The Role of Six Sigma in Business-Process Development

Home/Publications/CIDM eNews/Information Management News 04.04/The Role of Six Sigma in Business-Process Development

JoAnn Hackos, PhD
CIDM Director

In the last several months, we have had conversations about Six Sigma with publications managers involved in the Innovator’s Forum. We have also seen a marked increase in requests for Information Process Maturity Model (IPMM) assessments. We have been asked to analyze the relationship between Six Sigma quality analysis and the IPMM. As a result, we have revised the IPMM questionnaire to relate it more directly to the qualitative and quantitative measurements that are a standard part of the Six Sigma process.

Publications managers are being asked to apply Six Sigma methods to analyze and improve the quality of their organizations’ activities. Many are taking part in Six Sigma training offered by their corporations. Ann Teasley, publications manager at Checkfree, for example, recently completed her “yellow belt” preliminary training in the Six Sigma methodology. Others, like Dan Greening, manager of publications for the Motorola Computer Group, work closely with Six Sigma coaches (black belts).

The initial stage of a Six Sigma project focuses on making measurements so that process changes can be evaluated later. The Information Process Maturity assessment provides an excellent method for establishing a baseline. The IPMM assessment evaluates a publications and training organization accross eight key areas:

  • Organizational structure
  • Quality assurance activities
  • Planning
  • Estimating and scheduling
  • Hiring and training
  • Cost control
  • Information design
  • Quality customer management

As a result of the assessment, which includes self-administered questionnaires, individual and team interviews by the assessors, and examination of process documents, a department receives a rating and recommendations for improvement. The rating, from Level 1 through Level 5, and the recommendations provide the basis for making changes under a Six Sigma project.

Look, for example, at the estimating and scheduling key IPMM area. In evaluating an organization’s maturity in estimating and scheduling projects, the IPMM assessment looks at the data and asks several key questions such as the following:

  • What methods are used to estimate your projects?
  • What percentage of projects is estimated using the methods?
  • How were the methods derived?
  • What process is used to ensure that estimates are accurate?
  • Are project estimates compared with actual data from projects?
  • How is actual project data recorded and analyzed?
  • Are estimating methods improved to take actual data into account?

These and many other questions about estimating and scheduling allow the assessors to judge the level of sophistication of an organization in understanding their projects and controlling the level of effort required to ensure that the projects are successful.

In our recent benchmark study on project estimating, we found that more than 70 percent of the respondents are pursuing some type of project estimating. Some of the methods used are quite sophisticated, allowing the managers and staff to understand and communicate the resources required to make the projects successful.

If an organization scores low in estimating and scheduling, the IPMM recommendations are likely to suggest methods to improve practices. Typically, recommendations include developing a system of tracking the actual time required to complete projects and understanding with some precision just how that time is being used. With tracking data available, publications managers and technical communicators begin to accumulate the data they need to improve their project estimates. They also can show explicitly where project costs are unnecessarily high.

One publications manager described their detailed practice of estimating and tracking. As a result of the data collected, they were able to identify the cost efficiencies of individual projects. They found and documented a problem with one engineering team. The engineering team’s inefficiencies in conducting their development work resulted in consistently high information-development costs. As a result of their documentation, the engineering manager was replaced by someone more able to keep costs under control.

If your organization and your company are serious about pursuing a Six Sigma strategy, the IPMM assessment can be an integral part of the process. By pursuing a Six Sigma-based measurement program, you can identify areas in which you can improve your operations to achieve greater value and increased productivity while maintaining the quality of your work for customers.

Note: The New Six Sigma by Matt Barney and Tom McCarty presents new strategies of integrating Six Sigma methodologies into each division throughout any company without using as much of a statistical approach.