This is part 3 of a five-part series on Six Sigma practices for the automotive industry. Read part 1 and part 2.

In Six Sigma’s DMAIC methodology, the Analyze phase is not just the letter in the middle of the acronym. It is also the pinnacle of knowledge gathering in your project. At that point, the movement of the project can either descend to the following phases of DMAIC or slide back to the Define phase for an update on the core message of the project. You decided which way to go based on new discoveries in the Analyze phase.

Focus on the Present.

By this point, you have created your foundation by precisely defining both your problem and your goal. Your next step is to utilize available resources to gather more details about your process.  Your goal is to create a higher resolution picture of the current situation and gain a better understanding of the existing circumstances. Still in the Analyze phase, your focus remains on the current state of things.

The Analyze phase provides a deeper look into the symptoms of the issue. This is the phase in which root causes are identified. Quite often, your analysis will reveal other problems that also need to be addressed. It is not uncommon for the project to move back to the Define phase as a result of new findings.

Keep Your Measurement and Your Analysis Separated.

The separation between data collection in the Measure phase and data interpretation in the Analyze phase offers you a great problem-solving advantage. During the Measure phase, your data collected is preserved and protected from bias. These biases have the potential of introducing additional variation throughout the data collection process.

In Six Sigma, variation is the source of all defects, and it causes unexpected and uncontrolled outcomes. Minimizing variation allows you to increase control over the outcome while stabilizing the system and allowing for better predictability. The data collection plan must be designed so that it isolates variations inherent to the process. Through this isolation, the causes of that specific variation can be identified.

Be Specific.

The data collection plan should also be designed for specific analysis and specific data display methods.  The following is a basic example of what that looks like:

If your project can benefit from having data displayed in a runs chart, then the data must be collected and kept in order of succession. A runs chart is an effective visual aid in identifying trends occurring over time. It helps you determine the type of variation from which the process might be suffering: common cause or special cause.

Common cause variation is a factor that impacts every possible outcome of the process. It poses the question, “What might have changed for the entire process?” Common cause variations guide your investigation toward possible changes you can make to the complete process design or workflow.

Special cause variation is a factor which impacts only certain instances of the output. It poses the question, “What might be different with some instances which is not the case with some others?” Special cause variations guide your investigation toward possible changes to the input or exceptional environmental changes.

Leverage the Right Tools.

Some of the tools available at this stage of the process make it possible for you to visualize the data. Other tools facilitate extensive discussions about factors leading to the outcome and resulting in the performance metric. Whatever analysis tools you use, keep in mind all the information that you gathered through previous DMAIC phases. All prior discussions from the Measure phase provide the framework to state these descriptions in measurable terms. Therefore, discussions in Analyze phase build onto that framework with additional connections from the findings.

Focus on Making a Big Impact.

The primary objective of the Analyze phase is to identify the factors which create the greatest influence on the measured result. In most cases, your resources are limited; therefore the project owner will want to implement available resources as efficiently as possible. Once you’ve determined which factors have the most impact, you can make changes to leverage your resources effectively.

As your project approaches the Improve phase, in which the ideas for solutions are discussed, the Analyze phase begins to shed light on solutions. You will uncover ways to eliminate the root causes of the issue. You must remain focused on the extensive interpretations of the current state so that you won’t be distracted by possibly off-the-mark solutions. Follow DMAIC , a consistently proven and successful step-by-step process, and you’ll incrementally move toward a solution.

photo credit: chemistry bottles with liquid inside via photopin (license)

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