Thursday, January 12, 2006

Reducing Process Variation, Just Be Consistent

The Six Sigma Approach to process improvement is holding steady across manufacturing and spreading into other areas like health care and the governmental sectors with some limited success. Unfortunately, many leaders are still in the dark about Six Sigma. (I can not tell you how many people still think my Black Belt is martial arts related).

The best way I found to get others to start to understand the Six Sigma Approach is to lay out the simple goal of reducing process variation or just be consistent.

Since not all processes are perfect, variation occurs. By tracking results or outcomes of a process, we can measure the limits of this variation. This will show us the behavior of the process. Based on the process behavior, we establish expectations from our process and we can predict future results. Then we can match the process results with customer expectations (process specifications). If they do not match or stay consistent, we have a big problem.

A good example is McDonalds' french fries. McDonalds does a pretty good job of controlling their french fry process so no matter what McDonalds you go to, the customer knows what to expect when they order french fries. The same can be said for most of their other food offerings. McDonalds is not perfect but they definitely understand the importance of the consistent quality of their product.

On the other end, Holiday Inn could take some simple lessons from McDonalds. This past week, for example, I was in Kansas City at a customer site with accommodations at Holiday Inn. Besides the check in and check out processes, very little service contacts are present to make a good impression on your hotel stay. One very simple process is having a USA Today placed outside your door each morning. During my stay, the paper was placed at my door only 2 out of 3 days. If I wanted a copy of the paper on the off morning, I had to go to the front desk.

Why is the simple process of having the paper at my door not consistent every morning? This inconsistent newspaper process happens no matter which Holiday Inn I might stay at (To be fair to Holiday Inn, other hotels have similar inconsistency with the newspaper delivery). You would think this morning newspaper delivery process would be easy to control. As a customer, I do not expect to see the paper every morning, it is a hit or miss process.

Based on the two examples, which process is more consistent? How does this consistency translate to satisfying the customer expectations? Using a Six Sigma approach helps you just be consistent to improve customer satisfaction.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think it's great they plan on spreading health care and I hope they can do much to improve health insurance for all.