The State of Six Sigma

The March issue of Quality Digest had the results of their Six Sigma Survey. What did they discover?

  1. Small companies aren't pursuing Six Sigma. Why not? It costs too much using the traditional Six Sigma approach. It can cost $250,000 to train a black belt and bring them up to speed.
  2. Those companies using Six Sigma seem to stop after two or three years. Why? One reason might be that the average lifespan of CEOs is only 2-3 years; when leadership changes, Six Sigma vanishes. And as I've argued in this ezine, every company and consultant is still using the time-honored but flawed top-down, all-or-nothing strategy for implementation. Over 50 years of research into how companies and cultures adopt changes like Six Sigma suggests that "to accelerate adoption you will want to REDUCE the number of people involved."

Six Sigma Results

  • Only 64% of respondents agreed that Six Sigma had significantly improved profitability.
  • Only 50% agreed that Six Sigma had improved customer satisfaction.
  • Only 43% agreed that Six Sigma had improved job satisfaction among employees.

OUCH! This means that current approaches to implementing Six Sigma are only delivering a 2-sigma performance (30% nonconforming). No wonder we're looking at so many companies abandoning Six Sigma.

Methods and Tools

  • 80% agreed that you should use whatever tools are necessary to get the job done. When asked which methods and tools yielded the greatest results, survey respondents answered:
  • 35% process mapping (flowcharting)
  • 33% root cause analysis
  • 31% cause-effect analysis (isn't that the same as root cause analysis?)
  • 26% Lean manufacturing
  • 25% Benchmarking
  • 23% Problem Solving (i.e., root cause analysis)
  • 20% Statistical process control, capability, control charts, and process management.
  • 21% ISO 9000 standards

This reflects my own experience that you can move rapidly from 3-sigma to 5-sigma using only flowcharts, problem solving (line, pareto, and root cause analysis), and SPC to sustain and monitor the improvements.

So, why do companies both big and small spend so much money training black belts in all of the exotic tools of Six Sigma when most of the bang-for-the-buck comes from just these few simple tools? Beats me! It must be our delusion that complexity delivers value.

So will Six Sigma go the way of TQM and the Dodo bird? Unless companies adopt the proven implementation methods and tools I've laid out in Six Sigma Simplified, I'm afraid Six Sigma will die. It's already on a respirator in the intensive care unit and the leading consultants in the field are still prescribing treatments that clearly do not work.

I've heard it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. But isn't that what most companies and consultants are doing with Six Sigma? Trying to implement it in the same old flawed fashion?

When will they wake up and do some root cause analysis on processes that clearly aren't working?

How much of our precious economy are we going to waste on this iteration of quality?

It's up to you. Which path will you choose?

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

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