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7 stage improvement process

A seven stage process improvement process that came out of Japan has been widely adopted in many industries. The framework is the original TQC framework described by Ishikawa and on which other frameworks such as DMAIC are based.

1. Select project/theme

Understand the business context and identify possible improvement projects. Select one based on factors such as the potential gains, the alignment with business strategy and the feasibility of completing it with given resources and reasonable timescales.

Identify the project objectives. These typically take the form of 'change-quality-process', such as 'Increase return from the sales process' or 'Decrease defect arrival in the software development process'. Targets should not be set as this limits thinking -- the goal should be to improve as far as possible within time and resource constraints.

Identify the primary measures of improvement. Ideally these are already measured as this allows you to show trend changes. It may be necessary to delay the start of the project in order to gather sufficient initial measurements so you can demonstrate improvement later.

Set up the team to work on the project. This should include people with first-hand experience of the project in question as well as experts in the improvement methodology.

2. Grasp present status

Map out the process to clarify the detail and gain a common understanding.

Identify and implement detail measures that are be needed to show performance in critical areas of the process, such as defect classifications. 

3. Analysis

Plot measures on a Pareto Chart to show the critical items to improve. Use the highest Pareto bar as the 'effect' for a Cause-Effect Diagram and seek root causes.

If a solution does not become obvious, brainstorm for ways to address root causes and select one that gives the best balance of improvement and feasibility in implementation.

If possible, test the solution before implementation.

4. Implement corrective action

Implement the solution as planned. Avoid the temptation to make last minute 'intuitive' changes. Train people as necessary.

5. Check the effects

Measure the process using the metrics from steps 1 and 2. The Pareto bar targeted should significantly reduce.

If there has been a good improvement, then the next bar in the Pareto chart may be tackled. If not, then the analysis, solution and implementation should be reviewed to determine what went wrong and so fix it.

6. Standardize and control

Produce appropriate standard documentation and training for the improved process and re-integrate this back into business-as-usual management control.

7. Conclusions and future plans

Review the project, capturing and sharing lessons learned. Quantify as you can the savings or other benefits gained.

Archive material, celebrate the successes and close the project.

See also:

DMAIC, TOPS-8D, First seven tools, TQC, Process improvement

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