The Five Whys: Understanding the Root Cause of a Problem

Is your company using Six Sigma to improve efficiency, eliminate waste, and minimize variation? Six Sigma has been a proven success for many businesses around the world dealing with similar problems. But where do these issues come from? How do they arise? And most importantly why?

Six Sigma DMAIC teaches you to Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control problems. But it is the Analyze stage that interests us here. The 5 Whys of Root Cause Analysis are essential questions that you need to ask. Unlike other devices, they don’t require testing hypotheses, data segmentation, regression, or other similarly complex statistical tools. The 5 Whys provide all the skills you need in one easy to use toolkit to help determine where problems come from, why they arise.

Root Cause Analysis: How to use the Five Whys

To make the most of what the Five Whys can offer, they need to be completed to the letter. Here is a simple breakdown to help you understand how to use the Five Whys to their full effect.

  • Write down the problem. Be specific. This will help you discern exactly what the problem is. You can then help your team focus on solving it.
  • Why is the problem occurring? Look at where it occurs and try to identify the cause. If it’s a production problem, look closely at the flow.
  • If you still can’t identify the root cause, ask why that is.
  • Return to step 3 until you can agree on what the root cause of the problem is. Scrutinizing these questions in detail will allow you to determine the root cause quickly.

Examples of the 5 Whys

There are no universal maxims that determine what the 5 Whys should be. Between you and us, it’s not always necessary to use all five. It depends entirely on your situation: on what the problem is. But here are some useful examples for you to use as inspiration.

  1. Why are your customers receiving faulty products?
    • Because your manufacturing team made the products using a different specification to the one that both the salesclerk and customer agreed on.
  2. Why does manufacturing keep making products per a different specification?
    • Because the salesclerk accelerates production on the shop floor by calling directly. Specifications may have been miscommunicated to cause this to happen.
  3. Why does the salesclerk contact manufacturing directly to begin production as opposed to following company procedure?
    • Because the sales director’s approval is required before production can begin. This slows down manufacturing or even stops it completely.
  4. Why does the paperwork contain a sanction for the sales manager?
    • Because the sales manager requires frequent updates to be discussed with the CEO.

Here’s another example of how the 5 Whys can be used (in an altogether different situation!).

  1. Q – Why won’t your car start? A – There’s no gas.
  2. Q – Why is there no gas? A – You didn’t buy any.
  3. Q – Why didn’t you buy any? A – You didn’t have any cash at the time.
  4. Q – Why didn’t you have cash to buy gas? A – You lost your wallet.
  5. Q – Why did you lose your wallet? A – There’s a hole in your coat pocket.

Remember, it’s up to you to use the 5 Whys to your advantage. Don’t let problems fester when they can be easily resolved!

Six Sigma, Kaizen, or Lean? What is the Difference?

Six Sigma, Kaizen, and Lean. You might have heard of them. People throw these terms around a lot nowadays, often interchangeably. But what do they mean? What makes them different? And are they really so similar? Remember, each tool solves specific, specialized problems. This article will help you get to the bottom of this mystery so you can make the most of all three methodologies. That way, your company can eliminate waste, refine production, and increase efficiency. Achieving success is that simple!

Six Sigma

Six Sigma is a useful toolset that businesses use to minimize defects as well as inconsistency (AKA Mura). It comprises a range of devices and strategies by which to achieve his goal. When using Six Sigma, your team will leverage innovative statistical devices like pareto charts and root cause analysis to achieve quantifiable value goals. Like Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma teaches you to identify instances where a process requires correcting or changing. Six Sigma’s two main project methodologies are as follows:

  • DMAIC – This stands for: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control.
  • DMADV – This stands for: Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify.

DMAIC AND DMADV are similar, yes, as they are both based on Edward Deming’s Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle, but they are used for different purposes. With DMAIC, measurement is used in relation to current performance of processes, while DMADV focuses more on customer needs. It is the final two steps of each tool in which they differ. Improve and Control aim to determine potential ways of readjusting and controlling a process to greater effect, whereas Design and Verify deal with redesigning the process completely, to come closer to customer specifications and needs.


Kaizen is Japanese for “Good change”. For us, this is the best kind of change. It also means Continuous Improvement, a term you may have heard a lot about. Kaizen aims to improve all parts of a company through the standardization of production processes. Kaizen is a continuous action, rather than a particular state of being you must reach. It encourages creativity and ingenuity to change your company culture for the better, requiring, like Six Sigma, a team effort by which to solve problems of waste. The 3 Mus – Muda (wastes), Mura (defect/variation), and Muri (strain on staff and machinery) are imperative to understanding Kaizen. Kaizen uses small, incremental changes introduced gradually over a long period of time to eliminate waste and improve efficiency.


Lean by name, lean by nature. Like Kaizen, Lean methodology focuses on the elimination of wastes (AKA Muda) to increase efficiency and streamline or smooth a business’s production processes. This can be by way of removing none-value-adding stages in production, which contribute to waste and slow down production. The strategy originates from Henry Ford’s mass production assembly lines for the Ford Model T, coming into effect more than over a hundred years ago. Lean can be traced back to the concept of interchangeable parts used by Eli Whitney and Samuel Colt in their production of firearms, but has evolved over time, culminating in the modern Toyota Production System.

How to Make the Best Use of DoE (Design of Experiments)

Six Sigma represents a vast collection of tools that can be used for improving the way your company does business. One of the most popular and powerful is a DOE. Let’s take a look at how to get the most from this incredible tool.

Begin with Your Factors in Mind:
You can’t do a successful DOE without having factors to test. This is probably a no-brainer for you if you’re even remotely familiar with this concept. Still, people often forget to double-check and make sure that all of the relevant factors are included before moving forward.
For example, let’s say you were doing a DOE for baking a cake.

You’d want to make sure you included the following important factors:
• Shape of the pan: rectangle (low) vs. round (high)
• Ingredients: four cups vs. six cups of flour
• Oven temperature: 350 degrees vs. 400 degrees
• Cooking time: 30 vs. 40 minutes

You would then figure out how you’re going to rank the results to figure out which factors produced the best possible cake. Now, of course, you probably won’t be using DOE for baking. Aside from the obvious, though not impossible to work with, cakes are subjective.
If you’re using Six Sigma at work, you’ll most likely use DOE for something far more objective. It will be clear which factors are ideal.

Establish the Intended Goals of Your Current Processes:
Again, this probably seems so self-evident it hardly needs to be mentioned, but before you move forward with a DOE, get clear about what the results are you’re looking for from a process.
Going back to our cake example, the goal would probably be to create the most delicious dessert possible. However, it could also be to bake the best looking one possible. A combination of the two could also be the goal for a DOE.

Understand How You’ll Collect Data:
It doesn’t matter how well-designed your DOE is or even how well you pull it off. Without a plan in place for how you’ll collect data related to the DOE, you won’t be making the most out of this important practice.

Make Sure Your DOE Can Be Reproduced:
The vast majority of the time, you need a DOE that can be leveraged again and again. The DOE itself should involve numerous tests. This is how you get rid of any results that were outliers because of some random element involved.
Depending on the nature of your company’s work, this ability to use the same protocol over and over again is a good way to save time while carrying out important tests. You may need to make minor changes, but the template will be there to work from.

Document Everything:
Some of you will have no choice but to document your DOEs. The practices that you’re applying them to are so complicated that there would be no other way to plan them without lots of documentation.
Others may feel like this is an unnecessary chore. As we mentioned above, though, you never want to reinvent the wheel. Make sure you record the specifics about your DOE so it’s easier to use whenever required.
Of course, having the specifics of your DOE on paper is also how you can go back and scrutinize it for signs of what may have gone wrong or what you could do better next time.
There is no doubt that DOEs are an extremely powerful element in the Six Sigma arsenal. No matter what industry you work in, it’s been proven that DOEs are almost always a potential tool for finding how you can improve. Now that you’ve read the above, you also have a much better idea about how to get the most of your DOE.

Go: Guide to Running a Successful Six Sigma Project


You’ve made your plans and assembled your team, but what comes next is not always as easy (or as difficult!) as it may first appear. The culmination of our three-part guide to project management, planning, and preparing the perfect team will give you a head start on how to triage and run your Six Sigma project.

Six Sigma: Get Started

As you may well know, Six Sigma takes time. Your project demands a collective effort delivered consistently over an extended period of time. This will almost certainly deliver the best results. Once you’re got your plan out of the way, and your project team assembled, the project needs to then get off the ground. From small, gradual efforts, to large-scale business improvement, your Six Sigma project should be treated with care.

For the perfect project (i.e. a successful one), you need to understand how the project can also start out as a problem. In a practical sense, of course it is going to halt the flow of production, temporarily at least, until things are up and running. Six Sigma is all about practical solutions, which is why it is necessary to view the project from all angles. To ensure the project doesn’t harm any key performance features, you should remain focused on the following:

  • Customer satisfaction – What the customer needs determines what the company needs.
  • Employee satisfaction – Employees are the backbone of any company and it’s important that your project team remain motivated, engaged, and that their hard work is both appreciated and acknowledged.
  • Costs – Nothing costs nothing. So be mindful of the budget.
  • Process aptitude – Is the process under consideration working? How can it be improved? Has waste accumulated? Does it add value? Act accordingly.
  • Output and Quality – Six Sigma projects operate under the objective of achieving optimum process improvement. Any identified improvements in output and/or product quality will allow you to gauge how successful you have been up to a certain point. It will also prompt thoughts on how to achieve greater success.
  • Potential revenue – The potential rewards from a successful Six Sigma project are an ideal goal to work towards. The success of the company is your success as well.

Use Your Plan, and Your Team, to Your Advantage

Contained within your project plan is everything you need to direct and organize your team. It is a tool for your success, so use it. Evaluate regularly to keep things on track. Your Work Breakdown Structure will be your guide to all aspects of the project. If you are ever uncertain, refer back to the plan and you will find the answer!

Your team is just as essential to the success of the project. Keep them focused on the shared goal and provide regular motivation. It’s important you stay involved, offering support and assistance, determining and assigning project responsibilities, while relying on your team to help you as well. Working closely with them will allow you to recognize where their talents may be best suited, and how reorganizing the team may benefit the project in the long- or short-term.

Hiring for the Factory Floor — Are Hard Skills or Soft Skills More Important?

We’ve received a couple of questions regarding metrics in other areas of a manufacturing business (purchasing, for example), which I’ll be happy to address. However, since we’ve just finished a five-part series on factory metrics, I’m going to first catch up on a few questions that have come in on other topics.

Question: When you hired for the factory floor, what was more important to you in the candidate — the hard skills (e.g., CNC machining experience) or softer skills like problem-solving or being a team player. And why?

Answer: As is often the case, it depends. First let’s deal with the hard skills. Any time a company has the opportunity to avoid a lot of training expense and learning-curve time, it’s a major plus. Of course we have to pay more up front with the starting wage, but the value to the company Day One is much higher than training our own or sending them to school to be tutored for months or years in the case of journeyman jobs like electricians, plumbers, electronic techs, etc. A technical person should be involved in interviews for these types of jobs to validate the candidate’s knowledge and ask detailed questions while HR checks to validate the credentials listed on the applications (certificate/diploma of accomplishment from technical schools). HR also makes certain the applicant passes drug testing, background check, etc.

Once the technical skills have been validated, then the evaluation of the talent moves to the soft skills side. I always asked about personal experiences as well as work examples. For instance, my experience is that people who have grown up participating in team sports are typically more compatible to working in teams than those who haven’t. They understand there is no “I” in team. They tend to be more helpful. They tend to have more initiative for what it takes to win. They also know how to use a coach to get better. It isn’t always the case, but it’s a good conversation to have to learn a lot about the person.

For example, are they interested in improving their skills and behaviors to help the business prosper? We’re looking for hints here: Will this person fit into the culture that we have or that we’re trying to create? What kind of culture has this person worked with in other companies? Ask for an example of what his opinion is on that culture. All these factors are relevant when you’re bringing experienced people in from other companies. If they’re the best there is in their craft but would prefer to just do their job and be left alone, it isn’t likely they’ll engage in team improvement activities and become a contributing part of the new culture. It’s simply not worth taking on the resistance/non-engagement that you’ll have to deal with until your patience runs out and you’re right back where you started–looking for a CNC operator.

Because skills in these technical areas (the same applies for salaried engineering and lean/Six Sigma jobs) are often in short supply, or you’re in a similar situation to that just described, you are probably better off hiring a smart, trainable person who thinks and behaves the right way. We can always train-in the technical skills if the person is capable of learning and performing. We can also help with the soft skills where there are gaps. For example, a relatively new engineer may be great at the nuts and bolts of her work as an IE/ME/EE, etc., but not yet have mastered how to lead the use of fishbone diagramming or lead a kaizen event. She may also need greenbelt or blackbelt skills in order to lead lean/Six Sigma projects or group dynamics, or whatever to be more effective and to “walk the talk” of the culture the company has or seeks. Their soft skills can also be improved using the two tools noted below.

As for the soft skills of applicants, there is certain testing that your HR department can provide to give you insight about personal traits that are complementary to your culture or traits that put up a red flag. Employee surveys also are helpful to developing your own database of what behaviors work best in your business. That way you can look for evidence of those qualities in new applicants. In addition to home-grown databases there are wonderful, time-tested tools available.

These tools are also quite effective for helping legacy employees improve skills that make them better workers and team players. Both tools historically have been used primarily for salaried employees, but they will work equally well with hourly workers.

Final thoughts:

  1. Follow up how well the new person is being accepted in their group and contributing to good performance. If there is an issue after the person has been brought on board, deal with it. Nip it in the bud. If it persists, don’t waste time in hand wringing. Get them out. On the other hand, for those who are adapting well, making positive contributions and working well with their teammates, be proactive and timely in recognizing and communicating how much you appreciate the early work, and let them know their supervisor and HR folks are always available to assist the transition from new employee to a long-service employee.
  2. Don’t forget to trust your gut. If the answers to your questions seem shallow; or if you sense an underlying attitude of superiority or of entitlement; or the personality just isn’t a fit for the people in similar jobs being applied for, move on to the next candidate. We can make a bad hire in an hour and spend a year pushing a rope before we have to terminate the bad hire and start over. Make sure your HR counterpart and you are in complete alignment on this.
  3. Don’t settle under the pressures of the business. If the candidate isn’t right as a regular employee, try to fill the immediate need on a contract basis until you find the right match of technical and soft skills. Recently retired folks are often a good temporary solution.
  4. Plan beyond the end of your nose. I sat down in the plant manager’s chair in the fall of 1980 and immediately had to put together the budget for the new year. During the course of that preparation, my maintenance manager stopped by, stuck his head in my office and said, “By the way, I’ve got a pipefitter retiring in April so I’m putting that in the budget for the four-month overlap of expenses.” There had been no planning and the slotting of when apprentices should be started to make a seamless transition for any of the trade positions. That was the beginning of succession planning in maintenance because of the special, often scarce skills they possess. We also embarked on developing a relationship with the local technical school where we could forecast our needs and “place our orders.” Every company should have such a relationship.

“Don’t water your weeds.” — Harvey MacKay

“A certificate does not make you certified. Attitude, performance, commitment to self and team–these and a certificate make you certified.” — Author Unknown

“We don’t just pay a person for their skills. We also pay for their attitudes and their behaviors.” — Larry E. Fast

Explained: 5S Framework – Beginner’s Guide

5S is a methodology that is used in workplaces across the world. The “5S” name comes from the 5 Japanese words that make up the process. The five words are seiri, sieton, seiso, seiketus, and shitsuke. Roughly translated these words stand for sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain. They all describe ways in which you can make the most of your workplace for maximum productivity. There is an easy breakdown for each step so that you can make the most of this method in your business. Along with each step, there are certain things you can do to ensure the success of the overall framework.

First of all, there is Seiri or sort – This step is set up to help you remove unnecessary items from your work life. This is meant to help you deal with both physical distractions as well as mental ones. It is proven that if you only have what you need around you, you are bound to be more focused on the task at hand and not distracted and crowded by items in your workspace. A regular cleaning and maintenance count of things you do and do not need can help you free up extra space and get on the right path.

Next is Seiton, or set in order – This is the second step in 5S and is designed to help you organize the remaining items once you get the unnecessary ones out of the way. This will improve your workflow and maintain a safe environment. You will also ensure that everything that you do need is in an easily accessible place so that your tools will always be within arms reach. By having access to all of the necessary tools, this enables employees to get their work done quickly, and with less frustration.

Third is Seiso, which translates to shine – Being able to keep your work area clean is another important aspect to building productivity. This step should be used to organize a regular cleaning schedule. It also ensures that the place you are working in is safe and in tip top condition. A benefit of this step is that any regular worker will be able to recognize when something is out of place or unsafe and get everything up to par in a matter of seconds. This is because they are so used to seeing it in perfect condition.

The fourth S is standardize, or seiketsu – This step involves that you make the process, up until this point, the standard for everyone who comes into the company. This small change will encourage everyone to take pride in their workplace and build a standard that everyone has to follow. You should also ensure that every station in the workplace has a clear, easy to understand process. Having this process in place allows everyone to complete their job in less time, which helps both the company and employees learn what needs to be done on a day-to-day basis.

The final piece of the 5S puzzle is Shitsuke, or sustain – This final step also stands for “do without being told.” It adds an extra level of discipline to both old and new employees and sets a standard of excellence. Everyone knows what is expected of them, and they know that their feedback is crucial to the process. Audits should also be put in place during this step so that you can ensure that the company is following all of the other steps put in place. It is a great way to make sure your company runs like a well-oiled machine. Everyone knows their place and what they need to do to help the company run at maximum efficiency.

The World of Gage R&R (Repeatability & Reproducibility)

The most complicated thing to understand in any process is ‘variation’ as with variation there are possibilities of uncertainty to be carried in processes. The more the variation, the more uncertain is any process.
In engineering and in contemporary administrative practices, the emphasis lies on minimizing variation. For such reason, initiatives are taken to design effective measurement systems that could possibly detect and reduce variation to maximum. Gage repeatability and reproducibility is one of such initiatives, a study that measures variation of a measurement system effectively. If a measuring system is corrected; reduced with variation, it possibly could minimize variation in actual process.
We are discussing here Gage R & R study, what is it and how it comes useful in designing effective measurement systems. It is to illustrate a step by step guide describing Gage R & R with meaning and purpose.

Defining Gage R & R
Gage Repeatability and Reproducibility is referred to a statistical tool that accounts variability of a measurement system. It measures variation that could possibly affect actual process outcome. Gage R & R investigates several exposed factors causing variation. Fundamentally it focuses on two types of variations, repeatability and reproducibility.
Let’s consider example of three inspectors who are inspecting size of a bolt. If their values come similar at first take, they are repeatable in their results. Similarly, if there values remain coherent even in three takes, they are reproducible. Gage R & R mainly focuses on these two types of variability in order to bring understanding of actual variation if existed in a measurement system. By this, Gage R & R actually checks precision and how much accurate a measuring system is for bringing desired results and function.

Gage R & R and Acceptability
1. Components Variance
If a measurement system components vary less than 1 % it is a more acceptable system according to Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) guidelines. If components variance is beyond 9%, the system needs to be assessed and changed with its flawed components. Error free components are more essential for Gage R & R study, which assures instant change of components that carry flaws or some sort of error. Errors cause variance and variance affects process outcome. So variance needs to be tackled at each stage of measurement system.

2. Process Variance
In contemporary practice, Gage R & R measures acceptability of apparatus to get it approved for use and function. If percentage of variation is less than 10%, it is an acceptable system according to AIAG standards. If process variation goes beyond 30%, the apparatus needs to be changed or replaced if could not be fully repaired. It is an expensive activity to replace the whole system, but it is done to assure all sorts of variance is gone from the measurement system. The more improved is the measurement system, the better and improved is the actual process outcome.

Considerations and Procedure of Gage R & R
There are mainly two considerations in a Gage R & R study, to assess part-to-part variation and variation of measurement system. With this the Gage R & R tells either the measurement system dominates part-to-part variation, accurately discriminates between parts. Consistency of measurement system is most important in Gage R & R conduct.

Gage R & R focuses on obtaining certain indications from it’s conduct. Firstly, Gage R & R makes sure that measurement system varies lesser compare to variation of actual process. The study affirms that system error is reduced to minimum as compare to human error which is natural during conduct of study. Thirdly, it makes sure that all sources of variation becomes avoidable in order to ensure precision and accuracy.
The primary sources of data are used in Gage R & R conduct. A quantitative analysis is done to achieve desired inputs in the study. Interpretation of results is made using ANOVA and Gage R & R table. Gage R & R ends up reducing variation to minimal.

Lean In: How to Gather Support for Six Sigma in Your Company

Are you prepared to advocate and fully support Lean Six Sigma? If yes, how do you know? If no, how you reach that stage? These questions can be tiresome and their answers difficult to pin down. We’re here to make things easy for you.

Today we will help you get ready for Lean Six Sigma (or recognize if you require it). It’s important to gather adequate, if not unanimous support, for Lean Six Sigma if you are going to utilize it to the greatest effect. Let us help you achieve this goal.

Support from the Top Down – Groundwork for Overcoming Skepticism

Company culture plays a large role in determining success. You will face significant resistance implementing Six Sigma, depending on how well your staff understand what it actually is. Expect a little scepticism when introducing Six Sigma. It is your ability to overcome this organizational resistance, and turn it into support for Lean Six Sigma, that is vital to achieving success.

Management must also sell Six Sigma’s solutions to the population. It is up to you to make everything clear to your staff. Make sure to define the work you need to do, how to do it, and how it will benefit you. But, the potential benefits must also vastly outweigh the status quo. Combined with employee incentives and great management, you will encourage your staff to embrace any change with open arms.

Incentive to Change – How to Motivate your Staff Population Ready for Six Sigma

Any company will be resistant to change, especially if the concept you wish to transpose to your company is unfamiliar to them. You may be wondering: How do I get my employees to accept Lean Six Sigma? How do I get them to internalize this foreign concept? How can I achieve success for my business if they don’t?

The fact is, there needs to exist appropriate support from your company’s management. You need to be able to motivate your staff and ensure that they see their role in the company as valued and necessary. Demonstrate that you value your employees through some form of incentive, be it a financial one or by offering opportunities for potential advancement. This is also the perfect opportunity to educate them about Six Sigma and how it can help not only the company. Show that you value their work and their place in the company. All of this will go a long way to ensuring you manage your staff population effectively, preparing them and leveraging support for Lean Six Sigma.

Lean In: Conclusion

Don’t expect adopting Lean Six Sigma to be easy. Ask yourself, how committed is your company to Six Sigma? Is it really necessary? Implementing a strategy like Six Sigma represents a considerable shift in the process paradigm your company may be used to. Therefore, it is essential that it not be implemented without reason, otherwise you won’t see the benefit. Transforming your company culture is not an easy task. Whilst it can be difficult, it is highly beneficial to ensuring Lean Six Sigma is accepted with the least resistance.

(Human) Resource Planning Is a Key for DFSS Projects

While several factors can drive the success or failure of a Six Sigma project, experienced project managers cite resource planning or allocation of resources as the greatest driver of success for larger projects. All three types of resources – materials, technology and people – must be used effectively. In particular, human resource management plays a critical role in meeting project cost and cycle time objectives. This is true for Lean and Six Sigma DMAIC projects. However, the impact is more strongly felt when executing Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) projects, which typically have a larger scope and usually require more resources.

Project Effort Chart

Project Effort Chart

Resource Needs for DFSS Project

During a DFSS project the majority of the design work is performed in the early phases of the project. The focus shifts to deploying a quality product throughout the pilot/prototype effort and through the transition to production support. Figure 1 plots the project effort verses project timeline, reflecting the greater up-front resource requirement and the tapering off of this requirement as the project progresses toward implementation.

Following the DFSS effort curve for the IDOV methodology (Identify, Design, Optimize, Validate), , the resources required in the beginning are limited. Typically, the project manager and a select few core team members initiate the project. For example, say a company desires to build its own customer relationship management application to maintain all of its customer information. The information includes customer contacts and product information for purchases associated with each customer. The company may involve subject matter experts (SME) to collect data, map the existing product or service (if it exists), help scope the project or contribute technical assistance. In addition, the sales and marketing team may join the project team to provide an idea of what it requires as the user of the new application.

Resource Management Changes During Project

As the project matures through the Design phase, the need will arise for a larger number of resources. Designing a product or service will take the assistance of SMEs and possibly additional project managers to manage portions of the overall project. The ideal for design synthesis and evaluation is to create independent design teams dedicated to producing potential designs. Structuring the resource needs through this phase is critical. Decisions will focus on the need for full-time team members, SMEs and specialized resources such as technology experts.

During this phase of the project, the team will compare different technologies and explore the question of “build verses buy” for the infrastructure to support the new design. The potential need for outsourcing of product production also is an important topic at this point. Resource planning is a key element associated with these decisions, as the skills necessary are different for managing a supplier or a support contract versus supporting production internally.

Also, early in the Design phase, it is necessary to plan for any design materials or technical resources needed. This is important to a manufacturing project where limited materials can cause delays of days or even weeks in the project. In engineering and information technology projects, temporary materials or technology may provide a substitute to model the potential designs as simulations. Simulations are typically inexpensive to produce and usually require minimal resources. They are important to articulate a vision for the project for all team members, SMEs and stakeholders, allowing all new resources to become familiar with the project details as quickly as possible.

Optimizing Resources as Deployment Nears

As the project moves out of the Design phase and into the Optimize phase, the need for resources changes – both in number of resources and in the required skill sets. The Optimize phase includes piloting and prototyping the new product or service. Although many resources will move away from the project at this point, members of the original design team should remain attached to the project throughout the Optimize phase. In addition, the operational support team should become involved at this time. Waiting for product support involvement could introduce unnecessary delays in deploying the product or service, and deploying prior to their involvement, could negatively impact the customer.

During the Validation phase, a reduction in the number of team members is recommended as resource needs are very limited at this point. The team may consist of the original project initiator and maybe a subject matter expert. Key to this phase is validating that the product or service is meeting the customer’s needs and the specified requirements. Activities for the existing team include collecting data and ensuring the operational or production team is adequately prepared to support the product or service.

Conclusion: Success Depends on People

Resource planning can make or break a DFSS project. While there are any number of reasons that a project can fail, successful project execution often depends on adequate and timely management of human resources.

Actionable Information from Soft Data

Engineers, Six Sigma practitioners and other researchers often work with “hard” data – discrete data that can be counted and legitimately expressed as ratios. But what of “soft” data, things like opinions, attitudes and satisfaction? Can statistical process controls (SPC) be applied here? Can process variation in customer satisfaction, for example, be measured and then reported to management in a meaningful way? Can we leverage “appeal,” “responsiveness” or “value for money spent”?

In Visual Explanations, Edward Tufte demonstrates how the NASA Challenger disaster may have been avoided if the Morton Thiokol engineers had displayed their temperature vs. o-ring failure data in a meaningful way. They had all the data they needed – but it did not get translated into information. In a similar fashion, a well-designed survey or comment card will gather a wealth of data. The process of turning soft data into information (assuming the data are valid) is two-fold: knowing what to extract and knowing how to display.

Information Extraction

Visual Inspection and Intuitive Statistics

Visual inspection of data is paramount to understanding it. Raw data, midpoints, ranges, and frequency distributions need to be examined visually before feeding it to a computer for advanced analyses. The need for complete familiarity with the distribution cannot be over stated. Two aspects of data that must be inspected are magnitude and consistency: How much and how many? Inspection will reveal outliers and provide relatively accurate estimations of the median, mean and standard deviation (this requires a bit of practice). The shape of the distribution will indicate if there is a problem with normality.

Data consistency, often overlooked, should also be examined. Consider the situation of an experiment with six sub-comparisons, each one insignificant, but with all six differences pointing in the same direction. The researcher concludes no differences, but six consistent events yields a probability of .016, a rare event in its own right. No matter how good the statistical software, there is no substitute for human intervention at the right point. The foregoing is meant to help the researcher get a “feel” for the data, since a lack of understanding of the data will be easily transmitted to decision makers.


Computer-calculated means and variances should be confirmatory at this point, assuming you have at least interval level data (data are rank-ordered, and have equal intervals between the numbers). We can now consider the item means (from a survey, for example) as performance indicators of small, individual processes. The means tell us how well each item is performing. But how do we know which processes are important and which are irrelevant?

In a well-constructed survey, there will always be one item which captures the overall meaning of the survey results: In an employee satisfaction survey, for example, it might be “I like my job” or “I like working here.” All items on the survey should be pointing, somehow, to this bottom line. If we run correlations of each survey item with the bottom line, satisfaction in this example, we can see how well (or poorly) each item relates to satisfaction.

This is leverage: the correlations reveal which items make a difference, and by how much, to overall satisfaction. We can see which items need to be “leveraged”. By plotting a two by two table of Performance vs. Leverage (means vs. correlations), we can see where to focus first in order to 1) fix problems and 2) exploit what we do best. (See Table 1.) Caveat: Correlation does not mean causation, it only means a relationship exists. There may be an intervening variable that is responsible for causation. A root cause analysis, starting with the low performance, high leverage items, should be conducted, after examining process variation (see below).

Table 1: Leverage Analysis

Table 1: Leverage Analysis

Process Variation

But what of the variation in these item processes? The coefficient of variation (Cv: the item mean divided by its standard deviation) provides an indicator of process variation for our soft data. It provides information regarding control and consistency. Some items, by their nature, will suggest where to start looking for root causes of problems, but not all. Looking at performance versus process variation may hold a clue for these items. Knowing that, in general, policies and procedures are static and consistent, and that people are dynamic and inconsistent, we can make an initial stab at where to focus on fixing some problems. Consistently low performance suggests a systemic problem, which in turn suggests that policies, procedures, methods, etc., may be a root cause. Any inconsistent (high Cv) performance suggests that people are influencing the variation: training, supervision/leadership, working conditions, etc., are some areas to consider for your fishbone diagram. By plotting the Cv versus performance (means) in a two by two table, the results identify consistently high performance items, consistently low performance items, etc. We now have performance and process variation data charted in a meaningful way (see Table 2). To see the relationship of the Cv to the frequency distribution graphically, see Table 3. This is intuitive.

Table 2: Process Analysis

Table 2: Process Analysis

Actionable Information

Making Data Understandable

Displaying technically derived data (means, variances, correlations) to decision makers will require explanations that may overshadow and obscure the actual information to be conveyed. For example, explaining that there is a statistically significant difference between a mean of 5.84 and 5.43 on a 7-point survey scale will not promote your mission or your conclusions.

Consider converting everything to percentages: this allows easy comparison across all items, as well as quick evaluation of each item. The numbers above convert to 83 percent and 78 percent, respectively. Everyone can quickly see and evaluate a difference of 5 percent with minimal explanation. The leverage data, currently in the form of correlations, should be converted to shared variance: square the correlation and multiply by 100. The display of an item with 60 percent leverage versus one with 30 percent makes technical explanations unnecessary – the boss can see which one is more important and by how much, and has a good understanding of why. Next, convert the Cv (standard deviation/mean) to a percentage by multiplying by 100. The only explanation required here is “lower is better” (Six Sigma standards will rarely apply to soft data). The beauty of these conversions is that the information contained in the data has not been lost or altered: information integrity remains intact, but now it is understandable at a glance.

The (Almost) Holy Grail

We now have information that is approaching action ability: performance, leverage, and process variation expressed in a recognizable format. If your survey has been well designed, you will also have collected some demographic data (it does not take much). Sort performance, leverage and variation by the demographic data – the derived information will change with each sort, specific to each demographic. We now have target groups.

Using the two by two tables we can demonstrate, by target group, which items are important, in control, performing well, and should be exploited: this is what we do best, capitalize on it. We can also identify which items need to be fixed, and in order of priority. Some items, by their nature, will suggest where to start looking for root causes, but not all. The performance versus process variation table may hold a clue for these items. Knowing that, in general, policies and procedures are static and consistent and that people are dynamic and inconsistent, we can make an initial stab at where to focus on fixing some problems. Consistently low performance suggests a systemic problem, which in turn suggests that policies, procedures, methods, etc., may be a root cause. Any inconsistent (high Cv) performance suggests that people are influencing the variation: training, supervision/leadership, working conditions, etc., are some areas to consider for your fishbone diagram.

Your committee, boss and CEO now have rich information regarding what to exploit, what to fix, and where to look. A question that often arises at this point is, “Anyone have any ideas on how to do this?” If the survey was well designed, it solicited comments in such a way that it greatly increased the chances of garnering actionable ideas: “Give us ONE good idea on how we can improve xxxx.” This is a simple and focused task, rather than a vague request, and tends to elicit actionable responses. Review all comments (data inspection). Review them again, this time looking for themes. Group the comments by theme. Your customers, employees, constituents, etc., can generate a smorgasbord of ideas. Enjoy the buffet.

Once you have a feel for your data, you can run these (relatively) simple analyses and comparisons and display clear and powerful information that provide road maps for action.

Table 3: Getting a Feel for Data

Table 3: Getting a Feel for Data