Friday, October 9, 2009

Debunking Six Sigma Myths

I'm a Master Black Belt in Six Sigma, I say that upfront in the interest of full disclosure that I am biased about Six Sigma. Being a Master Black Belt and Deployment Leader for Six Sigma also means I have some expertise and not a few opinions on the subject. So with that I'd like to tackle two common myths about Six Sigma.

Myth One: Six Sigma is too slow.

I hear this one all of the time. "Six Sigma slows me down. Analyzing all of that data takes too long". Two things about this myth; One - there is no time constraint on six sigma. Typically a project takes 3-6 months to complete, but I have seen them complete in less time. I've also seen them take longer. My observation about this is that if you have a problem with speed in six sigma, look for underlying organizational dynamics that might be causing it. Do other types of projects go much quicker and still achieve good results? If so, maybe there are training issues with six sigma practitioners, or there may be issues with accessability and useability of data critical to analysis, if not maybe there's an underlying issue with accountability and urgency in the organization. Another common problem that leads to the "too slow" criticism is using six sigma to implement a solution that is already known. The purest reason to begin a six sigma project is to solve a problem that we dont know how to solve. If we use six sigma to solve problems we already know the answer to, then of course, the method will be slower than just deciding to implement the solution and doing it. Six Sigma used to create management commitment to a known solution is a misuse of six sigma. Finally, using the "six sigma is too slow" excuse is typically an excuse to do nothing, which has shown time and again to take much longer to improve performance than doing six sigma.

Myth Two: Six Sigma Stiffles Innovation

Nothing could be further from the truth. I am most familiar with the Design For Six Sigma (DFSS) method known as PIDOV. (Plan, Identify, Design, Optimize, Validate) I also have some exposure to DMADV but am less familiar. A brief review of the steps that underly each of the phases will quickly show that there is no step in the process where creative thinking is discouraged. In fact creative thinking is required to build the possible solution. The only requirement placed on innovative thinking is that the results of innovation must meet the needs of the customer as expressed by their Critical To Quality characteristics (CTQ's). That's it. Develop an innovative solution, but make sure that you have something that the customer will need. If the innovative solution meets no one's needs, who will buy it? No one. A buggy whip with GPS installed is still a buggy whip.

7 comments:

Brad said...

Hey Jim,

Great post. I've found that people often cite time as a reason to not engage with many planning, thinking, or analysis processes.

Those processes all have visible costs (e.g., 3-6 months for a six sigma project). The problem is that people don't see the time they are wasting with poor processes, etc. They most likely lose more than 3-6 months of productive time. But, there is no visible accounting for it.

I often tell people that you wind up spending the time either in up front planning or in back end inefficiencies. The difference isn't whether you expend it, it's whether you want to do it proactively, or reactively when usually it creates more problems.

Jim said...

Thanks Brad, I agree. Taking six months to fix a poor performing process is still better than letting that poor performance exist for the full year, and its less costly too.

admin said...

This is a very good post. Nice to hear some real life advice instead of SPC or ANOVA theory.

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Jim said...

Thanks sixsigmaz.com. I plan to post approximately weekly real world advice and experiences on six sigma, lean and quality management topics. Hope to hear from you again soon.

Carl Wright said...

Thanks Brad, I agree. Taking six months to fix a poor performing process is still better than letting that poor performance exist for the full year, and its less costly too...
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saam mirza said...

Thanks six sigma.com. I plan to post approximately weekly real world advice and experiences on six sigma, lean and quality management topics.
Hope to hear from you again soon.Lean Six Sigma Training

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