Modern businesses should have access to the best quality control and management tools to survive in the market and meet demanding and knowledgeable customers’ expectations. Reductions in the incidence of product failures and defects are among the key goals of businesses that perform manufacturing tasks. This paper discusses and illustrates the concepts of Six Sigma and poka-yoke in quality management and lean systems and their potential real-life applications.
Quality Management Concept: Six Sigma
The Six Sigma methodology offers a set of principles to address the issue of defects and barriers to quality. Six Sigma strategies started at Motorola to initiate quality improvement by using statistical and empirical research methods (Russell & Taylor, 2019). Over the last decades, Six Sigma has transformed from an innovative management system to a proven method for instituting positive change and reducing production waste (Hernandez et al., 2019).
The term relates to the statistical concepts of normal distribution and standard deviation and ties them to variability in terms of shape, size, kinaesthetic qualities, and any other measurable characteristics. The key purpose of Six Sigma techniques is to improve process and output quality by getting at the root cause of defects and working towards removing them to minimize variability.
The practical outcomes and benefits of applying Six Sigma techniques and tools are well-known. Among them are reductions in process variation, the consistency of production outcomes, and cost optimization (Hernandez et al., 2019). Also, scientific research in management suggests other potential benefits, such as decreased production error rates, better streamlining, and optimized turnaround times (Hernandez et al., 2019).
The tenets and principles of Six Sigma, often in combination with the lean tools and philosophy, find extensive use in a large number of industries, including manufacturing, construction, and consulting services (Hernandez et al., 2019). Its applications are even found in healthcare settings and contexts, such as clinical laboratories, diagnostic research, and the management of healthcare facilities (Hernandez et al., 2019). Six Sigma promotes a series of business values, such as controllability, measurability, stable financial benefits, strong management, and the superiority of data and statistical research over assumptions.
Six Sigma projects use multi-stage methodologies, such as the DMAIC. The DMAIC method or “define-measure-analyze-improve-control” shares similarities with the Deming Wheel and simplifies process improvement (Hernandez et al., 2019, p. 3; Russell & Taylor, 2019). Its implementation involves defining requirements and priorities, such as customer feedback, expectations, and project goals. Next, the measure phase involves the development of operational definitions and measurement procedures for critical-to-quality (CTQ) variables.
The analysis phase emphasizes the analysis of relationships between these CTQs and other variables affecting quality and involves the formulation of hypotheses. For instance, Hernandez et al. (2019) use the process to examine the links between home nursing agencies’ report preparation practices, information exchange, and hospital quality managers’ work.
The improvement stage is focused on experiments aimed at understanding the optimal levels of the identified variables and conditions in which variation is reduced and also involves pilot tests of revised processes. Finally, in the control phase, teams summarize and standardize outcomes and successful revisions, apply mistake-proofing methods and techniques, and develop detailed process control plans.
Lean Systems Concept: Poka-Yoke
The prevention of errors is among the key prerequisites to product quality, and poka-yoke is a concept in business that refers to mistake prevention in lean manufacturing processes. Poka-yoke can be translated as “mistake-proofing” and refers to mechanisms for defect elimination by detecting, preventing, and researching human errors occurring during production (Che-Ani et al., 2017, p. 278). In real-life business contexts, a poka-yoke can be defined as “any fool-proof device or mechanism that prevents defects from occurring” (Russell & Taylor, 2019, p. 731).
The concept has a wide range of applications, and modern authors usually consider error-prevention tools, such as sensors, warning systems, fixtures, and go/no-go gauges, as common examples of poka-yoke (Lazarevic et al., 2019). Also, simple poka-yoke devices, such as color-coded vehicle parts, can be used for the reduction of vehicle assembly defects by making deviations from assembly protocols easier to detect (Che-Ani et al., 2017). Such devices allow preventing mistakes (wrong actions or deviations from workplace protocols) from becoming actual defects.
There are various approaches to the analysis and classification of poka-yoke applications in business and manufacturing. Shigeo Shingo, the author of the concept, singles out three types of poka-yoke (Lazarevic et al., 2019). The contact method refers to the use of devices for the identification of abnormalities in products’ physical properties, such as shape and color.
In the fixed-value method, human operators are informed about potential errors if the product cannot achieve the predetermined value in terms of the number of movements. Finally, the motion-step approach facilitates error detection by comparing standard procedures to actually performed tasks and detecting the forgotten steps. Because of dissimilar limitations and advantages, it is reasonable to select poka-yoke methods based on the peculiarities of manufacturing environments.
Significance of Deming’s Research and Applications of Concepts
William Deming’s research is essential for the promotion of quality management techniques and tools, and it bears relation to the abovementioned concepts. For example, many believe that the DMAIC method used within the frame of Six Sigma has been inspired by Deming’s plan-do-control-act cycle (Hernandez et al., 2019).
This cycle outlines the general principles of applying the scientific method to business environments and emphasizes quality control and critical thinking when it comes to practice problems. As for poka-yoke, the concept chimes with Deming’s prolific ideas concerning the quality that should be built into the final product at all product development stages (Hernandez et al., 2019; Russell & Taylor, 2019).
Thus, aside from popularizing statistical methods in quality control, Deming has made an enormous contribution to quality management knowledge by establishing the general characteristics of quality and some principles of decision-making applicable to business.
Despite being developed for business environments, the abovementioned concepts can be implemented to solve everyday problems, including workplace difficulties. The concept of poka-yoke could find application in the use of spell-check tools as a student and at work. Giving preference to products with excellent safety features as a consumer is another example of how poka-yoke could apply to my daily life. As for Six Sigma, I could use it as a creative problem-solving technique to complete personal budget development tasks.
For instance, the DMAIC tool could be used to identify “defects” or unwanted spending patterns, hypothesize on their roots (carelessness, impulse purchases, etc.), and experiment with potential solutions aimed at saving more money. In a similar manner, the tool could help to identify the reasons for coming late to work. The framework could also support measures to identify and address barriers to productivity as an employee, for instance, distractions, poorly planned activities, and other issues.
Finally, Six Sigma and poka-yoke present helpful approaches to quality improvement that can also be applied to daily problems that everyone encounters. Six Sigma techniques involve the use of statistical tools and experiments for the elimination of defects and variability in quality. Poka-yoke refers to the prevention of defects stemming from human error and finds reflection in design features that minimize the risks of mistakes.
Che-Ani, M. N., Sapian, A. S., Azid, I. A., & Kamaruddin, S. (2017). Solving production processes disparity issue through implementation of Poka-Yoke concept. International Journal of Materials, Mechanics and Manufacturing, 5(4), 278-281. Web.
Hernandez, C., Lopez, J. J., Melnyc, R., Friedman, M., & Gitlow, H. (2019). Six sigma for home health care: Applying theories and methodologies. International Journal of Healthcare Management, 1-8. Web.
Lazarevic, M., Mandic, J., Sremcev, N., Vukelic, D., & Debevec, M. (2019). A systematic literature review of Poka-Yoke and novel approach to theoretical aspects. Journal of Mechanical Engineering, 65(7-8), 454-467. Web.
Russell, R. S., & Taylor, B. W. (2019). Operations and supply chain management (10th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.