Companies are continually working to improve performance, quality and efficiency in order to achieve optimum growth and customer satisfaction. However, every now and then, most organizations need to stop and examine their procedures to identify and subsequently remove errors and inefficiencies impeding the progress of business goals.

Two common quality improvement methodologies are Six Sigma and Business Process Management (BPM). While each method on its own can offer several benefits and opportunities, they are executed very differently. Both work to achieve a similar goal – improving business quality and performance – but each take a different route to get there.

But when Six Sigma is applied in accordance with Business Process Management, businesses can gain an advantage by having both methods work side-by-side toward an overall goal. However, in order to properly integrate the two approaches, organizations should first understand how each methodology works.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a process improvement methodology designed to improve processes by decreasing variability and defects. The term Sigma is used to describe the quality of a process. The goal is to improve every process to a “Six Sigma” level – meaning 3.4 defects for every one million opportunities – by eliminating waste to produce stable and predictable results. To implement Six Sigma in existing processes, businesses can use a five-step model called DMAIC.

DMAIC stands for:

  • Define the problem and the project goals
  • Measure current processes and collect data
  • Analyze data to find the cause of the process errors
  • Improve the process
  • Control the process to help ensure the problem does not reoccur

In a business workplace, Six Sigma focuses on improving one part of an organization at a time, essentially identifying broken pieces and fixing them to improve quality and efficiency. Six Sigma is valuable when trying to improve departmental processes, but it may struggle when confronted with correcting large-scale problems.

When organizations want to incorporate a process change throughout the entire company, using the BPM method is typically the best course of action.

What is BPM?

Business Process Management is a holistic management approach which focuses on improving all processes throughout an organization. Rather than focusing on a specific area, like Six Sigma, BPM uses a cross-functional approach which aims to improve efficiency across all areas by implementing business process automation and management driven by human processes and interaction. This method can allow businesses to align all processes, optimize work flow and improve performance.

While the mission of Six Sigma is described as process improvement, the focus of BPM is process management. It accomplishes this through a five-step model called DMEMO.

DMEMO stands for:

  • Design: Identify existing processes in need of change and create a plan for improvement.
  • Model: During the planning phase, design changes and combinations of variables can be tested in “what if” scenarios to determine their effectiveness.
  • Execute: When the model has been completed, the execution phase puts the most effective plan into action.
  • Monitor: After execution, processes are monitored and measured for performance.
  • Optimize: Once process data has been measured, the final step is to identify any additional problems, while continually working to improve the process for future use.

Utilizing BPM tools can help institute a change and redesign in process and help determine the appropriate course of action that improves performance, aligns all processes and potentially saves time and money for the organization.

Comparing DMAIC & DMEMO

When Six Sigma and BPM are joined together, they can help improve the overall quality and efficiency of processes, as well as ensure all areas are covered. For example, Six Sigma addresses issues as they relate to a specific process or department. When DMAIC is used, it may fix the problem in one area, but create several problems in another. BPM can help alleviate those underlying issues because it incorporates cross-functional processes throughout the organization as a whole, rather than a specific area.

In comparison, BPM can automate and manage processes, but lacks a statistical method like Six Sigma to properly define areas of weakness and opportunity.

When applied together, the methods of DMAIC and DMEMO can help businesses define areas for improvement, automate and manage processes and help companies save time, money and additional resources. The key is understanding how to integrate the two methodologies into a company setting.

Integrating Six Sigma & BPM

The following steps may be used to integrate BPM with Six Sigma:

  1. Six Sigma may first be applied to help improve faulty processes. Then, processes can be automated and managed with BPM.
  2. Teams should focus on developing better cross-departmental collaboration.
  3. Deploy Six Sigma for measurements, statistical analysis and the disciplined approach to resolving the problems.
  4. Deploy BPM to measure and monitor the performance of processes using measures determined by the Six Sigma methodology.
  5. Apply BPM as the methodology to link improvement and process design efforts directly to the management system and to organizational strategy.
  6. Use Six Sigma to quantify the critical-to-quality issues within the organization. DMAIC may help businesses apply problem-solving and statistical tools to achieve optimization.

When businesses effectively apply Six Sigma and BPM into the workplace, they can reap many benefits, including cost savings, process automation and improved quality and performance. In addition, here are five more benefits businesses may observe when Six Sigma and BPM are fully integrated:

Process Improvement & Business Ownership

Six Sigma on its own is designed to help identify and improve processes. When BPM is integrated, together they can help speed up real-time execution of processes by automating and managing them to help simplify and increase production.

Business owners can also have more control over processes. A Six Sigma-BPM integration uses each of the five-step phases in unison, meaning processes are continually being defined, analyzed, monitored, improved, optimized, controlled and reported. This can help simplify procedures, limit mistakes and ensure all processes are being managed appropriately.

In addition to eliminating errors, enhancing techniques and improving time management, the combination of BPM and Six Sigma may improve elements of company practices such as: inputs and outputs, documentation, failure and statistical analysis, testing, feedback, evaluation and quality assurance.

Increased Speed & Agility

The law of evolution states that only the strong survive. However, in business, survivors are typically those who can adapt quickly and effectively to change. When change occurs, it can be difficult to develop new strategies that are productive, timely and cost-efficient. However, with Six Sigma and BPM, these actions can be made easier.

As Six Sigma works to continually improve processes, BPM helps manage them as well as track work and monitor performance. When applied strategically, BPM helps provide the agenda for change through its process and workflow models.

BPM uses automation to simplify processes and adapt to change. Then, Six Sigma works to continuously improve each process on a company-wide scale to maintain speed and agility. This partnership can help companies capitalize on change, as well as sustain optimization.

Better Approach to Problem Solving

Six Sigma focuses on resolving highly specific problems, such as one faulty process at a time. This technique can be beneficial because DMAIC can provide a well-defined set of procedures that can help complete the task in the most efficient way. However, Six Sigma on its own tends to fix one or two pieces of the problem at a time, rather than focusing on the big picture. That’s where BPM comes in.

BPM coordinates business processes between people and data collected to create contextual information, so business leaders can make well-researched, informed decisions. BPM looks at the big picture, but it can struggle fixing one specific problem at a time.

But when there is cohesiveness between the two methods, they can complement each other in many ways. Six Sigma works to remove all the unnecessary tasks or wastes associated with fixing the issue, while making sure all aspects of the problem are understood. Meanwhile, BPM works to simplify the problem solving process by applying Six Sigma techniques on a large-scale basis.

Patches Weaknesses

On their own, each of the methodologies may be subject to weakness. For example, Six Sigma works on improving specific functions through the collection and analysis of data, but rarely takes into account how to synchronize processes outside of its scope.

In addition, Six Sigma may struggle to deliver rapid improvement on a company level because it uses manual processes to make adjustments. This can work well when fixing individual areas, but without BPM to help provide long-term sustainable change through the use of automated and managed processes, Six Sigma may be limited by a narrow focus.

On the other hand, BPM and Six Sigma can patch areas of optimization that each methodology falls short of. BPM struggles to quantify the analytics of complex process improvement, instead addressing areas from a holistic point of view. However, Six Sigma can help provide the statistics to define opportunities for growth and improvement, while ensuring business processes are stable and predictable.

Together, they are able to compensate for each other’s limitations and deliver products that are quick, effective, flexible, regulated and sustainable.

Higher Return on Investment (ROI)

Generally, if a business earns a return on investment, the project is considered a success. The benefit of Six Sigma and BPM is that they can be adopted into many different industries and business environments, and can help provide lasting improvement in many areas.

Six Sigma can be applied to a variety of industries including manufacturing, business offices, healthcare facilities and financial institutions. Likewise, BPM can be implemented in financial, telecommunications, healthcare, insurance and government sectors, to name a few.

Six Sigma and BPM don’t have to be separate entities. Although their focus and tactics may be different, their collective methods can help organizations eliminate errors, improve quality and productivity, and optimize, manage and control processes more efficiently.

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