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CE Spotlight: Six Sigma

Six_Sigma_FlowchartYou probably already know that Six Sigma training can provide you and your company with the foundation to systemically identify and eliminate process defects and improve the bottom line….but do you know how it helped the Chicago Cubs become the 2016 World Series Champions?

In this CE Spotlight, we talk with Jennifer Prowell about her recent experience with the Six Sigma Yellow Belt course at Harper CE. She tells us about learning the Six Sigma processes, their benefits, and how she plans to apply them to improve her department…and, of course, the link to the Cubbies.

What attracted you to the course?

I have been interested in Six Sigma Methodology since being an undergraduate, believing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I believe that if companies had adopted the methodology when Bill Smith and Bob Galvin developed Six Sigma Quality Improvement Techniques in 1986, our industries would not have had to experience the economic downturn that we ultimately found ourselves in 2009. Motorola, GE and Honeywell documented more than $16 Billion in savings as a result of their Six Sigma Methodology efforts. As Geoff Tenant described in his book “Six Sigma SPC (Statistical Process Control)”, it is more than just a quality system like TQM (Total Quality Management) or ISO (International Organization for Standardization) – both of which I studied in college. Tenant states, “Six Sigma can be seen as: a vision; a philosophy; a symbol; a metric; a goal; a methodology;” and I couldn’t agree with him more.  (Laux, Daniel, T., 2016)

Have you taken other Six Sigma courses in the past?

I always told myself after I earned my MBA in Business Administration at Robert Morris Graduate School of Management, I would become certified in Six Sigma. After taking the traditional project management, statistics and data analysis courses offered at the university, I found myself wanting to learn more. However, I was unable to afford the cost of a Six Sigma Certification at traditional certification service providers who offered the course. Needless to say, when I saw Harper College was offering courses in Six Sigma, I was excited and very thankful that the institution was giving this opportunity to learn a skill that can revolutionize business excellence.

I am a firm believer in continuous improvement and Six Sigma has been successful in eliminating waste, increasing productivity and profits. The ability to facilitate potential new business models with Six Sigma has scarcely been realized. If our industries are going to remain globally competitive, we need to develop strategies and tools that are not just for operational efficiency but are company-wide strategies that have a direct impact on the bottom line.  We will need to continually challenge the thinking of executives, managers and employees. This is one of the benefits that Six Sigma facilitates.

Would you recommend this course to others? 

If you are interested in becoming a game-changer in your industry, I would definitely recommend taking the courses. Six Sigma tools can be utilized across all industries. My industry, higher education, has access to a vast amount of public big data that can be used to benchmark students’, professors’ and curriculum’s performance against like colleges and universities, and can yield new insights into potential improvement.  There are many areas in which colleges and universities could benefit from making use of analytics that include: increasing retention; providing better feedback to students; capturing attendance data; and enhancing teaching and learning. (Jenvey, 2016)

What was your favorite in-class activity?

My favorite activities were hypothesis testing: A statistical test that is used to determine whether there is enough evidence in a sample of data to infer that a certain condition is true for an entire population. It compares two opposing hypotheses about a population; the null and the alternative.  The null hypothesis is the statement being tested or (no difference) and the alternative hypothesis is the statement (yes difference) and it is true. Based on the sample data, the test determines whether or not to reject the null hypothesis using a p-value significance level usually .05.  If the null hypothesis is equal to or lower than the significance level of .05, then in the words of Professor Gaffney, “if the p is low the null must go” (yes difference).  There are many questions hypothesis testing can answer about populations that are too large to sample.

My other favorite activity was the Root Cause Analysis that doesn’t involve any statistical tools such as hypothesis testing or regression analysis; it simply involves asking why until you find the issue behind a problem. It is sometimes called the “5 whys.”

What was the important thing(s) you learned?

There are many things I learned from the course, but if I had to choose one thing that I considered the most important it would be to “Let the data do the talking.” There are many tools in Six Sigma that can take the vast amount of information we have access to and tell a story of how to solve a problem, improve a process or even change a process completely for optimal efficiency. If we listen to the data, it will shout out a solution or answer or reveal the best course of action.

How do you plan to use the Six Sigma Techniques? 

I am currently on the Stewardship Goal Team at Harper College and our mission is to review initiatives for student success.  I have no doubt that Six Sigma Methodology will be a valuable tool in assessing the initiatives value and sustainability. I am extremely honored to be collaborating with administrators, faculty and staff across departments, and intend to use the methodology to evaluate the data collected for initiatives that can be institutionalized with more structured pathways that can guide student’s progress toward completion.

So tell us, what’s the link between Six Sigma and professional baseball?

Professor Gaffney gave the best explanation as to how analytics can be used to improve any aspect of our society by explaining how Theo Epstein took the Boston Red Sox to their First World Series win in 86 years in 2004 and now the Chicago Cubs in 2016, after 108 years, using analytics. It was not to recruit the best high-money players, but rather the consistent and steady hitters to formulate a championship team. It was phenomenal how he drafted his team and worked his statistics in what he called the “Geek Department” to break the so called “Curse” on The Chicago Cubs.

Works Cited:


About the Instructor: Tim Gaffney’s thirty-five-year career as an industrial engineer has prepared him well to share his business process improvement experiences through teaching and consulting. He finds the most rewarding part of teaching is not only that his students benefit from his courses, but that they have fun and enjoy the learning process. He leads a series of courses covering Six Sigma-based process improvement methodology, designed to develop students’ knowledge and skills of improving processes for their customers through data and analysis.

When students tell me they want to learn Six Sigma skills to help them prepare for more challenging positions, it always motivates me.

Click here to learn about Gaffney’s Six Sigma courses as well as the available Six Sigma Digital Badges.

Click here to review the Six Sigma Learning Paths.

RSVP Six Sigma Info Session, Tuesday, August 21, 6:30-7:30 p.m. or Friday, August 24, 8:30-9:30 a.m., Bldg W, Room W219


1 Comment

  1. […] here for an in-depth look at our Six Sigma training, as experienced by a former […]

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