One of the most successful business practices
used in the corporate world today is Six Sigma, which is a
data-driven methodology for eliminating defects. During the
development of new products or services, a process called Design
for Six Sigma (DFSS) can be used to help ensure that the product
or service can be manufactured or can operate at Six Sigma
standards. DFSS can be described more simply as “design
for reliability.” No matter what terminology is used
to describe process control and improvement, the desired end
state is usually the same.
To begin a study of DFSS and process improvement, you need
an understanding of the goal of Six Sigma. So, what is the
goal of Six Sigma? Simply put, the goal of Six Sigma is no
more than 3.4 defects per 1 million opportunities.
You do not have to understand all of the internal devices of
DFSS, nor do you have to be particularly well versed at statistical
methodology, to understand the need to apply the principles
of Six Sigma. Basically, DFSS is building a better mousetrap
by refining all the processes used to build it until the failure
rate of the mousetrap falls to an acceptable level. If you
are among those people who are familiar with buzzwords, you
may recall that the military has long benefited from “reliability
and maintainability analysis.” But the working aspects
of these disciplines often have been hidden as procurement
policy has vacillated, so the product itself simply failed
to improve further. Historically, failure mode and effects
analysis is associated with component failure rates. However,
a manufacturing operation could be considered a component,
if loosely interpreted. Any process that adds value is a potential
The importance of accepting process improvement at all levels
has been documented. Without it, corporations have found that
resistance to change and simple defiance can derail the entire
effort. Perhaps the biggest issue in any systemic change is
cultural resistance. This is certainly true in the military,
except in turbulent times. Then, the end state will be dramatically
different from the beginning state because the operational
necessity driving change is stronger than the notional resistance
that is maintaining the status quo.
Processes can be improved at any level. However, lower-level
changes in industry are typically forfeited in favor of those
that will produce a larger cost reduction and, therefore, more
profit for the company. A stepping stone to DFSS is “Lean” thinking.
establishing smoother process flows, doing only those activities
that add customer value, and eliminating all activities that
do not. In short, all levels in an organization can benefit
from Lean thinking.
Think about the processes or issues that have the biggest impact
and thus stand to earn the biggest profit when improved. For
instance, an analysis of zero-balance line items on a stockage
list would be an ideal candidate for improvement. One principle
of DFSS (and of Lean) is to pick the “low hanging fruit” first.
Gather data, chart the trends, and draw conclusions. Before
you know it, you have applied some of Six Sigma’s fundamental
methodologies: define, measure, analyze, improve, and control
Benchmarking data is key in any improvement effort. You might
find that you are not using the right measurables. Consider
the list of zero-balance items on our example stockage list.
Is a low zero balance an important measurable, or is it an
indicator that the regulatory review periods for stockage need
to be revised? Is unused inventory kept on hand too long before
it is removed? If the zero balance is high—perhaps greater
than 50 percent—would you reach an appropriate stockage
level with use or a slower than acceptable resupply? The answer
lies in process analysis.
The Army Materiel Command (AMC) has embarked
on a business transformation program to implement DFSS and
Six Sigma. Although this program is still in relative infancy,
it has been presented to AMC’s managers, some of whom
are responsible for instilling the importance of process control
in the rest of the Army. Process control will drive the business
transformation that the Army has begun.
Michael P. Winkler, USAR, is a course writer in the Leadership
Development Directorate of the 84th Army Reserve Readiness
Training Command at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. He has a bachelor’s
degree in business administration from Marian College and a
master’s degree in business administration from Indiana
Wesleyan University. He is a Six Sigma Green Belt.