Six Sigma tools for real time problem solving

Six Sigma projects can last months, sometimes years, depending on the project’s scope.  These projects are designed to break down large, complex tasks into small components for analysis.  From that analysis, companies can work to improve their processes and eliminate excess process waste.

This timeframe works well for large organizations, like publicly traded companies, since they have the time and resources to dedicate to a long-timeframe project.  For smaller organizations however, time isn’t always on your side.  Small companies, and even sole proprietors, can benefit from tools used during a Six Sigma project, but they rarely have the luxury of time.  Small businesses need to be nimble and adapt to change quickly.

Kaizen projects often fill the role of a project for small companies.  These projects, or sprints, are often completed in 7 to 10 days and use many of the same tools that larger projects employ.  These projects help you improve a particular process or problem in a faster timeline.


You need immediate results

What if a one-week timeline is still too long?  What if you need results immediately?  Occasionally businesses will face a crisis, like a sudden drop in business or a problem with their supply line.  They may not have a week or two to run a proper project when this happens.  When that happens, companies can use the tools of Six Sigma to gain real-time insight into their problems and work to fix them immediately.  But what tools should you use?  Let’s look at three tools that will help you with real-time results:

Voice of the Customer

Voice of the customer (VOC) is one of the critical elements of a successful Six Sigma project.  Understanding your customer opinions (voice) about your product or service will help you determine where problems can arise.  If you need real-time information about a product or service, you can measure this information at the point of sale or time of service.  Don’t wait to send out a survey; ask the customer at the moment of service and record those answers for analysis later.

By monitoring customer responses in real-time, you may be able to spot issues for correction quickly.  Perhaps one of your employees is being rude to customers, or your store is dirty.  You may not be aware of the issue, but your customers will bring it to your attention.

Root Cause Analysis

The root cause of many problems can be determined using different tools.  One of the fastest is a process called 5W2H.  This stands for 5 Why and 2 How.  To use this method, you ask seven questions when you encounter a problem: Who?  What?  Why?  When?  Where?  How?  How Many?

  • 5W2H consists of:
    • Who? Individuals/customers associated with problem
    • What? The problem statement or definition
    • When? Date and time problem was identified
    • Where? Location of complaints (area, facilities, customers)
    • Why? Any previously known explanations
    • How? How did the problem happen (root cause), and how will the problem be corrected (corrective action)?
    • How Many? Size and frequency of the problem


Much like VOC, 5W2H data can be collected in real-time by asking the associated questions at the problem point.  This is especially useful for supply chain and logistical issues since you may not have eyes on the process.

5S and Visual Controls

5S is a process to improve workplace organization.  It can be deployed quickly and often fixes problems in real-time.  It is particularly effective in industries like manufacturing, where tools can be easily misplaced.  It can do more than just fix issues however, it can also give you real-time information how effective your processes are.  A/B testing can be conducted by implementing 5S at one workstation and leaving the others as-is.  This allows you to watch processes in real-time as employees conduct normal business operations.  If the 5S setup is more effective, you can convert the remaining workstations.

These three tools are a starting point for real-time analysis, but they are far from the only practical tools for analyzing processes.  Gaining a Six Sigma Master Black Belt allows you to learn about these tools so you can deploy them in your work environment.