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Continuous Improvement Toolkit

The Continuous Improvement Toolkit is a resource for all Lean and continuous improvement practitioners that contains information, resources and high-level directions on common tools that are used to assist in efforts of improvement or change. Outlined in the DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) framework used in Six Sigma projects, these tools will help you:

  • Define the opportunity for improvement
  • Measure the current process performance
  • Analyze the root cause of the variations
  • Improve the process to increase performance
  • Control or standardize the improved process for the future

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Tool What it's used for How to use it / Helpful resources Instructional video
Project charter

A project charter is a key internal document that describes the scope, participants and goals of a project. It contains a clear list of responsibilities, roles and stakeholders. It's usually developed right at the beginning of a project's lifecycle and is used as a reference point throughout a project's development.

How to Write a Winning Project Charter

  1. Choose a project name.
  2. Identity the purpose, objective, goal, and project specifications.
  3. Set a budget.
  4. Define deliverables.
  5. Assess scope and risks.
  6. Create a timeframe or milestones.
  7. List key stakeholders.
  8. Layout your team roles and responsibilities.
Process map/flowchart Process maps or flowcharts visually identify the actual flow or sequence of events in a process. It allows a team to see unexpected complexities, problem areas, and redundancy or unnecessary loops and identify improvement opportunities to help improve performance.

Visio, Mural and Excel are just a few examples of software that offer good templates for process mapping and flow charts.

  1. Define the process you want to visualize.
  2. Determine the start and endpoints for your process.
  3. Determine how the process works, and use shapes to identify key parts of the process.
  4. Connect the shapes to show the flow of work.
  5. Identify room for improvement and prioritize the next steps and action items.
Stakeholder analysis A stakeholder analysis is a process of identifying anyone who will be impacted by the project, before the project begins; grouping them according to their levels of participation, interest, and influence in the project; and determining how best to involve and communicate each of these stakeholder groups throughout.

Free Stakeholder Analysis Templates (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF)

  1. Identify the stakeholders by creating a list of all potential stakeholders.
  2. Prioritize your stakeholders by categorizing your stakeholders by their power and interest in your operations.
  3. Understand your stakeholders by finding out how stakeholders feel about a business or project. You can ask yourself, your team or stakeholders questions.
  4. Create a stakeholder analysis matrix.
SIPOC SIPOC is an acronym that stands for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs and Customers. It is used to outline elements of a process and can help support the definition, structure and scope of a complex work system.

7 Steps to Create SIPOC Diagram in Six Sigma

  1. Choose a process: select the process you want to visualize with your SIPOC diagram.
  2. Define the process: instead of completing your SIPOC diagram in order, it’s often easiest to start with the “P” section and define your process first.
  3. List the outputs: O
  4. Identify the customers: C
  5. List the inputs: I
  6. Identify suppliers: S
Voice of the Customer Voice of the customer (VOC) can be defined as the needs, wants and expectations of the customer, stated and unstated. This includes both external and internal customers. It can be used to identify customer needs and issues as well as business needs. 

Common VOC techniques are:  

  • Customer interviews 
  • Consultation calls 
  • Online customer or stakeholder surveys 
  • Live chat 
  • Customer reviews 
  • In-person surveys 
  • Focus groups 
  • Emails 
  • Dedicated feedback forms

RASCI is an acronym derived from the five key criteria most typically used: Responsible, Accountable, Supporting, Consulted and Informed. 

It helps you track the different roles and tasks necessary to complete a project, task, or process. Project managers use this framework to assign responsibilities and determine how each team member can affect the final outcome. 

  1. Determine the overarching project goals and priorities.
  2. Break down the larger goals into smaller objectives and tasks.
  3. List all tasks in chronological order.
  4. Determine the teams, departments, or individuals who will be involved in any stage of the project.
Affinity Diagram The affinity diagram is a business tool used to organize ideas and data and commonly used during idea-generation brainstorming sessions. 

Affinity Diagrams - Organizing Information and Ideas into Common Themes

  1. Transfer ideas onto sticky notes. 
  2. Sort ideas into themes. 
  3. Title Groups by theme. 
  4. Develop solutions. 
Risk Assessment Matrix A risk assessment matrix helps teams anticipate potential issues that may arise during implementation of a project or continuous improvement effort so they may effectively plan how to overcome them if they did. The risk assessment matrix measures potential risks based on the likelihood (or probability) of the risk occurring, and the consequence (or impact) of its impact to the project if it did. 

How to Use a Risk Assessment Matrix with Template

  1. Identify the risks related to your project.  
  2. Define and determine risk criteria for your project. 
  3. Analyze the risks you've identified.  
  4. Prioritize the risks and make an action plan in the event they do arise during your project. 
Tool What it's used for How to use it / Helpful resources Instructional video
Data measurement plan  A data management plan (also known as a data sharing plan) is a formal document that outlines what you will do with your data during and after a research project. It describes the type of data you use for your research, how its are collected, organized, and stored, and what formats you use. 
  1. Identify the business objectives.
  2. Define your goals for each objective.
  3. Decide on your key performance indicators (KPIs).
  4. Create a set of targets/benchmarks.
  5. Select your target audience and divide into segments.
  6. Analyse and refine. 
Histogram A histogram is one of the most commonly used graphs to show the frequency distribution. The frequency distribution defines how often each different value occurs in the data set, which helps identify categories of causes to select processes to improve. 3 Ways to Draw a Histogram
Control Chart The control chart is a graph used to study how a process changes over time. Data are plotted in time order.  How to Create a Control Chart in Excel
Run Chart A run chart is a line chart of data plotted over time. The data displayed represents some aspect of the output or performance of a manufacturing or other business process.  How to Create a Run Chart in Excel (Free Templates)
Tool What it's used for How to use it / Helpful resources Instructional video
5 Whys 5 Whys is an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question "Why?" five times.
  1. Invite all affected or touched by the process. 
  2. Ask the first “why?” to the problem statement you are trying to solve.
  3. Continue asking "why"? up to five times. It can be asked less than five, but usually any more than five can get you in the weeds of the issue.  
  4. Assign any action items in need of follow up.
  5. Communicate results to the team.
Fishbone Diagram The fishbone diagram identifies many possible causes for an effect or problem by sorting ideas into useful categories.

What is a Fishbone Diagram or Ishikawa Cause and Effort Diagram?

  1. Brainstorm the major categories of causes of the problem and write the categories as the main "buckets".
  2. Brainstorm all the possible causes of the problem within those buckets.
  3. Continue to ask “why does this happen?"
  4. When the group runs out of ideas, focus on areas that have the most issues to determine a root cause.
Pareto Chart A pareto chart is a type of chart that contains both bars and a line graph, where individual values are represented in descending order by bars, and the cumulative total is represented by the line. Create a Pareto Chart in Excel
Interrelationship Diagram The interrelationship diagram shows cause-and-effect relationships. Its main purpose is to help identify relationships that are not easily recognizable.
  1. Select or define the problem.
  2. Identify issues, influences, or causes.
  3. Determine how they are connected.
  4. Distinguish between causes and symptoms.
  5. Prioritize problem areas discovered.
Design of Experiments Design of experiments (DOE) is defined as a branch of applied statistics that deals with planning, conducting, analyzing, and interpreting controlled tests to evaluate the factors that control the value of a parameter or group of parameters. DOE is a powerful data collection and analysis tool that can be used in a variety of experimental situations. Design of Experiments in Six Sigma
Spaghetti Diagram A spaghetti diagram is used to map physical movement and  defined as a visual representation using a continuous flow line tracing the path of an item or activity through a process.  The continuous flow line enables process teams to identify redundancies in the workflow and opportunities to expedite process flow.
  1. Map the area you want to analyze.
  2. Number everything involved in the process.
  3. Draw lines for every movement within the process.
  4. (optional) Measure the distance between each movement and the time it takes to move from one area to the other.
  5. Analyze your results!
Scatter Plot Diagram A scatter plot (also known as a scatter chart or scatter graph) uses dots to represent values for two different numeric variables. The position of each dot on the horizontal and vertical axis indicates values for an individual data point. Scatter plots are used to observe relationships between variables. What is a Scatter Diagram?
Tool What it's used for How to use it / Helpful resources Instructional video
Solution Mapping Solution mapping is a process tool for idea creation, problem solving, knowledge sharing, and value and strategy processes. It’s a flexible tool that supports a process in which ideas, problems, and dilemmas are tested, solved, and discussed through the involvement of the desired stakeholders.  How to Solve Your Problems Visually Using a Solution Map Introducing the Solution Map
Mind Mapping  Mind mapping is a powerful technique to help you visually develop and organize ideas and information, and see how it all fits together.  A Powerful Approach to Note-Taking
Six Thinking Hats Technique  Six Thinking Hats is a way to understand and explore different types of thinking, by getting you to look at a problem in six different ways while encouraging different perspectives to be shared, seen and discussed as part of the decision making process.
  1. Facilitate the conversation (wearing the blue hat) and have your team brainstorm different ideas within each hat.  
    1. White hat: Present the facts of the problem. 
    2. Green hat: Generate ideas on how the problem can be solved. 
    3. Yellow hat: Evaluate the ideas by listing their benefits. 
    4. Black hat: Evaluate the ideas by listing their drawbacks. 
    5. Red hat: Get everybody's gut feelings about the alternatives. 
    6. Blue hat: Summarize the discussion and agree on conclusions (facilitator).
  2. Review the responses and look for common themes that can be grouped together.
  3. Have your team members vote on the top three to five ideas they would like to discuss further.
5S  5S is a workplace organization method that uses a list of five “S” words. The S’s stand for "sort", "set in order", "shine", "standardize", and "sustain". The purpose is to improve efficiency and eliminate waste. 
  1. Sort/simplify: Go over the area you are 5S-ing and remove all the clutter or items rarely used.
  2. Set in order: Establish locations for tools and materials that support the process. These should be in logical order and in easy locations for all to access.
  3. Shine: Clean and sanitize the workplace.
  4. Standardize: Create processes to keep areas decluttered and clean, such as a regular cleaning or maintenance schedule to help with upkeep.
  5. Sustain: Make 5S a regular part of the process by forming habits to continually implement the first 4 S's.
Poka-Yoke (Error Proofing)  Poka-yoke is a Japanese term that means "mistake-proofing" or "inadvertent error prevention". A poka-yoke is any mechanism in a process that helps avoid mistakes and defects by preventing, correcting, or drawing attention to human errors as they occur. 
  1. Isolate the process or product you want to improve. 
  2. Run a 5-whys analysis or use the A3 problem-solving technique to understand why the process is failing or might fail. 
  3. Choose between taking a shutout approach (i.e., the process stops if a stage is missed) or an attention-based approach (i.e., when an alert or warning sounds.)
  4. Next, refine your approach. Decide whether a contact (i.e., detection based on physical attributes), constant number (i.e., warnings and alerts), or the sequence method (i.e., project stops if a stage is missed) is best, depending on your purpose. 
  5. Test it to see if it works. 
  6. Make sure you have the right tools and checklists to follow the process consistently. 
  7. Train your team to follow the process and use the necessary tools. 
  8. Review performance and improve it further if needed. 
Kaizen Kaizen is a strategy where employees at all levels of a company work together proactively to achieve regular, incremental improvements to a business process. 
  1. Set goals and provide any necessary background. 
  2. Review the current state and develop a plan for improvements. 
  3. Implement improvements. 
  4. Review and fix what doesn't work. 
  5. Report results and determine any follow-up items. 
Gantt Chart A Gantt chart is a useful bar chart that illustrates a project schedule to show activities, tasks or events displayed against time. It allows project teams to see what the activities are, when each activity (as well as the project) begins and ends, and how long each activity is scheduled to last. 
  1. Review the scope baseline (scope statement, work breakdown structure (WBS), and WBS dictionary) that includes 100% of the project scope.
  2. Break down each WBS into activities and identify important milestones and deadlines.
  3. Sequence the activities in the right order while determining the correct relationships between each activity.
  4. Estimate resources (i.e., labor, materials, equipment). 
  5. Estimate the duration (start and end) of each activity.
  6. Develop the schedule!
Force Field Analysis A force field analysis is a decision-making tool that organizations utilize in determining the importance, impact, and influence of various factors before implementing changes in business processes. Once the objectives and goals are defined, this method helps put corresponding values to the forces driving the change and the forces against the proposed change. 
  1. Define the objective of your change project.
  2. Identify and list all driving forces for the change that will support the expected outcomes you desire, including internal and external forces.
  3. Identify and list forces or factors pushing against the change that will make it harder for you to attain your desired outcomes. These can also be internal and external.
  4. Assign each force an impact score. For example, one (weakest) to five (strongest) will help show which forces have the most impact.
  5. Propose a solution to postively influence the forces. Make your driving forces stronger and your weaken your restraining forces!
Storyboard Storyboards are also useful for building group unity and agreement, and teams that use them tend to find it easier to make decisions. 
  1. Write out the steps that you must to take to accomplish your goal or what you're trying to achieve.
  2. Put your steps in order.
  3. Create a sublevel storyboard for more involved steps of an action.
  4. As each step is put into your storyboard, encourage your team to look for "holes" or problems in the process. 
Project Management Storyboard
Communications Plan A communication plan is a strategy used during project implementations to reach the target audience and inform them about pertinent information that may or may not affect them. It defines the main message to be communicated, the target audience it needs to reach, and a strategy of how your message would be delivered to the selected audience. 
  1. Determine Your communication needs.  
  2. Determine the communication goals for your team.  
  3. Identify key stakeholders, clients, and team members.  
  4. Create a communication schedule for the project that outlines who will be communicate with, when, in what method, and by whom.
Tool What it's used for How to use it / Helpful resources Instructional video
Control Plan A control plan is a centralized document that keeps track of the status of all significant process characteristics and the parameters that must be monitored to avoid deviations or variations. It ensures the actual operations are not straying too far from the way the process was designed by the team.  11 Steps to Set up a Process Control Plan N/A
Standardized Work To standardize work, teams create a central document that outlines the steps of a job task and the sequence in which those should be performed. It clearly and precisely defines who does the task, when they do it, and how they do it.  
  1. Collect data on your current operations. The first step is to establish your work sequence and Takt time.
  2. Notice variations and issues.
  3. Find the most efficient way to run your operations.
  4. Document everything.
  5. Adapt your training programs.
  6. Continuously improve the standard.
30/60/90 Review An effective 30-60-90 day review consists of three larger phases — one for days 1-30, one for days 31-60, and one for days 61-90. Each phase has its own goal. For example, the goal in the first 30 days is to review the progress of the process since it’s implementation. 
  1. Prior to implementation: Define success criteria and metrics with the project team to help show if the improvement is working or not.
  2. First 30 days: Check-in with the project team and review the process and data to date.
  3. Second 30 days: Check-in with the team again and make relevant adjustments wherever necessary. 
  4. Last 30 days: Check-in with the team again and identify areas of the new process that need improvement.