Targeting Perfection

Von Tracy Mayor

The methodology breaks down problem evaluation into five distinct steps: define, measure, analyze, improve and control. Practitioners call this rubric DMAIC for short, pronounced "de-MAY-ick." (Another approach, Design for Six Sigma, aims to remove defects from a process during the design phase. It's generally used only by organizations that have mastered the DMAIC methodology.)

At each of the DMAIC steps, organizations apply appropriate tools and measures from a wide variety of choices. Some, such as histograms, Pareto charts and Scatter diagrams, may already be familiar to IT. Others, which boast names such as Voice of the Customer or House of Quality, probably aren't, though CIOs report that these customer-centric tools are often the ones they find most enlightening.

Textron used the DMAIC process and the Voice of the Customer tool, among others, to tackle data-center sprawl. "We found we had over 80 data centers inside our company," says Ken Bohlen, Textron's executive vice president and chief innovation officer. "We used Voice of the Customer to canvass our customer base and ask some very specific questions," such as what critical information was stored where. By making customer needs the top priority, Textron has been able to consolidate or shut down 40 of the data centers, which were supporting legacy or underused applications. Bohlen says his long-term goal is to get down to five data centers.

While Six Sigma often helps organizations refine and streamline operations, the methodology can also be used to leverage existing systems for customer benefit. Chase Financial Services formed a Six Sigma team to take a look at the costs accrued by customer service representatives. The team recommended technology changes to the company's interactive voice-response system to allow customers to more easily find their own answers to routine questions, which in turn allowed service representatives to redirect their efforts into selling additional products.

Pioneer CIOs and industry watchers point to some best practices for reaping success from Six Sigma in IT.

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