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Dummies Guide to Top Six Sigma Tools

Six Sigma Tools

Let’s have a view now of top Six Sigma Tools and remind ourselves that Six Sigma refers to a method for reducing and eliminating defects. The method is data-driven and disciplined and can apply to manufacture and other industries.

Let’s look at Six Sigma tools that can help you implement Six Sigma projects. These Six Sigma tools can be part of the DMAIC (Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control) cycle and also part of the data collection and analysis phases of process improvement initiatives. We cannot cover all of the Six Sigma tools as there are many but will can explain a few major ones.

Affinity Charts

With this kind of visual, you can see a number of ideas collected in one chart. You can use it after a brainstorming exercise to collect all of the ideas. Another possible use is when looking at survey results.

What you need to create such as chart are cards or sticky notes, pens, and a working surface such as a floor or wall. Here is how the process typically works.

1. Record each idea on a separate card or note.
2. Spread the notes on the large surface so everyone can see them.
3. The group moves the notes around to group them in a way that makes sense.
4. Normally no one talks during this step.
5. The group could have loners and duplicates. This is not unusual.
6. The group can talk after they complete moving the notes around.
7. Discuss patterns and other items that you notice from the exercise.
8. Put headings on the groups.
9. Select a note that captures each group or create such a note.

With such an exercise you can find insightful categories and ideas to help analyze and solve a problem.

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With this approach you ask team members to come up with as many ideas as possible to answer a question or come up with possible solutions to a problem. No idea is too dumb, and the more the better. You do not at this point determine the best solution, but just look at all ideas. You can later rank the ideas.

When brainstorming, a group can find novel solutions and new ways of thinking. Ideas that come from brainstorming can sometimes be the best ideas uncovering root causes and great solutions.

The 5 Whys

When you analyze a problem to find a solution you should look not just at the symptoms, you should look at the cause. For example, if you are producing plastic cups you could ask.

1. Why did we scrap 100 cups this week? Answer: they were defective.
2. Why were they defective? Answer: they were misshapen.
3. Why were they misshapen? Answer: the machine did not create them right.
4. Why did the machine not create them right? The machine was out of calibration.
5. Why was the machine out of calibration? The maintenance schedule is not posted.

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We now have a better idea – after asking why five times – how to address a problem. Groups can use this approach as it is simple and does not require statistical analysis. The method can help when identifying problems that have a human interaction that is part of the solution.
Here are additional guidelines on how to use this method:

1. Write down the problem.
2. Ask why the problem happened.
3. Determine possible answers.
4. If you do not find a root cause keep asking why.
5. Document responses.
6. Repeat until you find root causes.

Fishbone Diagrams

A fishbone diagram can help provide a look at cause and effect. It can be part of the brainstorming process and helps a group identify causes for an issue. Groups typically start creating a fishbone diagram by stating a problem then they brainstorm root causes. The group can look at categories of causes that include management, equipment, people, and materials.


This type of graph contains data. The data can be easier to understand in this visual representation instead of in a spreadsheet or table. You can use a histogram to show, for example, side by side the data you got and the data you expected to get.

Run Charts

A run chart is basically a graph displaying time series information, where the data are sequenced from first to last. This tool can show trends and shifts.

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