March 7, 2006
Successful implementation of Six Sigma requires support from management, good planning, and undertaking of projects to move Six Sigma forward.
Many companies have implemented Six Sigma with great success. Driving a company from a Three or Four Sigma business process to a Six Sigma business process requires reducing defects by a factor of more than 20,000 and completely transforming the organization's culture. However, some companies that attempt to implement it get disappointing results.
Why are some not succeeding? It could be that:
Companywide understanding of the Six Sigma process is required for companywide buy-in and, ultimately, success. And the drastic transformations achievable with Six Sigma can't be accomplished simply by tweaking the process. They require creativity.
The greatest enemy of that creativity is hierarchy. Because hierarchy in a traditional firm controls all of the resources—material and human—an individual employee must obtain permission from someone to use any resource. If the resources required to pursue a creative idea are controlled by several positions in the hierarchy, the employee must get permission from each. And when one asks permission, only a "Yes" answer moves things ahead.
Six Sigma's magic doesn't lie in statistical or high-tech razzle-dazzle. Six Sigma relies on tried-and-true methods that have been around for decades. In fact, Six Sigma discards a great deal of the complexity that characterizes Total Quality Management (TQM).
By one expert's count, there are more than 400 TQM tools and techniques. Six Sigma takes a handful of these methods and trains a cadre of in-house technical leaders, known as Six Sigma Black Belts or Green Belts, to a high level of proficiency in the application of those techniques.
To be sure, some of the methods Black Belts or Green Belts use, including up-to-date computer technology, are highly advanced. But the tools are applied within a simple performance-improvement framework known as DMAIC, which stands for Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control. It is analogous to the older TQM model known as Plan-Do-Study-Act.
Anyone with more than a cursory exposure to Six Sigma is familiar with the DMAIC cycle. It is used almost universally to guide Six Sigma process improvement projects. And although truly dramatic improvement in quality requires transforming the management philosophy and organizational structure, actual projects must be undertaken sooner or later to make things happen. Projects are the means through which processes are systematically changed; they are bridges between the planning and the doing.
Properly defined Six Sigma projects meet certain criteria:
According to a recent benchmarking report, successful Six Sigma initiatives share three common characteristics:
Organizations that attempt to implement Six Sigma initiatives without addressing these three areas are far less likely to reap the rewards successful Six Sigma programs enjoy.
Winning executive support, planning properly, defining critical objectives, and demonstrating the impact of quality initiatives on customers are all key drivers toward Six Sigma success.