Quality Management: Six Sigma: Maximize the Benefits

October 1, 2005
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Reinstituting long-forgotten elements of the original Six Sigma initiative increases profitability and improved margins.

To be successful, Six Sigma initiatives must be strategy driven, process focused and project enabled. Originally, Motorola designed a Six Sigma methodology with the goal of improving an organization's margins-quality and efficiency improvements were the byproducts. The methodology and discipline of Six Sigma incorporated and integrated the strategy, process and project elements. Unfortunately, as Six Sigma has evolved during the past two decades, several of the elements of the original methodology have been dropped. Therefore, many current initiatives are not driven by organizational strategy with an emphasis on profitability. Thus, the projects selected that do not meet the Six Sigma criteria are not given the support needed to achieve the expected benefits and take much longer than originally intended. As Mikel Harry states in his book, Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy, "Organizations that can't track effective quality improvements on profitability don't know what changes need to be made to improve their profit margins."



Six Sigma: The current reality

As Six Sigma initiatives have been embraced by more and more organizations, two areas of the original Six Sigma methodology and discipline have been compromised. These are the initial and concluding phases of the methodology and the role of top management, particularly the Champion, in the selection and support of the projects.

The table, "Motorola's Six Sigma Methodology," describes the purpose of each phase of Motorola's original Six Sigma methodology. As it is presented in most training courses or books today, the Six Sigma methodology does not include all of Motorola's original phases or their intent.

Current applications of the Six Sigma methodology emphasize the phases that are integral to conducting a project. These are Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control, or DMAIC, and guide the project team in its work under the leadership of a Black Belt or Green Belt. The critical phase of Recognize, which is key to selecting projects tied to strategic goals, rarely is mentioned. Also, the Sustain and Institutionalize phases rarely are discussed as part of the Six Sigma methodology. All three of these phases belong to the Champion who owns the project.

As a result, many projects are launched without a tie to the company's strategic goals. Once the project is completed, there is often confusion as to how to institutionalize the results. Some Six Sigma project teams recognize these missing pieces and attempt to expand the control phase to include activities critical to sustaining and institutionalizing the gains they have made.

However, a Six Sigma project team cannot accomplish these last two phases without the Champion's involvement and accountability. If the Champion is missing in action, the project team may simply stop with the Control phase. Some benefits may be achieved for the short term, but the long-term results will be undermined.

In a rush to show some activity in the Six Sigma arena, projects are selected without sufficient consideration of the strategic goals of the organization. Project teams are set up with a Black Belt or Green Belt leading the effort, but the project is not strategically focused and the team members cannot find sufficient time to work on the project. These projects take longer than companies have been led to believe and the results do not always meet expectations.

What is missing is the structure that made Six Sigma so successful when it began; that is, the discipline of the original methodology which ensured that projects would be selected according to strategic goals and that project ownership would rest with the Champion. A comparison of the Ideal Initiative and the Current Reality for Six Sigma is shown in the table, "Accessing a Company's Six Sigma Initiative."

If a Six Sigma effort is similar to the current reality column in the table, projects are not likely to be as successful as a company wishes, nor the results sustained over time. However, it is possible to refocus and get back on the ideal track.

To do a quick assessment of an organization's current Six Sigma effort, give a point score to each item in the table. Score a 5 if achieving the Ideal Initiative and a 1 if at the Current Reality. For a status that is in between these two categories, give the organization a score that is between a 1 and a 5.

The maximum score for the 13 areas is 65. If an organization's score is 50 or above, it is on the right track. For scores between 30 and 49, identify the areas that score lowest and refocus the efforts on these. If the score is less than 30, an organization should refocus its Six Sigma effort beginning with the strategic goals.



Refocusing the Six Sigma initiative

The first step in refocusing a Six Sigma initiative is to ensure that it is strategy driven. Top management must lead a Six Sigma initiative to achieve future business success. If the top management of an organization has not been trained in Six Sigma, this is the place to start.

Once the organization's leadership understands what is required of them, they can select and charter projects that are connected to the organization's strategic goals. This is the work of the Recognize phase of the methodology. Projects are selected according to the following criteria:

• Provides a direct link to strategic business goals.

• Directly impacts key business objectives.

• Contributes to bottom-line

performance.

• There are direct benefits to

key customers.

• There are direct benefits to

the organization.

• Can be accomplished in a six-month time frame.

Once the project is selected according to the criteria, a charter is created by the Champion and Black or Green Belt to guide the project team.

The next step is to set up the project teams with appropriate support. The project Champion owns the project and has a critical role to play in providing support for the project team as the project moves forward. The Black Belt or Green Belt leading the team must work closely with the project Champion and ask for help as needed. As part of the project team set up, the project charter can include time requirements for all team members and clear permission from all managers to support these time commitments.

For every Six Sigma project, there is a process involved. It is this process that ultimately determines the quality of the product or service to be improved. Improvement is accomplished by making changes in the process to achieve higher quality. Before such changes can be made successfully, it is critical to understand why the current process delivers the current level of quality. The Define, Measure and Analyze phases of the Six Sigma methodology are specifically designed to achieve this process understanding. This is the initial work of the Six Sigma project team after their project has been chartered.

Once a process is understood, the insights can be directed to possible ways to improve the process, and subsequently, the product or service. This is the purpose of the Improve phase. After various process changes have been tried and evaluated, the best ones are selected to implement, thereby creating a new process.

In the Control phase, the project team writes procedures for the new process, conducts training for all employees and develops a response plan to follow if something changes for the worse. When the process owners take over and run the new process according to the control and response plans developed by the project team, this is the essence of the Sustain phase of the project.

The Institutionalize phase focuses on any and all organizational systems and structures that need to be changed to support the newly improved process.

These last two phases are not the responsibility of the project team. They are the responsibility of the project Champion and the process owners. The Six Sigma project team focuses on improving a process in a project format, but the long-term success must be achieved by process owners using the improvements successfully.



Maximizing the benefits

After the Six Sigma initiative becomes strategy driven and the full methodology and discipline are in operation, the foundation is in place to achieve the maximum success from each Six Sigma project. Projects will be selected according to criteria that ensure they have an impact on the organization's strategic goals. The support will be in place for project teams to complete their work in a timely manner with process changes that can be sustained and institutionalized. These strategically selected projects can then accomplish the real goal of Six Sigma-profitability and improved margins. Q



Sophronia W. Ward, Ph.D. and Sheila R. Poling are managing partners at Pinnacle Partners Inc. (Oak Ridge, TN). For more information, call (865) 482-1362 or visit www.pinnaclepartnersinc.com.

Quality Tech tips

• As more organizations embrace Six Sigma initiatives, several areas of the original methodology have been compromised: the initial and concluding phases of the methodology and the role of top management.

• Many projects are launched without a tie to the company's strategic goals.

• If the Champion is "missing in action," some benefits may be achieved for the short term, but long-term results will be undermined.

• Top management must lead a Six Sigma initiative to achieve future business success.

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