The Improve Phase

The Improve Phase is the fourth phase in the Six Sigma methodology. This is the phase where all the work you have done so far in your project can come together and start to show some success. All the data mining and analysis that has been done will give you the right improvements to make to your processes.

Tasks performed in the Improve Phase
This phase starts with the creation of an improvement implementation plan. In order to create the implementation plan, you need to gather up all the conclusions that have been formed through the analysis that you have done. Now that you know what improvements need to be made, you have to figure out what you need to do in order to implement them.

Some improvements are fairly easy to implement. For example, if you found that a wash temperature of 35 degrees Celsius is the best setting to use to avoid the shrinkage of the jeans coming out of your production line, this would probably just require somebody to push a button and change the settings of the wash. This can be shown as just one step in the implementation plan.

However, you may have an improvement which requires your supplier to treat the raw material slightly differently. This would require you to first talk to the supplier and make them understand why the changes are required. You may need to negotiate new prices. Then you may need to test their samples to verify that the product meets your new requirements. And then you can start ordering the new raw material. This could be a 3 or 4 step process in the implementation plan.

Once you know all the tasks that you need to do, you can go ahead and create the implementation plan. This should include the task, dates, responsible people, and any other fields that you think may be helpful to ensure the tasks can done in the most efficient manner. The next step is to go out and implement the improvements, making sure you follow the implementation plan as closely as possible.

In the Improve Phase, you may also spend some time fine tuning or "tweaking" processes. One tool used to do this is called Design of Experiments (DOE). Especially useful in manufacturing industries, DOE is a form of "active" data collection. Most of the data collection you have done in the Analyze Phase would be forms of "passive" data collection.

Passive data collection is when you do not do anything to change the process. You just collect data on the process and measure its inputs and outputs. You do this while just letting the process do whatever it does normally under normal circumstances and characteristics. Basically, you do not touch the process…you simply collect data on what is happening day to day.

Active data collection is when you actually go in and change the characteristics of the process so that you can collect data specifically under certain conditions. It is like saying, "let me change one or two of the inputs and see what happens to the output." When you do this, especially with an advanced tool like DOE, you can get a lot of information about a process with just a few data points.

Collecting data on the different combinations and permutations of the inputs of the process and then applying DOE analysis on it will usually give you a very clear idea of what setting all of the critical inputs need to be at and how any variation in any of them will affect your output. You can then "tweak" and optimize using these settings by the end of the Improve Phase.

Once you have implemented all the improvements, it is time to see if they actually work. This is what you will be doing in the next and final phase.

Some of the tools used in the Improve phase…
Implementation plan, DOE, Lean principles, Value Stream Mapping , Resource planning

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