In the 1990’s, the US automotive and electronics industries were having big demands on themselves and their suppliers to improve quality, reduce costs and increase competitiveness. It was then that Six Sigma emerged. Moreover, it was Jack Welch, one of the most famous CEOs, at the head of General Electric then, who put the Six Sigma methodology at the core of its actions.
But from where comes the name Six Sigma? It derives from the notion that the objective of any industrial process should be no more than 3 to 4 defects in one million parts. In addition, any problem within a business activity should be transformed into a statistical one by defining variables describing the process. Then, experts take the data, analyze it, and find the best combination of variable values that creates the suitable result with the least variation.
Realizing that Six Sigma was giving good results and improving the quality in a high volume environment, many senior executives liked to apply this approach to their entire organization. All persons from Accounts Payable to Sales became effective and disciplined machines. Hence, Six Sigma developed and produced a big industry of consultants and training companies for this “everyone’s responsible for quality” approach.
Nevertheless, Six Sigma has been widely criticized in the world of organizations.
First, what exactly does “3 defects in 1 million” mean in any real industry?
Moreover, Six Sigma is can destroy creativity because it concentrates more on having the tools of process analysis than on finding root causes and solutions.
In addition, Six Sigma may be heavy for many employees in your business. For instance, sales persons get paid to make sales calls and not to generate graphs on how many calls they make. The same goes for those in the creative departments of your work: They are not the kind to have the patience to concentrate and track the many aspects of their day, neither to learn statistics.
However, how do you encourage a team to focus on improving the quality of their work without making the process of improvement itself the focus?
You can use Lean: It is a methodology for improving business processes. It borrows many of the higher-level concepts of waste identification and elimination from Six Sigma but leaves most of the heavy-duty statistics behind. It also gives most workers a way to analyze their work, with a coach, and find improvements.
In addition, you can adopt simple concepts like 5 S, TIM WOOD, visual management, and kaizen (continuous small improvements) to encourage individuals to recognize waste and solve problems without waiting for formal training or the rollout of a company-wide
In conclusion, heavy-duty statistics and focusing too much on the process of improvement are not really necessary unless the ROI validates the time and the cost. So, keep it simple.