideologies on day one is probably not a good idea!
  • A newly married couple sharing a dinner table with extended family on either side.
  • Attending your child’s first parent-teacher conference.

Storming

By the time a team rolls into the storming stage, members will be more familiar with one another, and will begin to take the first steps towards working together. As individual quirks and weaknesses rise to the fore, members will be openly cynical of each other and, more often than not, the team will need to operate in a highly-charged atmosphere. If the energies are not channeled properly, tempers may flare and egos hurt, and total breakdown of communication is a distinct possibility.

Dealing with storming scenarios
At this stage, it’s important to-
  1. Highlight and emphasize the bottomline-strengths of each team member.
  2. Underscore the importance of tolerance.
  3. Encourage amicable dispute resolution.
Examples:
  • Early sessions with the family counsellor or lawyer.
  • Dealing with adolescents at home. Adolescent children and their parents form storming teams, since the individual members are beginning to assert themselves and forge their own identities.

Norming

The key characteristic of the norming stage is acceptance. Members begin to tolerate, accept, and even encourage the ideas and behavior of peers. Each person on the team is aligned to the common objective, and starts contributing to advance the team as a whole.
When your group is at the norming stage, it is important to-
  1. Encourage out-of-the-box thinking, since people attempting to form friendships may hold back thoughts and opinions so as to not risk offending others.
  2. Set up a feedback system.
  3. Demarcate individual responsibilities clearly.
Examples:
  • A joint-family that has lived together for a little over a year.
  • The local theatre group you perform with.
  • A music band in its first six months of operation, where the vocalist, bassist, where the vocalist, bassist, percussionist, and guitarist –all understand each other’s place on the band and respect boundaries.

Performing

At this stage, the team begins to perform its key activities efficiently and without supervision. Members are knowledgeable and motivated, and the creative process is structured and formalized.
To deal effectively with a group of people in your personal life who have reached the performing stage, it’s best to take a step back from day-to-day control and monitoring.

Examples:
  • Routine orders from the neighbourhood grocer, who may autonomously include items of your preference without prior consultation.
  • Visits to the family physician, who would now know ‘what’s best for you’.
  • Households with persons who have turned 18.
In closing, it’s important to remember that Lean Six Sigma is as much a mindset as it is methodologies. Make these principles a starting point for your life to achieve success in every endeavour and turn your life around!



 

About the Author

A seasoned engineering process & analysis enthusiast, Bhargav writes on Quality Management, Data Science, App Development, Programming, and other allied disciplines. An MS in MechEng, Bhargav has over six years of professional experience in various domains, ranging from game development to CFD D&A, and was previously associated with Paradox Interactive, The Creative Assembly, and Mott MacDonald LLC.


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