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What is a SIPOC diagram (high level process map) and how is it used in Six Sigma?

A SIPOC diagram, also known as a high level process map is a tool used in the Six Sigma methodology.In order for your company to receive a Six Sigma certification, you must first complete a project that demonstrates your ability to follow the Six Sigma process and show that you understand how to use the tools.

The reason you would want to map your company's current process is so that you can put yourself in a position to be able to quickly define, document, analyze, prioritize and recommend solutions and follow-up plans to move the company toward its financial and customer-focused goals.

Before beginning a process improvement project, you must first identify all the relevant elements.You use a SIPOC Diagram to help define these.It is typically used at the Measure phase of the Six Sigma DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) process.A SIPOC diagram helps to identify the process outputs and the customers of those outputs so that the voice of the customer can be captured.

The SIPOC diagram includes a high-level map of the process that "maps out" its basic steps. Through the process, the suppliers (S) provide input (I) to the process. The process (P) your team is improving adds value, resulting in output (O) that meets or exceeds the customer (C) expectations.These can be better defined as:

  • Suppliers: Significant internal/external suppliers to the process.

  • Inputs: Significant inputs to the process.This would include things such as materials, forms, information, staff, etc.

  • Process: One block representing the entire process.

  • Outputs: Significant outputs to internal/external customers.This would be anything the business unit distributes. Frequency/timing is listed along with the output. Examples of outputs would be reports, ratings, products, documents, etc.

  • Customers: Significant internal/external customers to the process.This would include anyone who receives outputs. It is important to note that the customer must get the output directly from the business unit and does not necessarily have to be a user of the output. If the output is received from a third party, they are not customer s. Examples of customers could be managers, CEOs, boards of directors or other departments.

When creating a SIPOC diagram, your project team does not necessarily need begin at the beginning. In fact, the team should probably start in the process (P) phase and ask questions about the process itself.The team should label the process with the summaries of the most critical three to six steps.After analyzing the process, they should document what (O) is delivered to whom (C).The team can brainstorm and prioritize the most critical one to three customers.They then can identify, prioritize and align the outputs most significant to those customers.The next step would be to verify these initial assumptions with voice of the customer tools from the DMAIC process and/or designate as critical to quality, speed or cost.Lastly, the team can identify what input or information (I) is needed to perform that process and who provides that input (S). This brainstorming and prioritization of significant inputs finishes the activities around building a SIPOC.

In summary, there are three main reasons we many times begin the Six Sigma process by building a SIPOC diagram.These are:

1. A SIPOC diagram quickly and easily captures the current or "as is" state of the organization and processes in question.
2. The SIPOC exercise brings associates together in a non-threatening way that builds.
3. The SIPOC exercise allows the team to review all the processes in a way that they can easily see which next steps can be identified.

Steps To Complete The SIPOC Diagram
SIPOC diagrams are very easy to complete. Here are the steps you should follow:
1. Create an area that will allow the team to post additions to the SIPOC diagram. This could be a transparancy (to be projected by an overhead) made of the provided template, flip charts with headings (S-I-P-O-C) written on each, or headings written on post-it notes posted to a wall.
2. Begin with the Process. Map it in four to five high level steps.
3. Identify the Outputs of this Process.
4. Identify the Customers that will receive the Outputs of this Process.
5. Identify the Inputs required for the Process to function properly.
6. Identify the Suppliers of the Inputs that are required by the Process.
7. Optional: Identify the preliminary requirements of the Customers. This will be verified during a later step of the Six Sigma measurement phase.
8. Discuss with Project Sponsor, Champion, and other involved stakeholders for verification.

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