Six Sigma Gets Its Day

May 5, 2003
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While Six Sigma is the livelihood of some companies, it is eschewed by others who claim it's just another fad.

Some experts claim Six Sigma is just another passing quality trend, others say it offers nothing beyond what is covered by statistical process control and total quality management, while still others claim it is time to jump on the Six Sigma bandwagon.

In the latest Quality Online survey, 56.5% of the respondents said their companies have not adopted Six Sigma, while 43.5% of respondents do work for companies involved in Six Sigma. Of the companies not involved in Six Sigma culture, 65% indicated lack of management support as the reason. Other reasons for not implementing Six Sigma include inadequate staff resources, 42%, insufficient funding, 39%, and employee skepticism, 31%. One respondent said that his company hasn't implemented the methodology because the company has "too many process-related issues that don't need the analytical extent of Six Sigma," while another claimed that Six Sigma is "just another fad."

Of respondents whose companies have implemented Six Sigma, 75% indicated that it has either been very effective or somewhat effective in accomplishing the goals set forth by the company. Only 15% said it has not been effective in accomplishing company goals.

Eight-five percent of respondents whose companies use Six Sigma claimed it is very applicable to their company's needs. A respondent who said the methodology is somewhat effective (10%) added, "We're having trouble finishing projects and posting savings. Six Sigma loses priority when compared with keeping production going." Only one respondent said Six Sigma is not applicable to company needs.

For respondents whose companies do not use Six Sigma, 54% indicated that Six Sigma is either very applicable or somewhat applicable to their company's needs. While 15% indicated that Six Sigma is not applicable to their company needs, another 19% said they don't know if the methodology is applicable.

Some companies, such as Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI), have stated that they use Six Sigma to identify projects that have the greatest potential to increase customer satisfaction by improving quality and reducing defects. But respondents to the Quality Online survey said that an increase in cost savings is the single biggest advantage of Six Sigma--that according to 45% of respondents whose companies use the methodology. An increase in customer satisfaction was the second-most cited reason, at 20%, followed by reduction of defects, 15%, increase company growth, 10%, and increase quality, 5%. One respondent said, "It is hard to pinpoint any single advantage of Six Sigma for a company. Engaging in Six Sigma increases customer satisfaction, lowers overall cost and decreases defects, which is a competitive advantage for any company."

An increase in cost savings and an increase in company growth, each with 19%, were cited as the single biggest advantage of Six Sigma from respondents whose companies are not currently involved in the process. An increase in customer satisfaction, 15%, and increase quality, 12%, were named as other advantages of Six Sigma.

Even those whose companies do not use Six Sigma praised it. "The methodology itself is incredibly advantageous," said one respondent, while another claimed Six Sigma "allows a company to be competitive."

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Charles J. Hellier has been active in the technology of nondestructive testing and related quality and inspection fields since 1957. Here he talks with Quality's managing editor, Michelle Bangert, about the importance of training.
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