More on Six Sigma

It is too different from going to the doctor. What is seen as a problem is often only the effect, or some times the symptoms of the problem organization by prescribing symptomatic medicines to suppress the problem, organizations often try to find quick fixes to some of their chronic problems. However, Six Sigma gets to the root of the problem and deals with it at the very fundamental level. And of course, instead of doctors, the people who work to heal expedite and optimize organizational processes are called black and green belts.

Nobody’s perfect, but you can certainly make a real effort, with Six Sigma. Yes, the basic aim of adopting Six Sigma is to take organizational processes to the level of near-perfection. Just like other quality management approaches such as Kaizen and TPM, Six Sigma focuses on people in teams, and continuous improvement as the keys to attaining an optimum point of functioning. This is critical not only for corporations, but also sectors like healthcare, aviation, public utilities and others, where delivery and quality of services offered are important. Often, a consultant’s assistance is sought since organizations usually don’t have the people and resources to implement Six Sigma on their own. Keep in mind here that Six Sigma is an ideal and many companies area around the 3-4 sigma level, which means that the numbers of errors per million “opportunities” much more than in a five or six sigma organization.

Another reason Six Sigma is so popular, is because it saves corporations megabucks. Experts say that the target gains in profit for 2006-07 through Six Sigma are over a million USD for the organization. Six Sigma is chosen after careful study, because it supports goals of metric based organization, has a project approach which provides with milestone based measurement, integrates well with our other initiatives such as ISO and CMMI and is measurable (issues, problems, progress, benefits etc) not open ended.

Jack Welch’s directive that his GE managers could wriggle out of Six Sigma training at the cost of losing their promotion only goes to show how important it is to enforce this practice from the top.

The people involved in Six Sigma execution are a) master blacks who are well versed in the rules of the game b) black belts – technically oriented individuals involved in the process of organizational change and development and c) green belts – employees who lead six sigma project teams.

Experts have listed the high level steps involved in implementing Sigma in an organization:

* Identify business goals from customer requirements.
* Assess the current level of performance to determine the gaps.
* Identify improvement projects and prioritize
* Form Six Sigma improvement teams, comprising stakeholders, for each project.
* Equip the Six Sigma improvement teams with Six Sigma training on methodologies and tools.
* Allocate Six Sigma specialists to support and guide the teams, sponsor to champion the project.
* Track progress of Six Sigma teams through management reviews and resolve issues.
* Audit completed Six Sigma projects to ensure they have achieved the goals.
* Reward and recognize Six Sigma teams.

For all its wonders, Six Sigma is not invulnerable to weaknesses. A common criticism against Six Sigma is its heavy focus on rigor and discipline related to methodology. There are occasions when Six Sigma demands exhaustive data collection that can be painstaking and formidable. On account of these there is a tendency for Six Sigma projects to take longer time for completion than desired. Experts say that given its current form, defining the problem is not very easy. Also, the fact that only traditional brainstorming for coming up with potential solutions to obtain solutions is another weakness in the methodology.

The solution to this is probably to integrate Six Sigma with other tools and techniques. Managers need to be absolutely clear whether they’re ready to go the distance to execute Six Sigma in their organizations. Managers question, Why Six Sigma? What is there in it for me? Such questions or similar ones need to be addressed by customized training, involving the right people and selecting the right project the first time to show that it works across functions.

Implementing Six Sigma is like propagating a religion. Just like we can introduce anybody to a religion, introducing any organization to Six Sigma is easy; but just as it is tough to meticulously practice a religion, practicing and ensuring that Six Sigma becomes the DNA of the organization is tough, and needs complete commitment and belief in the methodology.

However, every system is prone to imperfections and many are of the opinion that Six Sigma is less imperfect when compared to other process improvement tools. Features like customer-focus and bottom line orientation are its primary strengths and for all the criticism. Corporates are willing to swear by it, at least for the moment.

Six Sigma basics:

* Strong customer-oriented approach hat relies on data to create more efficient processes of refine existing processes.
* Under the prescribed specifications, there cannot be more than 3.4 defects defined as anything that doesn’t add value to the end customer), per million opportunities.
* You can apply it to anything from making a movie to manufacturing truck tires.
* IT needs the unstinted support of organizational leaders, and emphasizes teamwork and life long evolution of practices and processes.