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Dashboards drive six sigma success

by Lyndsay WiseMonday, August 17, 2009

Six Sigma initiatives originally started out with the goal of enhancing product quality and eliminating overall defects. Due to the success of countless initiatives, Six Sigma applications are now applied more broadly to include other products and services based organizations as well as organizations that are committed to continuous process improvement. Various methodologies exist to support these initiatives and help organizations maintain high success levels. Even when applying a methodology, however, the processes and tasks required to make any initiative succeed should be supported by technology that can provide ongoing measuring, monitoring, and supporting functions.

The use of dashboards to ensure accurate tracking of project status and proactive detection of defects make it a powerful tool to use within a Six Sigma environment.   Therefore, it becomes important to choose the right dashboard to ensure the organization’s strategic goals and commitment to quality is aligned.

Dashboard use and six sigma benefits

Although dashboards can be widely applied for many purposes, when looking at Six Sigma initiatives there is one area that offers the most value. Dashboards used by organizations help define specific targets that are aligned with the organization’s strategic goals. In addition, KPIs support overall goals across the organization and align themselves well with Six Sigma initiatives. Although other uses and benefits exist for organizations taking advantage of dashboards, for those looking to manage their quality and costs – whether products, services, or internal processes – the ability to align defined goals to overall quality enables organizations to retain their competitive advantage in a fast changing environment and adhere to Six Sigma methodologies.

The more KPIs are aligned with an organization’s overall goals, the more likely the dashboard monitoring these metrics will be a valuable asset to the business.  This means identifying the cause and effect relationships, interrelationships between departments, processes and people, assigned responsibilities, etc. For instance, in this context, the use of operational or continuous metrics monitoring takes the benefits of dashboards one step further.  With operational monitoring, organizations can update information intra daily and identify how performance is coming along mid-process as opposed to once daily or after a process is complete.  For instance, manufacturers can identify success levels of parts creation over time or within the overall process by measuring completion rates at specific intervals. This allows them to identify discrepancies over time and enables them to identify potential quality issues proactively.

Dashboards that enable these activities can help define roles and responsibilities, metrics and how to use metrics to improve overall performance. Put together, what this means is that simply using a dashboard isn’t enough. It is what an organization does with it that counts; how it aligns its actions to its goals. To properly get technology and process improvement methodologies working together it is essential to utilize dashboards as an integral part of the organization’s Six Sigma initiative.

Choosing the right dashboard

Once the benefits of dashboards are defined and organizations see the fit between dashboard use and process improvement initiatives, it becomes important to understand what options exist as the overall functionality available can complement any of these initiatives.  In general, there are two options regarding how to deploy dashboards. 

One is through a web-based interface whereby end users can log in and access their dashboards and analyze their data via a Web browser. Web-based dashboards offer end users the ability to access information through a centralized portal, collaborate and share reports and dashboard views, and conduct in-depth analysis. These dashboards can hold an infinite amount of information within several tabs allowing end users to access as much or as little information they require to make informed analysis.  Examples of Web-based dashboard solutions include those offered by InetSoft, Visual Mining, and Corda.

The other option is to have the dashboard located on the desktop so that end users have constant access to up to date metrics while performing day-to-day tasks.  Desktop dashboards enable information to be updated in real-time and disseminated to all end users at the same time.  They also give end users the opportunity to go about their day-to-day tasks while increasing the visibility of essential KPIs at the same time. Vendors that play in the desktop dashboard category include Klipfolio and SiSense.

In addition to where the dashboard resides, the way it is delivered can also vary, such as with on-premise versus a software as a service model. Organizations should identify what best suits their environment and how they want to monitor and share information and manage metrics across the organization, and whether they want to develop these dashboards in-house or have them offered as a service.

Conclusion

Six Sigma can offer organizations a structured way of improving overall quality.  The use of dashboards to monitor, measure, and control the processes associated with Six Sigma offer organizations the ability to attach quality and process improvement initiatives to overall strategic goals that align people, processes, and information to one another.  Dashboard use for Six Sigma gives organizations an added advantage that Six Sigma initiatives without.

About the Author

Lyndsay Wise is an industry analyst for business intelligence. For over seven years, she has assisted clients in business systems analysis, software selection and implementation of enterprise applications. Lyndsay is the channel expert for BI for the Mid-Market at B-eye-Network and conducts research of leading technologies, products and vendors in business intelligence, marketing performance management, master data management, and unstructured data. She can be reached at lwise@wiseanalytics.com. And please visit Lyndsay's blog at myblog.wiseanalytics.com.


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