Six Sigma–Not Just Another Management Fad

At the end of the second chapter of their book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporation, Ikel Harry, Ph.D. and Richard Schroeder talk about the difference between Six Sigma and other quality initiatives that have been popular in the past two decades in a section called Learning From Past Mistakes.

What are the differences that make Six Sigma stand out as a business initiative?

Some of the business improvement initiatives that companies have tried in the past two decades include such initiatives as:

  • downsizing
  • outsourcing
  • activity-based costing
  • new-product development
  • re-engineering
  • material requirements planning
  • Kaizen
  • creation of world-class factories

Some are designed to improve the companies bottom line, and some are designed to improve quality and performance, but few are designed to improve both at the same time.   Six Sigma is designed to do just that.   How is it designed to do that?   Because it aligns the needs of the corporation and the customer with the needs of the individual worker.   The Six Sigma breakthrough strategy makes every employee throughout the corporation accountable for understanding and implementing its methodology, so it is not something which feels imposed by management but rather owned by all departments.

Some of the other business initiatives mentioned above, although beneficial to a company, do not create lasting changes in an organization if they are not adopted and owned by the entire company.    That may be one of the explanations for the 1.5-Sigma drift, where processes that achieve an increase of Sigma level often “backtrack” by as much as 1.5 Sigma over the long haul.   This is because the process was changed and improved, but the improvement was not really owned and adopted in a heartfelt way by those who owned the process, and they gradually slipped back into previous bad habits.

It is important to get management involved so that those quality initiatives are chosen which essentially “give the customers what they want” and not what the engineers think they want.    This is the alignment between the corporation and the customer mentioned above.   And the workers in the various departments must get involved so that, in confronting problems that they are often the first ones to see, they often times are the first ones to come up with solutions.   This makes the individual worker align with the needs of the corporation, to create a product that is profitable and which customers demand.

This is why Six Sigma is not just another management fad.


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