July 12, 2022

Digitizing Six Sigma And The Connected Worker

One of the most used lean manufacturing techniques and tools for process improvement is called Six Sigma. Originally formulated nearly 35 years ago to reduce defects in parts manufacturing, lean Six Sigma principles and methodologies found their way into different fields such as finance, healthcare, and more.  In this article, we’ll explore why the traditional paper-based Six Sigma methods are no longer optimal, the benefits of digitizing the Six Sigma methodology and the relationship between Connected Worker Platformsand proper Six Sigma implementation.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a system of tools  that aim to eliminate defects, streamline manufacturing process, and help companies achieve a near-perfect output. Six Sigma was invented in the late 1980s by Motorola. Quality engineers found that by getting to the root cause of errors, defects, or process variations, they could resolve the issue and also prevent it from happening again.

With properly executed Six Sigma not only does efficiency improves, but the quality of the product and delivery timelines are improved as well. However, implementing Six Sigma has traditionally been quite difficult. The reason for this is that companies had to rely on spreadsheets and paper-based processes for data collection that were time-consuming and prone to human error. The low quality of available data made the insights garnered during Six Sigma difficult to trust.  

With the advent of digital technologies, the manufacturing workspace is becoming more connected, making it easier to implement the Six Sigma approach due to an increase in verifiable job completion data and improved digital processes to track, analyze and iterate.

Low code/no code Connected Worker or Front Line Worker Platforms integrate workers into their environments through the devices they naturally use in the flow of work (laptops, phones, tablets and Smart Glasses). Each step of work execution is now time-stamped and verified with photographic evidence to prove step completion. This gives manufacturers the data they need to take Six Sigma to the next level. But before we get into how Connected or Front Line Worker platforms can help digitize Six Sigma, let’s look at the different phases involved in this important methodology.

5 Phases of Six Sigma

There are five phases of Six Sigma that can be understood by the DMAIC framework.

  • Define: Process boundaries are set and desired expectations are defined from a customer perspective.
  • Measure: The current performance of the process is measured to determine what is happening with the process.
  • Analyze: The process is then analyzed using the measured data and the source of the problem is determined.
  • Improve: A possible conclusion is assessed, designed, and tested.
  • Control: Changes are implemented in this stage.

Applying Six Sigma with Connected Worker

Let’s see how the Connected Worker and Six Sigma can work together during every single phase of the DMAIC framework.

  • Defining the Problem

It is important to determine the process boundaries and what the customer wants before moving forward. This begins with a discussion.  Paper-based processes by their nature create a lack of communication between the management team and the front line workers.  Job completion data disappears into siloed computer systems. Different shifts are often completely unaware of problems that occur when they aren't working.  Near misses become verbal warnings and aren't tracked. Management lacks real time visibility of their front line due to poor paper based data collection.  This means that they are unable to make informed decisions based on data. Instead defining the problem is based on hypothesis and intuition.

With Connected Worker Platforms, frontline employees can access the required data in real-time to identify, assess, and remove unnecessary steps that don’t add any value to the process. This feedback and real time job data is compiled and can anaylzed to show trends.  This wealth of data can help the problem be properly defined.  

  • Measuring Process Performance

The Connected Worker technology can help with the five key deliverables of the "measure" phase of DMAIC.

  1. Determining how the data will be collected: Connected Worker Platforms take care of data collection automatically. All jobs are executed through standardized digital workflows that keep track and time stamp each step that is completed.
  2. Creating an operational worksheet: Whatever metric you want to measure is recorded in the operation worksheet. Connected Worker handles this by asking what you will measure during solution implementation itself. This measurement is included in the workflow to make sure it is measured.
  3. Creating a data collection plan: Connected Worker Platforms also take care of the data collection plan. You’ll have access to all the process information as the system saves it by default or you can configure the information you want it to store as well. Data unrelated to the human element of operations such as Iot can be integrated.  
  4. Conducting a measurement system analysis (MSA): The next step of Measurement System Analysis is not needed since all data being collected by the system is already accurate and consistent.
  5. Baselining process data: Baselining process data is also available in a Connected Worker solution. All you have to do is ensure that the “process system” collects the information you defined at the first measurement.
  • Analyze the Process to Determine Root Causes

In a traditional, non-digital environment, teams discuss the possible reasons for a particular problem. This method is not only time consuming but can distract the teams from getting to the root cause of the problem. While discussion is important real time data is a much more accurate way to discover the root cause of a problem.

In a data-driven Connected Worker system, however, delays in a process can be easily identified by checking time-stamped operations in the system. Connected Worker Platforms also makes it easier to check whether an employee is following the steps as described or performing some tasks out of order, hence causing the issue at hand.  Since work execution is standardized by digital workflows, this means deviations can be easily tracked and eliminated.

  • Improve Process Performance

Improving process performance through manual methods can be error-prone and time-consuming. Process engineers can take a lot of time in identifying an issue and struggle to prescribe its resolution due to the lack of availability of process data. Implementing that resolution across the organization through manual training and paper-based SOPs can hold up other business processes and impact the bottom line. By definition, paper-based processes are static and difficult to change.

In a Connected Worker environment the process improvement team has access to real-time data and can quickly identify an issue, create a video to demonstrate the resolution procedure and share it seamlessly across the organization. The data analytics can then validate the impact of the improvement as well.

  • Control the Improved Process

The last step of the DMAIC framework aims to add control to a process and improve it permanently. Traditionally, it was done through manual settings like the Poka-Yoke process developed in the Toyota Production System. A poka-yoke is traditionally a physical measure put in place to prevent a process from being done out of order as some mechanical processes can prove dangerous when done outside the proper order.

In this modern setup, the poka-yoke steps can be easily added to the procedure using the Connected Worker software.  It would ensure “mistake-proofing” by compelling the frontline workers to execute a specific task before the instructions for the next step can be provided. It must be noted that you should still include a physical yoke if performing the task out of order will prove dangerous to the worker as digital yokes can simply be ignored by workers.

It should also be noted that Connected Worker Platforms standardize all process improvements to make sure that productivity gains become permanent. Controlling the improved process also includes maintaining high quality evidence for step completion such as taking photographs or videos and making sure that supervisors can see the finished job before it is marked completed.


Connected Worker platforms such as Atheer provide a suite of modern digital tools that your front line workers can leverage to implement the Six Sigma approach to their work.

Atheer's Front Line Worker Platform integrates front line workers with their environment through the devices they naturally use in the flow of work and provides them with detailed instructions, step-by-step guides, as well as remote expert assistance for executing a task or resolving any issue.

Modern manufacturing and industrial enterprises are incorporating Connected Worker Platforms and realizing great benefits such as improved OEE. These includes gains in Availability, Performance and Quality.

Don’t risk falling behind your competition. It’s time to digitally transform your frontline operations so that your teams can work faster, better, and safer.

Contact us now for a Demo of how Atheer can Augment your Frontline/digitize the Six Sigma approach.

Micki Collart

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