While the principle behind the Six Sigma concept is a very laudable one, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution to everything everywhere. The reason why Six Sigma was born on the manufacturing floor was that it was possible to control all the variables in this isolated universe. When it comes to applying Six Sigma principles to the logistics and shipping chain of an enterprise, it needs to be recognized that it is not a magic bullet that is going to fix everything that is wrong-- but it sure doesn’t hurt to try. Six Sigma can indeed rationalize the process a great deal.
Pretty much by definition, the idea behind Six Sigma is to improve processes through vigilant observation, statistical analysis, rigorous retraining and constant attention to detail. The goal is of course to reduce errors to the point of virtually undetectable throughout the entire process. By perfecting every single link of the chain and strengthening it to the maximum degree allowable, the hope is that incidental glitches can be smoothed over through the efficient operation of the rest of the organization.
The needed statistical analysis cannot really commence until a sufficient amount of data is gathered that will allow one to reach what are at least preliminary conclusions on how to proceed forward. Probably the easiest way to attack this problem is through surveys and reports received from the end user of the product-- the customer who ordered delivery of one thing or another-- and then institute a preliminary set of new procedures and standards based on feedback.
Another valuable input in the process comes from querying the operators of the system as it currently runs. They will certainly have a lot to say on how things could be made to work better. Not all their suggestions as to improvements may prove practical, but their ability to analyze current weaknesses is unsurpassed.
This is the key concept of any Six Sigma program. You want to figure out what you can do better. Once that is implemented, you will want to reassess and see what additional steps can be taken. The process repeats as it attacks big problems in the first rounds and then narrows the focus down to working on refining everything again and again until the goal of 99.999999 percent satisfaction is reached.
The one caveat that needs to be faced when implementing Six Sigma into shipping procedures is that there are a lot of external factors that can affect shipping which are beyond the control of the shipper. Weather-related factors play a large part in fouling up shipping schedules. Six Sigma can ameliorate these delays by reducing their impact to the lowest degree possible but it can never eliminate them entirely. Just-in-time inventory procedures can also introduce elements of external uncertainties when other parties fail to produce their part of the bargain as expected. With rigorous Six Sigma procedures in place, however, at least your company won’t be the one making excuses.
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