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Improve Phase of Lean Six Sigma Project – A Beginner’s Guide

Improve phase is the fourth phase of Lean Six Sigma projects. Following are the deliverable of this phase:

  • Identify Solutions to overcome the impact of root causes
  • Refine Solutions (FMEA, Poka-Yoke)
  • Pilot Solutions
  • Statistically validate results

Identify Solutions to overcome the impact of root causes

For each of the root causes identified in the Analyze phase, the Lean Six Sigma Team uses an apt structured or unstructured brainstorming method to generate various alternatives to overcome the problem. These techniques may include Channeling, Anti-solutions, Analogy, Wishful thinking, Random word stimulus methods, etc.

SCAMPER is another popular method which can be used by the Six Sigma Green Belt to systematically improve the current process using any of the following methods: Simplify or Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to different use, Eliminate & Reduce.

If there are too many options that the team has identified, then a variety of solution screening methods can be used to select the best solution for implementation. These screening methods include NGT (Nominal Group Technique), N/3 Voting, Criteria Based Matrix (CBT), etc.

Proposed solutions can be a new process, technology change, policy changes, alterations of inputs, measurement system refinement, customer, employee or vendor education, etc. In such cases, either revised process map, future state value stream mapping,  etc., may need to be proceeded.

The solution that the team has selected should directly impact the CTQ of the project. Six Sigma Green Belt should validate this.

Refining the Solutions (FMEA, Poka-Yoke)

Before implementing solutions, the Six Sigma Green Belt needs to ensure that the proposed solutions are complete and well refined. This will ensure that there are no delays, rework during implementation, and the full impact on CTQ is derived. In order to do this, a tool called Failure Modes Effect Analysis (FMEA) is used. The main purpose of this tool is to assess all the risks involved with a solution, and how to mitigate them by refining the solution before implementation. Risk Priority Number (RPN) derived from FMEA helps in prioritizing the risks and acting on them in a systematic manner.

Mistake-proofing (Poka-Yoke, in Japanese) is a method used to ensure that the proposed solution doesn’t create additional defects or errors. This can be used in conjunction with FMEA.

Pilot Solutions

Now the solution is ready for pilot. The purpose of the pilot is to assess its impact in a control group setting. Based on the qualitative and quantitative results of the pilot, necessary alternations can be incorporated to the final solution. Six Sigma Green Belt should closely work with the process owners during pilot to understand ground realities and build ownership.

Statistically validate results

In Lean Six Sigma Projects, it is an important step to statistically validate the impact on CTQ (before implementation & after Implementation). Hypothesis tests like 2-t test, ANOVA, Chi-square tests, etc., are used to perform this statistical validation. These tests help to identify if the improvement is significant or marginal in nature. Six Sigma Green Belt should be able to select and perform appropriate tests using statistical softwares.

On successful completion of these deliverable and formal Improve tollgate review, the Lean Six Sigma project team is ready to move to the Control phase.   Next >>>


FMEAFailure Modes & Effects Analysis (FMEA) is a tool that NASA uses to ensure its project risks and product quality are met.  This concept is widely applicable across all industries and in various scenarios to identify, prioritize and mitigate risks. FMEA can be used in following scenarios such as Process Improvement, Process Monitoring and day-to-day management, Redesign/Creation of New processes and New product launch.





Is it right for you?

  • Team members of improvement projects
  • Process owners/Departmental in-charge
  • Six Sigma project champions
  • Risk Management Professionals

What will you learn

  • Definition & Elements of Process Risk
  • Managing Six Sigma Process Risks
  • Tools Used in Risk Management, Definition & Approach to FMEA
  • Definition of Failure Modes, Effects, Cause, Current Controls
  • Prioritizing Risks, Definition of Risk Priority Number & Calculation
  • Definition of Severity & Severity Rating Scale
  • Definition of Occurrence & Occurrence Rating Scale
  • Definition of Detection & Detection Rating Scale
  • Risk Mitigation Strategies & Application of FMEA
  • Definition of DFMEA

Features of the Course

  • 1 chapter with 40 mins of self-learning FMEA content
  • Interactive audio-visual medium with ample manufacturing and service industry examples
  • Interactive self-assessment quiz for every chapter


30 days access to 1 chapter of online FMEA course content


30 days access to 1 chapter of online FMEA course content is Rs.700 + ST

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Risk Mitigation Strategies for FMEA in Six Sigma Project

FMEA is performed to refine a solution just before its implementation, or at the beginning of a project; to investigate if there is a possibility for any anomalies or risks arising during the process.  In simple words, FMEA is a plan to lessen or eradicate risks associated with the process or proposed solutions. It is not only applicable in a Six Sigma project, but also in any IT project management and general purpose risk analysis/risk management.

Any anomaly or element can be considered as risk depending on the severity of its impact, frequency of occurrence of its cause, or the incapability of the control system to detect a cause. A risk rating called Risk Priority Number (RPN) can be used as a yardstick to prioritize and proactively mitigate risks; and to create the required focus within the organization to deal with risks. It is calculated as the product of the severity of the effect, into the occurrence of the root cause, into the detection of root cause.

  • Severity is a rating that represents the seriousness of the effect(s) of the potential failure mode on customers or business – the more the severity, higher is the rating.
  • Occurrence is a rating that represents the likelihood or frequency of occurrence of a specific cause – the more often it occurs, higher is the rating.
  • Detection is a rating that represents the ability of the current control mechanism to detect or report occurrence of the cause – lower the ability to detect a cause, higher is the rating.

While the overall objective is to mitigate risks with high RPN, there can be multiple different strategies to do so. We can use 4 such strategies in the following order.

The 4 strategies for FMEA that can help you quickly reduce the overall risk rather than flounder.

Strategy 1 – Reduce the occurrence of cause

In a FMEA, consider all the high RPN items, and select the ones with high Occurrence rating. If the occurrence rating is high, then by reducing the frequency of occurrence of cause, you will reduce the number of times failure occurs. This is the most apt and best strategy to adapt as it directly addresses the core issue. However, situations may warrant you to consider other strategies.

Strategy 2 – Reduce impact of failure mode

In a FMEA, if we don’t have high occurrence ratings, then consider all the high RPN items and select the ones with high Severity rating. These are the ones that will create maximum negative impact on a customer, their business, and thus in fact on your business too.

By reducing the impact of the effect, you can show the immediate visible impact to customers. Particularly, if there have been escalations from customers, then this strategy will be best suited.

Strategy 3 – Improve the ability to detect risk

In a FMEA, when above strategies aren’t relevant, consider all the high RPN items, and select the ones with high Detection rating. Improving the detection mechanisms means that we have timely information to prevent the cause, or at least contingency, or mitigation.

Conventional risk planning usually focuses on this strategy as first priority.

Strategy 4 – Combination of all three strategies

If all three ratings are high & none of the above can be applied in isolation, then see if they can be combined & applied.

By following the above 4 strategies in a FMEA, we can systematically and quickly reduce risk in any process or solution in Six Sigma Project.