The principles behind Six Sigma are more than three decades old, but age has not tarnished this popular process improvement methodology.
Reflecting its manufacturing industry roots, Six Sigma gets its name from statistical quality control, where a “six sigma process” approaches near-zero production of defects or errors.
Since its introduction by Motorola in 1986 and popularization by General Electric in the 1990s, companies across all industries have found Six Sigma useful for improving business processes, and it continues to generate success stories to this day.
The Shields Health Care Group, which provides MRI services in the New England area, used Six Sigma to improve its collections process, according to Healthcare IT News. Six Sigma’s data-driven approach helped identify stages in the revenue cycle in need of improvement, and weeded out concerns not supported by data.
What made Six Sigma especially effective for the Shields Group is the methodology’s laser focus on processes, with a goal of identifying issues that can be quantified and measured, and therefore corrected and controlled. To achieve this, Six Sigma uses a five-phase methodology known as DMAIC, for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.
Six Sigma also incorporates another foundational element: support, or buy-in, from executive leadership. Having C-suite involvement in a process improvement project helps to break down departmental silos and can free up valuable data in the hands of process stakeholders. Six Sigma’s structured approach to process improvement and change management helped the Shields Group increase patient collections more than 600 percent over five years and delivered savings of nearly $6 million.
Six Sigma also delivered a success story for the customer care team at engine manufacturer Cummins. As an engineering company, Six Sigma is part of the culture of Cummins. A Forbes article describes how the marketing and social media management teams enlisted a Cummins Six Sigma expert to help improve social customer care.
By opening up communication between a wide range of people across the company who play a role in social customer service, Cummins identified several areas for improvement. The group determined it would be best to use a single tool for customer care across the organization, and that a priority would be put on human interaction rather than automated customer-response systems. The Six Sigma exercise also helped the team realize it needed to integrate its wide range of social media tools with the company’s CRM application.
Many organizations have enhanced the effectiveness of Six Sigma by incorporating Lean Manufacturing principles. Lean Six Sigma, as it is called, delivers a one-two punch through Six Sigma’s data-driven elimination of defects, and Lean’s identification and removal of non-value-add steps in business process workflows.
DATAMARK’s business engineers and project managers apply Lean Six Sigma and other methodologies such as Kaizen and business process re-engineering (BPR) to deliver continuous improvement to clients’ processes. To learn more about the DATAMARK process improvement approach, download our white paper, “Six Sigma in Action.”
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