ASQ - Six Sigma Forum

Brenda Tracy, business excellence and project quality manager, Technip

Brenda Tracy is the business excellence and project quality manager for Technip USA Inc. in Houston, TX. She has been an ASQ member for about one year. Here, she answers some questions related to the importance of Six Sigma.

What do you think is most important in implementing a Six Sigma project?
• Top-down management support to champion the continuous improvement initiatives, remove obstacles and handle political battles.
• Approved charter with clearly defined goals, roles, authority and resources, otherwise the project flounders from the get-go or it evolves with scope creep and goes on forever.
• A knowledge of when and how to apply the various continuous improvement methods, theories and frameworks, such as plan-do-check-act (PDCA), define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC), define, measure, analyze, design, optimize and verify (DMADOV) or identify, design, optimize and verify (IDOV), kaizen events (quick one to two-week improvements), just-do-it (JDI), software lifecycle, hoshin planning, Kotter's steps for leading change, systems theory and change management principles.
• The ability to customize and combine multiple continuous improvement methods, theories and frameworks as appropriate to meet the needs of the organization and the goals of the project without waste. For example, I often I see advocates of DMAIC attempting to apply DMAIC when it isn't applicable.  
• If it's obvious from the beginning of the project what changes will be made, then there is no need to use DMAIC, PDCA or JDI may be more efficient.
• Conducting a lot of non-value-added measurement and analysis is waste, which is what lean Six Sigma is supposed to get rid of.
• Without applying systems theory, managers try to make changes in a vacuum. They want control of the decisions, but changes made in this manner often negatively affect other departments.
• Project management experience and project management professional (PMP) certification, otherwise projects drop off the radar after the brainstorming session and nothing gets implemented.
• An ethical approach to continuous improvement:

o Managers or employees with an agenda sometimes exaggerate about the problem or the benefits of a project

o I've seen people implement changes and then go back and write up documentation as if they followed the DMAIC process—when the DMAIC process wasn't really used.

o Ethical approach to statistics (Read the book How to Lie With Statistics).

Why do you think Six Sigma is important?

• To increase accuracy and precision of the process with the ultimate goal to meet customer specifications 99.999% of the time by reducing variation and shifting the mean to focus on customer requirements.
• To provide a structured method, a scientific method-based approach to continuous improvement, to eliminate decisions based on emotion or personal preferences.
• To provide structure to gate reviews, to ensure stakeholders are a part of the process throughout the DMAIC methodology.

Why do you think quality is important?
Quality is meeting stakeholder needs, always, at the right time frame, at the right price and at the right cost. If we don't, we will lose customers. If we lose customers, then we can't provide a return for our investors.
What’s your favorite benefit of quality?
Being able to prove you're meeting customers’ needs on a consistent basis and doing it in an efficient way.

Why did you choose to go into the quality field?
My passion is to lead continuous improvement efforts.  I enjoy helping to eliminate employee frustrations regarding inefficient or ineffective processes.

What’s your best advice to someone new to quality?
Quality shouldn't be all about documentation. Here's what I tell every new hire: 

Quality is everyone's job—not just those within the quality management department. Quality management involves four primary activities—quality planning, quality assurance, quality control and continuous improvement—all of which communication is a critical component. As a part of quality planning, you are responsible for clarifying and validating your requirements. Your requirements may come from internal customers, external customers and government/legal regulations. 

For example, if you’re an engineer, you are expected to know and comply with the ABS, DNV, ISO and SEMS requirements. Or, if you’re an accounting or finance professional, you are expected to know and comply with Sarbanes-Oxley, GAA, and international accounting requirements.  These requirements will not be spoon-fed to you. It’s your job as a professional to know the requirements and comply with them. 

As a manager, it's your job to make sure your team members know their requirements and how to achieve them. During quality planning, you will address questions such as:

• What are my requirements?
• Are they clear and measurable or observable?
• How do I know when I achieve them?
• What procedures, best practices, and quality standards must I apply to meet these requirements?
• During quality planning, you will also work with your management to update and review procedures to ensure the documented processes will be successful in meeting customer requirements. 
• What will you do in quality assurance?

During planning, you said what you will do. Now, you do what you said you would do. During quality assurance, you will address questions such as:

• Am I following the approved processes, standards and best practices?
• Will the approved process result in meeting requirements? 
• Do I need to deviate from the approved process to meet requirements?
• In summary, you follow the approved processes, and you encourage your team members to follow the approved processes.
• When you have to deviate, you will communicate with your management. 
• You do the right thing, correctly, on time, every time.
• You will participate in process audits and corrective actions.
• What will you do in quality control?

During quality control, you will address questions such as:
• Are my products and services defect free? (You will inspect your outputs).
• Do they conform to requirements?
• If not, how do we solve the immediate problem?
• How do we prevent the problem from reoccurring? (part of continuous improvement)
• Who do I need to communicate this to? When you encounter problems, you will communicate these problems to your management and help find ways to solve them.

What are your responsibilities as a part of continuous improvement?
• You assist in developing efficient and effective processes.
• You continuously monitor the processes to make sure they are capable of meeting customer requirements.
• You design features into a product or service so that it satisfies customer requirements.
• You monitor for changes in customer requirements and work with your management to take  appropriate action.
• You will participate in preventive actions.
• You communicate problems and your recommended solutions with management.
• Communication is a critical aspect of each of these four quality activities.

For quality management to be effective, you must seek to build sustaining relationships and maintain open lines of communication. Integrity is perhaps the most critical aspect of quality. Without integrity, we don’t have quality.

ASQ News


Lean & Six Sigma Review
Process Improvement Using Six Sigma - A webinar in process improvement