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A Better SIPOC for Modern Business

The SIPOC, which stands for Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer, is one of the pillars of any Six Sigma project, and it’s terrible unless you’re building widgets on an assembly line like its 1982.

For any modern organization, especially those outside manufacturing, the rigidity of the SIPOC makes it difficult to use and ineffective at showing processes.  This will lead to wasted time as well as frustration for those trying to understand what’s happening, resulting in ineffective improvement projects and missing desired outcomes.

Because it’s designed to show process steps in a linear fashion, any process that has decision trees cannot be easily modeled.  Want to document a sales cycle that has a product return and refund component?  Can’t do that either.

Something about multiple inputs and outputs into the same step and then being able to use that info correctly later on.

This isn’t to say the information captured by the SIPOC is unimportant.  On the contrary, understanding inputs and outputs is critical to any efficiency exercise, but there is a different way to approach this that will help you maximize your time spent on process improvement.

How To Get Started

First, document the process in a swim lane diagram.  This allows you to visually see the process, which can help you in identifying problems or areas of opportunity.  If you’re not familiar with a swim lane diagram, it’s a diagram that shows people or roles performing different steps of a process.  Each box in the diagram represents a step (or series of steps) and the box is displayed in the “swim lane” of the person or role that is responsible for doing that step.

Each of your steps in your swim lane diagram should be numbered.  This will allow you to reference the step numbers in your new and improved SIPOC.

Use Excel (or your preferred equivalent) to create the SIPOC.

Split the SIPOC up into 2 halves, inputs and outputs.  This allows you to more easily deal with steps that have multiple inputs or multiple outputs.

Other Things to Add to Your SIPOC

For each process step, add a designation of Value Added – External, Value Added – Internal, or Non-Value Added.  This will help you identify steps you should talk about removing from your process.

Identify each input as Controllable yes/no.  Some of your inputs you won’t be able to control, so this designation gives you an easy way to filter out parts you can’t improve.

Add the work time and process time for each step.  The work time is the time a person spends actually doing work while the process time is how long the step takes in “calendar time.”

If you are trying to fix a specific problem with your process, identify each process step as “yes/no” if it has a potential impact to your problem.  Say for example you are looking at the process to deliver orders to a customer and you’re looking at this process because it’s taking too long to deliver these orders.  You will identify each process as a “yes” if it has the potential to make orders take longer or “no” if it doesn’t have that potential.  In Six Sigma, this is identified as having a “Big Y Impact.”

While these added pieces take some additional time to complete and make the SIPOC bigger, they bring all of the important information together in one place and allow you to focus in on the right places to make your processes more efficient!

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