What Is a Six Sigma Value Added Activity and Why Is It Important?

The entire movement towards quality management is the issue of making business processes efficient. While it originated in the United States, its most famous application happened in Japan, and resulted in an American business crisis in the 19 70s. Manufacturing companies needed to learn how to identify a Six Sigma value added activity and include in production.

Two pioneers in the field were Doctors Deming and Juran, statisticians who worked for the war department during World War II. After the war, Japan realized their products were looked at as cheap trinkets of low value that could even be dangerous. Having heard of the two Americans, the Japan Union of Scientists and Engineers invited them to come and help Japan rebuild.

Doctor Deming told the men that if they would follow the plan they would provide to the letter, they could turn their production around within five years. The Engineers would later recall they did not believe him, but had little choice but to agree. To the surprise of both, the metamorphosis took only four years.

What these two pioneers had done was build into the production capability two things, implement statistical process control to ensure measurements were part of every step of the process and constantly examine the processes for improvement opportunities. That was the physical part of the changes pursuing production efficiency to the sixth standard deviation or ‘Six Sigma’ to virtually eliminate defects. Since most factories were destroyed, building in the new processes from the start was easier than starting with an old factory.  The process was fully described and coined by the Motorola Company in the United States in the 1980s.

On the leadership side, the emphasis was in working with the customer from before the production even begins. Instead of the traditional method, with companies making products the best they can and presenting them to consumers, the idea was to find out what the consumer wanted first. This is not as easy as it first sounds, and it is certainly not intuitively obvious.

It is sometimes difficult to get customers to explain what they want, because often they do not actually know what they want. Doctors have a similar problem, patients know they hurt and want to feel well; the doctor must work hard to identify the exact problem. There are various tools in the Six Sigma Toolbox that can lean the way to measuring customer wants.

Automobiles are a good example; there were things the customer obviously needed - wheels, engines, all the pieces that make the car function, but there is more that makes a difference in customer choices. By providing vehicles to consumers and carefully evaluating their responses to the car and questions, a company can incrementally improve upon a product or design a new one that customers will be excited and happy to purchase.

A Six Sigma value added activity is anything the customer is willing to pay for, and that is the moving definition of quality.  By increasing value added activities to your business’ day to day operations, and decreasing the non-valued added activities, a highly desired and efficient product or service can be created.  This is key to giving customers what they want, and the basis to everything the Six Sigma Methodology stands for.


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