When I was a fresh graduate, I was hired by a local Telecommunications Company. On my first day, I remember attending its New Employee Orientation program together with 50+ new hires. The facilitator asked that we take out a pen and paper. “Remember when you were 5 years old. What did you want to be when you grow up?” After five minutes, he then asked, “How many of you wrote down “manager?”
After seeing that no one replied, I raised my hand. The facilitator looked at me with a surprised face. “At 5 years old, you already knew you wanted to be a manager? You knew what a manager was?”
“No,” I answered, “but I came pretty close. I wrote ‘fire fighter’.”
I have worked as a quality practitioner for several industries and one common complain I hear managers say: “The fire never ends. It seems that crisis overlaps one after another. I don’t know how much of this my team and I can take. We never have time to get any ‘real work’ done.” (Those who can relate to or heard your colleagues/ boss said the same thing, give me a silent nod).
While it is expected that managers rescue the company and solve problems, when a manager’s department is spending huge amount of time fighting fires, it’s a sign that something is very wrong. It means that the manager was unable to address the root causes of the problem and that he is focusing more on rework to correct the situation. Rework means spending more time and resources (including money) to fix the problem which should have not been there in the first place.
PREVENTION IS INDEED BETTER THAN CURE
As a manager, how can you lead your team get back on its feet to do “real work”? There are several methodologies in a manager’s arsenal to solve a problem’s root causes and prevent it from recurring. As shown on figure one, the first thing to ask is “Is the solution known?” (A1). If the solution is known, then assess the level or risks involved (A2). Are the risks high or low? Does it involve mission critical data risks such as customer information, regulated transaction details, and trade secrets? For low risks, just do the solution and check if it solves the problem (A3), otherwise use PDCA (A4). Then, check if the problem has been solved. If solution is unknown or if the problem recurs in spite of implemented solutions, then you may use Six Sigma’s DMAIC (A6) methodology.
DMAIC is pronounced as “dee-meyk.” Pyzdek, T. (2003) states that every Six Sigma project follows a standardized and systematic method known as DMAIC (acronym for Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control). DMAIC is a disciplined, data-driven, problem-solving methodology. Data-driven just means that decisions are based on data, not on perception or opinion. This approach eliminates wasting people’s valuable time and makes sure the real problems are solved.
DMAIC IN ACTION
Here is a practical example of DMAIC in action. Imagine one February night that you are in your house watching the highlights of the day’s impeachment proceedings while enjoying your favourite ice-cold soda, and then it starts to rain. Suddenly, water begins dripping from your ceiling. The following morning, you buy one gallon of elastomeric sealant and ask your carpenter to seal the holes and cracks of your 5 year-old roof. The sealant costs P1,600 and you pay P400 for labor.
Two days after, while sipping a freshly brewed coffee in another rainy morning, water starts dripping again. With that, you immediately call your local roofing contractor and have a new roof put on the next day. The bill is P17,000. Three days later, the water starts to drip again. So you get on the phone and call the contractor to give them a piece of your mind. Only thing is, while you are on hold, you look outside and notice it isn’t raining. On taking a closer look, you find out that the PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) pipe that runs up to your second floor bathroom is leaking. Now don’t you think that some data, such as how often and when does your ceiling leak, what the weather was, and others, might have been valuable? That it might have saved you money too?
Define is the first phase. In this phase the project goal or purpose is carefully defined. The scope is determined, which is an understanding of how wide or comprehensive the project will be. (Find out why the roof is leaking and fix it.)
Measure is the second phase. In the measure phase information is gathered that will be needed to support finding root causes and support improvement. If it is a process, baseline data on the process’s performance are gathered. If it is a problem, data that can be used to pinpoint the problem will be gathered (e.g. Days water leaked from the ceiling and if it was raining, how much water leaked from the ceiling, confirmation that the liquid is water, condition of roof, locations of leak in ceiling, how old the roof is.)
Analyze is the third phase. The purpose of the analyze phase is to use the data to verify the root causes of the problem. Theories of the causes are examined and tested. (You ask your neighbours to come over and brainstorm about what could be causing the leak. On several days when it rained, the ceiling leaked so you have formed the “hypothesis” that there is a problem with your roof. You pour water over the roof, but the ceiling does not leak, so you “reject” your hypothesis. On further review, you notice that it was when someone is upstairs that the ceiling leaked. Due to that, you form another hypothesis that the water going up to your 2nd floor bathroom causes the leak. You ask someone to turn on the faucet upstairs and the ceiling leaks! The leaks happen every time the faucet is on. Now you have verified that the root cause is a leak in the PVC pipe that travels through you ceiling)
Improve is the fourth phase. This phase is where solutions are verified until root causes are addressed. Sometimes this takes several solutions. (You apply duct tape around the leak, you apply PVC pipe sealant on the seam that is leaking, and you try different fittings where the pipe is leaking.)
Control is the last phase. The purpose this phase is to test the solutions and develop a plan to keep the problem from recurring. (You find the pipe leaks with duct tape applied, the pipe leaks after PVC pipe sealant is applied, and the pipe no longer leaks when you try a new fitting. You replace the fitting permanently and implement a control plan of having a professional to inspect the pipe on an annual basis in the future.)
The problem is solved! And isn’t that a lot better than paying P2,000 for sealant & labor and P17,000 to replace a 5 year old roof that wasn’t leaking? (Carreira, 2006)
Carreira, B., Trudell B. (2006). Lean Six Sigma that works: a powerful action plan for dramatically improving quality, increasing speed, and reducing waste. New York: Amacom.
Pyzdek, T. (2003). The Six Sigma Handbook: A Complete Guide for Green Belts, Black Belts, and Managers at All Levels. New York: McGraw-Hill.