Connections: Business Process Management and Six Sigma

One of the most powerful ways to improve business processes is combining business process management (BPM) strategies with Six Sigma strategies. BPM strategies emphasize process improvements and automation to drive performance, while Six Sigma uses statistical analysis to drive quality improvements. The two strategies are not mutually exclusive, however, and many companies have discovered that combining BPM and Six Sigma can create dramatic results.

BPM basics
Let’s first take a look at the basics of BPM. It uses a four step method to create better processes and improve performance. The steps are as follows:

• Map the process (whether new or existing) from start to finish, capturing each step along the way
• Execute the process by using people and automated applications, with specific assignments of responsibilities and accountabilities for each step
• Manage the process through information flow, actions and related activities
• Analyze process performance and metrics, using findings as the basis for continuous process improvement

BPM has a strong base in software applications to help streamline and automate processes. At the software level, BPM is commonly applied within a single department or group to improve a specific process.

From the software level, BPM expands to a suite of software applications. The suite level enables BPM to link multiple departments or groups that affect processes. It promotes information sharing and accountability through use of a work portals where multiple users can share knowledge, documentation, and process management.

At its highest level, BPM expands to an enterprise-wide system. This level combines software and IT aspects with management practices to address broad structural and systemic issues within a business or organization. Business practices and operations are examined from a holistic standpoint, paying close attention to how occurrences in any one part of the system have a ripple effect across the organization.

Six Sigma basics
The concept of Six Sigma was developed at Motorola in the 1980’s as they worked to improve the quality of their products and services. By implementing a systematic, rigorous routine, they were able to improve their products and increase customer satisfaction, thus increasing profits.

Six Sigma approaches business processes from a highly statistical standpoint. It incorporates three levels of activity:

• Metrics – statistical focus to make process outcomes 99.9997% defect free, otherwise expressed as 3.4 defects per million opportunities

• Methodology – structured approach to solving problems that uses specific tools and process mapping to achieve the metric goal

• Philosophy – the enterprise-wide embrace of defect reduction by making decisions based on hard data and customer focus

In short, Six Sigma allows an organization to reduce the variability in its products and services so that waste is reduced, efficiency is improved, and customer satisfaction is dramatically increased. Business problems are solved through rigorous application of data collection and analysis tools. The training that Six Sigma users receive is quite intensive, progressing through several increasingly sophisticated levels based on experience and accomplishment. Professional Six Sigma consultants and practitioners usually work to become certified at the various levels, increasing their ability to help guide development and implementation of Six Sigma methodology.

The methodology of Six Sigma is key to its success. An organization follows a five step progression that uses factual information and statistical analysis to address achievement of operational goals. There are some differences in the five steps depending on whether they are used to improve an existing process or design a new process. The end goal, though, is always to achieve the standard metric of 99.9997% defect free performance.

Combining BPM and Six Sigma
With this basic understanding of BPM and Six Sigma in mind, it is easy to see how powerful it can be to combine the two practices. Their strengths complement each other and create a synergy that infuses the entire operation with a focus on quality and performance.

The strength of BPM lies in its ability to automate processes and workflow through modeling and examination of inputs, outputs and performance. It is not as strong, however, in its ability to analyze data associated with very difficult or multifaceted problems. Six Sigma fills this gap by providing the statistical analysis needed to deal with complex problems.

The strength of Six Sigma lies in its rigorous approach to data collection and analysis. Through this process it is can identify even the smallest opportunities for process improvement, maximizing an organization’s ability to institute necessary changes. It is not as strong, however, in its ability to monitor process improvements and ensure they are applied across the board. BPM fills this gap by providing tools to automate process improvements and connect those improvements across the entire organization.

Both BPM and Six Sigma represent significant commitments on the part of a business or organization, and they take time to implement them thoroughly. Tremendous organizational change is often required, leading most companies to start with a single department or pilot project and expand their use over a multi-year period. It is well worth the time and effort, though, to generate the substantial business improvements that are typical with BPM and Six Sigma.

Peter Peterka is President of Six Sigma US. For additional information on Six Sigma Green Belt or other Six Sigma Black Belt programs contact Peter Peterka.

Author: Peter Peterka Google

Published 09/3/2008

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