Six Sigma–Project Selection Should be Top-Down, not Bottom-Up

In the thirteenth chapter of their book Six Sigma:  The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations, the authors Mikel Harry, Ph.D., and Richard Schroeder discuss how to select and prioritize Six Sigma projects within a corporation.

There is a top-down approach, where a senior manager called a Senior Champion considers a company’s major business issues and objectives and proposes a series of strategic improvement projects.   A Six Sigma Champion then takes this strategic vision and identifies processes, CTQs (Critical-to-Quality Characteristics), and specific opportunities for improvement.

The bottom-up approach is where production managers make suggestions for projects on their needs to achieve budget reductions, resolve specific quality problems, or improve process flow.

Which of these two approaches do the authors favor?   Not surprisingly, given the word “Strategy” in the title of their book, they recommend the top-down approach.   This is because the focus should be on Six Sigma projects that offer the greatest financial and customer-satisfaction leverage.   Although the authors don’t explicitly say so, I believe part of the reason for that is practical, in that you want to get the best bang for your buck, especially if you are paying for the salary of the Black Belts and their training.   But I can see where another reason is political.   Whenever you decide to make a sweeping change in an organization, as is required with the Six Sigma Breakthrough Strategy, you are going to get some resistance from the “old guard”.   This is not a reference to chronological age, but psychological flexibility.   For some, a new way of doing things gets people out of their comfort zone, which by definition is not a comfortable place to be.   But let’s say you are trying to implement a Six Sigma Breakthrough Strategy as a Senior Champion, and yet face resistance from senior managers.

When your first projects are those that are designed to create the greatest financial and customer-satisfaction improvements, those first results will also be political leverage to use in senior management circles to convince those who are skeptical of the Breakthrough Strategy.   It gives people who are skeptical a way to save face by saying, “well, I was skeptical, but I can’t argue with the results.”   It makes it a discussion about progress and principles, and not about personalities.

And that is yet another reason why a top-down approach is best.   The reason why a bottom-up approach will not work is that, although production managers may identify possible Six Sigma projects, it is up to the Six Sigma champion to choose which of those projects most align with the vision proposed by the Senior Champion.

That’s how you get the entire company working as a team, which is the fastest way for a Six Sigma Breakthrough Strategy to be implemented.

This is all good in theory, of course, but there must be tangible, objective criteria used to prioritize Six Sigma projects.  Those key metrics used to compare Six Sigma projects will be discussed in the next post.


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