What comes first – SPC or a stable process?

An interesting topic, which has been discussed very often. In every discussion, people agree on what is right and what needs to be implemented. But in actual implementation the principles are forgotten. Therefore it is good to re-align ourselves to the basics time and again.

What is often seen in actual implementation of SPC (ineffective and incorrect implementation):

1)    A process is documented and used

2)    Data related to the process is collected

3)    When we need to do sub-process control (because we are aiming for High Maturity rating), an SPC chart is prepared.

4)    Data which are outliers are thrown out (root cause analysis is not possible, because the outlier data belongs belongs to a distant past, and the causes are lost in the mists of time)

5)    Control limits are recalculated

6)    Steps 4) and 5) are repeated till all (remaining) points demonstrate process stability

7)    The SPC parameters (center line, UCL/ UNPL, LCL/ LNPL) are declared as baselines and used for sub-process control. The fact that the limits are too wide or that a lot of data points were thrown out (without changing anything in the process) is ignored.

What we have in the above scenario is a maturity level 2/ 3 organization using maturity level 4 tools. Usage of tools alone does not increase maturity. We cannot create a stable process through the use of SPC, we can only confirm the stability of the process through SPC and get signals when the process is out of control or shows changes in trends.

The More Effective Implementation of SPC:

1)    A process is documented and used. As the process is used, variations in the interpretation of the documented process are qualitatively analyzed. Actions are taken to augment the process definition, training and orientation till the interpretation and the qualitative understanding of the process is consistent.

2)    Process compliance audits (PPQA audits) on the implementation of the process identify more actions that need to be implemented to fine-tune the definition, training and orientation related to the process.

3)    Once the audits show consistent compliance, data related to the process performance are collected. Integrity of the data is checked and the data collection process is streamlined and consolidated- till the collected data demonstrates the required credibility

4)    Now we start looking at the data somewhat quantitatively (without using full SPC) – does the trend chart show stability? Is it showing too much dispersion/ variation? Based on the findings, the definition, training and orientation related to the process is refined further

5)    This is point we start using SPC charts to confirm process stability. Each inflection of instability is analyzed. Corrective and preventive actions are identified to further standardize the process, based on analysis of past instability. Once we are sure that causes of those inflections are removed, we can remove the points from the analysis.

6)    We are still left with points which show instability, and our CAR analysis tells us that some of the causes are truly extremely rare events. These are then removed from the data pool. Now all the remaining points are a part of the process. If the process still shows instability, then we can do further analysis – are these really part of a single process? Beneath the surface, are there two or more processes, and we need to separate out the data (e.g., the process may behave differently in the “performance appraisal season”? :-))

Having followed all the above steps, we now have a basis (and hence baseline) for an effective implementation of SPC.

Remember: We cannot create a stable process through the use of SPC, we can only confirm the stability of the process through SPC.

I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

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