The first step on any Six Sigma project is to decide whether the issue under consideration is right for the application of tools used in the methodology. There is even a method for determining what should become a Six Sigma project, a helpful tool especially if it is the organization’s first such project.

But once an organization decides to pursue a project, that’s where complications can set in. As famed poet T.S. Eliot once noted, “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.”

A SIPOC diagram can ensure no shadow falls on your project.

The acronym SIPOC stands for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs and Customer. Using information from these five areas creates a process map that gives a high-level overview of a Six Sigma project.

Ultimately, it’s part of an approach that leads an organization to more efficient and less wasteful business operations.

Why SIPOC Diagrams Are Important

A SIPOC diagram is a form of process mapping. Process mapping is a term used to describe the task of putting a project’s goals and, in some cases, detailed steps on how those goals will be accomplished. It’s a simple but effective method for ensuring every project team member – as well as executive leadership – are on the same page.

It also offers an overview of a project at a glance.

In the case of SIPOC, the resulting diagram provides a high-level process map, the sort used by leadership to quickly explain a project and provide common reference points for all team members. It also can help identify problems and isolate areas that are not needed or add little value.

SIPOC Definitions

So, what do the five areas of the diagram include? Here are short explanations.

  • Supplier – The provider of inputs into a process
  • Input – Materials, information and other resources needed to complete a process
  • Process – Structured steps used to convert inputs into outputs
  • Outputs – Products or services resulting from the process
  • Customer – Recipient of the outputs

SIPOC Diagram Example

Remember, the key goal of a SIPOC diagram is to identify all the relevant steps in a project from the outset. Keep in mind also that a core part of the diagram is quantifying inputs – and who supplies them – as well as the process needed to transform them to outputs.

Here’s an Input-Output Model showing how inputs are transformed to outputs. It’s an effective way of identifying the major steps needed to transform inputs to outputs.

Here’s an example of how a SIPOC diagram works. We’ll use a classic of early entrepreneurship, the lemonade stand.

Supplier: Grocery store, home store, customer requests

Inputs: Lemon juice, water, sugar, ice, cups, stirring spoon, large pitcher, wood from home store, money jar, a busy pedestrian area, people to operate stand

Process: Construct lemonade stand, combine ingredients to make lemonade in pitcher, take customer orders, pour lemonade from pitcher to cup

Outputs: Chilled glass of lemonade, money placed in jar

Customer: Thirsty pedestrians

Of course, another aspect of the lemonade stand is whatever the kids plan to buy with the money. That could range from a new bicycle to toys for the family pet (in which case, Fido also is ultimately a customer).

That’s a very simple example of how the diagram works, but it gives a good idea of how detailed to be in creating one. Every item used and process involved must be included. It’s just a matter of breaking it down into key components and finding a place for them within the diagram.

Consider applying a SIPOC diagram to your next project. And avoid the shadow.

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