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MU IMSE offers past, present, future IMSE students Lean Six Sigma certification

The Six Sigma certification is another way MU Engineering students who take the course make themselves more appealing to prospective employers, says Professor James Noble.

Lean Six Sigma is a quantitative approach to improving a process. It is applicable to any process for which there is data measuring performance, like a hospital admission process, a manufacturing process or how a bank processes loans.

James Noble, a professor in industrial and manufacturing systems engineering (IMSE) at the University of Missouri, said Lean Six Sigma can be applied to any process that has inherent variability, with a goal of reducing variability to achieve the performance objective.

If one were to apply Lean Six Sigma to an everyday process, like going to the bank, one would measure the wait times for customers and set a performance goal, such as a one-minute wait, for each customer. The variables that characterize the process would be assessed — for example, the type of transaction each customer makes — and would then be analyzed and based on the analysis improvements are generated to reduce customer wait time. One way to reduce the wait time, for instance, might be to have each customer fill out transaction forms before approaching the bank teller. The analysis of the influencing variables results in a more efficient process so that the performance goal is achieved.

In IMSE, the certification process includes both obtaining a required GPA in specific courses and taking a project-based course where students apply Lean Six Sigma techniques to improve a process in their workplace, a transit system, a family business, the parts to make a machine or a transaction at the bank. Anything that is a process with supporting data is fair game.

All students in the IMSE program receive the academic background to become Lean Six Sigma certified through their required courses, but only those who complete the extra project-based course complete the requirements for Lean Six Sigma Green Belt certification.

“Lean Six Sigma is not a new IE technique; rather it’s a framework for applying what we’re already trained to do,” Noble said, “It’s a natural outgrowth of what we already do.”

Six Sigma originated as a business improvement strategy in the 1970-1980s from researchers at Motorola. Mikel Harry, the “godfather” of Six Sigma studied the correlations between the manufacturing process and field life of a product. He developed a problem-solving method to analyze these processes, called MAIC (Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control), which would become the basis of Six Sigma. Later, a “D” (Define the problem) was added to the DMAIC method. Six Sigma has become the basis for process improvement in many organizations; the overall goal is for a process to be six deviations from the mean, or have a standard of 3.4 DPMO (3.4 Defects per Million Opportunities).

“It’s a great opportunity for past and current students to enhance their resume, and they come away with a methodology that helps make an impact where they work,” Noble said.

This is the second year IMSE has offered the Lean Six Sigma project course; four students have graduated with the certification.

“We had an alum that graduated three years ago who came back and did the project course to complete her certification because where she works values the Lean Six Sigma methodology,” Noble said.

Noble mentors the students throughout the project-based course. He said his favorite part about working with students during the certification process is seeing them bring together things they have learned into a coherent solving methodology.

“I enjoy seeing them have that ‘ah-ha’ moment,” Noble said.