Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Makes Six Sigma Work?

Some consultants are earning seven figure salaries, CEOs of large companies are claiming billions of dollars saved, conferences, books, and seminars are popping up everywhere, and yet one can argue that there isn't much new about Six Sigma that we didn't have with TQM. Is Six Sigma just the latest management buzzword or is Six Sigma a Quality Management program that really works?

Six Sigma does have a few new twists. These new twists make Six Sigma different enough to exist on its own and are what makes Six Sigma work much better than any other quality methodology of the past.

Six Sigma only appears to be a little different than TQM in terms of Quality tools, techniques, and principles, but from a global perspective it's a whole new animal for the following reasons (in order of importance):

Global Perspective Of What Makes Six Sigma Work
1. A New Type of Top Level Support
Past GE CEO Jack Welch is quoted for telling employees that if they wanted to get promoted, they'd better be Black Belts. Universal cost oriented metrics and the new level of competition that Six Sigma provides easily acquires top level support. Some argue that the only new addition that Six Sigma provides is the way top management is treating it. What's really important is that CEOs are seriously supporting large improvement projects run by highly trained business super stars.

2. Problem Solving and Team Leading Super Stars
Executive Champion, Deployment Champions, Project Champions, Master Black Belts, Black Belts, and Green Belts (see structure below).

3. Training Like Never Before
Much more training for all involved. The training is heavily statistical, project management, and problem solving oriented. Training costs of approximately $15,000-$25,000 per Black Belt are well justified by the savings per project.

4. New Metrics
Use of metrics unlike anything ever used before. These metrics not only tie in customer Critical to Quality (CTQ) needs with what is measured by the company, but they also allow processes within the company to be compared with each other using a single scale called DPMO (Defects Per Million Opportunities).

5. Much Better Use of Teams
Very efficient use of highly trained, cross-functional, and empowered teams to locate and make improvements. Black Belts are also trained team efficiency experts.

6. A New Level of Process Comparison
The use of opportunity divisible defect metrics (DPMO) allows comparisons from division to division, department to department, process to process, etc. within the company.

7. A New Corporate Attitude / Culture
Implementation of Six Sigma creates a new environment that naturally promotes the creation of continuous improvement efforts.

8. A Closer Look at Old Metrics
PDCA becomes a more detail oriented DMAIC and all those Quality tools that never get used are thrown out. If we don't need them, why spend time learning how to use them.

About the Author: Kim Niles has more than 17 years process control and improvement experience working with San Diego manufacturing companies in a wide range of industries and disciplines. Currently an officer in three professional societies, Mr. Niles has a master's degree in quality science with an emphasis in Six Sigma from California State University Dominguez Hills. He has a bachelor's degree from San Diego State University through the industrial technology department. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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