Okay I will probably anger a lot of people here, but Motorola did not start 6Sigma; what Motorola did was repackage the quality improvement tools into what we recognize as 6Sigma. For those of you who are die hard believers that Motorola started 6Sigma, I refer you to Alan Ramias’ article The Mists of Six Sigma. What 6Sigma really consists of is a culmination of quality improvement information over the last 50 years. The quality improvement industry got a start with the Ford Mass Production System, further established by Deming’s 14 points, Juran’s consulting expertise and carried forward with the Total Production System at Toyota. In a nutshell 6Sigma is at best repackaged knowledge, extremely useful knowledge, but repackaged nonetheless. Many consultants go through the trouble of making 6Sigma extremely complicated and my theory is that this is done because 6Sigma is not new. 6Sigma is relevant, it is not a fad and it is extremely useful-but complicated it is not.
What 6Sigma gives you is:
- An understanding of the root cause of your issue and how that issue ultimately affects your customers.
- How the way you run your business enables that issue and where you can make changes.
- The knowledge of what to measure, how to measure it and what the measurements mean.
First you need to understand that when 6Sigma was first becoming popular it was used for manufacturing and technical processes, because 6Sigma means six deviations from the standard mean, so many consultants have a tendency to make it extremely heavy with statistical graphs and formulas. Although the stats are important, basically 6Sigma is used to control defects (problems) in your process to create 99.997% efficiency. In most business processes you would be hard pressed to find someone who could identify the standard mean, it really isn’t something you think about even though you should. So how does this technical method work for you? Really the goal of 6Sigma is to produce the most value with the minimum amount of resources; something that every business can benefit from and that is how the average business should approach 6Sigma. The 6Sigma Lifecycle is something that every business can use to began the improvement process in their organization. The diagram below shows a visual representation of the 6Sigma Lifecycle.
Step 1. Draft a plan-identify the challenge areas, select a goal and brainstorm solutions.
Step 2. Divide the tasks- Select your improvement team and assign their roles and responsibilities. Once they are aware of the expectations, assign tasks.
Step 3. Enforce roles and Improve Performance-Once have been assigned, enforce those expectations and evaluate the performance for areas of improvement.
Step 4. Have a broader perspective- Most project managers have an attention span that ends the moment the project ends, 6Sigma requires that you see the big picture and what happens after the project ends.
Step 5. Maintain Standards-this is by far the hardest step because once you have reached your goals efforts by the staff and management have a tendency to relax their focus. 6Sigma requires you to be vigilant and effectively change the culture of your organization.
6Sigma is like most tools, it is only as complicated as you choose to make it. If you run across a consultant who brings out wonderfully complicated statistical charts, run! For 6Sigma to be effective you have to understand that it is not a quick fix and for it to be sustainable, you have to understand it.