Six Sigma Project Problem #1 - Reverse Engineering

Over the last several decades, I've had a chance to look at lots of Six Sigma improvement projects. Even though our Six Sigma action plan has clear guidelines about what to do and how to go about it, few people seem to be able to follow the recipe.

One of the things I find most annoying is when people try to take some improvement they stumble upon through gut feel, trial-and-error and dumb luck and reverse engineer it into an improvement story. How do I know? Did you ever try to fake a term paper in high school or college and know it wasn't very good? Your teacher could sense it couldn't they? Here's some of the things I notice:

  1. Backing into the root cause and countermeasures - Invariably the fishbone diagram looks like a random walk of made up stuff. The countermeasures and action plan are pretty thin as well. It's as if someone thought: "We're here! Wow! How did we get here?" Then they start trying to retrace their steps.
  2. Limited Data  - Often they provide just a single Pareto chart with less than 20 data points. If it was a real problem, they'd have more data.
  3. No Control Chart  - Usually, any data about performance has been lost or never collected. But how can anyone tell if they've improved anything without a control chart? How can they sustain the improvement?
  4. No Control Plan - They have no system to monitor performance and take corrective action if the process veers off course again.

I don't know why they waste their time and mine. Are they really that afraid that they won't be able to get Six Sigma to solve the problem?

The solution is simple: 1) start with real data and 2) let the data lead you to the root cause and countermeasures.

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