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Speaking of Quality

Searching for the Next Big Thing

The need for improvement will never go out of style

August 4, 2014
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Barry Schaffer seemed to trash talk Six Sigma in a recent blog. In May, he wrote a post on CMS Wire titled “Six Sigma Letting You Down? Rediscover Concurrent Engineering.” Closer reading, however, indicates Schaffer isn’t badmouthing this time tested methodology so much as bringing concurrent engineering to the attention of his reader.

Schaffer boils his argument engaged in his title to a “no size fits all” argument. We have all read great stories about Six Sigma—or Lean, TQM, etc.—but have also read the opposite. It isn’t that Six Sigma—or Lean, TQM, etc.—doesn’t always work. The methodologies work. But does Six Sigma work for every sector? Not necessarily. Does Six Sigma work on every project? No. On top of the methodology, the individual tools in the Six Sigma methodology toolbox aren’t meant for every situation. Yet, in the quick fix world we live in, the tendency is to react first, think about it later. That is not the best policy.

Concurrent Engineering, Six Sigma, and Your Improvement Plans

Before defining concurrent engineering, perhaps it is prudent to mention all of the names it goes by: simultaneous engineering, interactive engineering, and integrated product development. Regardless of the term you use, the definition remains the same.  Concurrent was defined by the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) in its December 1988 report “The Role of Concurrent Engineering in Weapons System Acquisition” as a systematic approach to the integrated, concurrent design of products and their related processes, including manufacture and support. This approach is intended to cause the developers, from the outset, to consider all elements of the product life cycle from conception through disposal, including quality, cost, schedule and user requirements. (from “A Few Words About Concurrent Engineering,” www.johnstark.com/fwcce.html)

In other words, concurrent engineering is the parallelization—rather than a series—of tasks in which functions of design engineering, manufacturing engineering and other functions are integrated to reduce the elapsed time required to bring a new product to the market. Who doesn’t want that?

On the other hand, Six Sigma “is a method for reducing variation,” states the ASQ website (http://asq.org/cert/faq/six-sigma-project), “in manufacturing, service or other business processes. Six Sigma projects measure the cost benefit of improving processes that are producing substandard products or services. Whether in manufacturing or service industries, such projects quantify the effect of process changes on delays or rework. The goal of each successful Six Sigma project is to produce statistically significant improvements in a process: Over time, multiple Six Sigma projects produce virtually defect-free performance.”

What does all of this mean? Go ahead and use Six Sigma methodology, just be sure to use the right tools. And if need be, dig deeper into concurrent engineering.

Sam Keene, in his 2010 update to “Concurrent Engineering for Better Product Development” (originally published March 1992), immediately brings Six Sigma into the discussion by admitting, “Concurrent engineering has been advanced by the circa 1990 emergence of and adoption of Six Sigma practices, procedures, and tools.” The updated introduction goes on to mention three tools used for product development. While the well-known DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) and relatively lesser known IDOV (Identify, Develop, Optimize, and Validate) have multiple places of use, design for Six Sigma (DFSS) is best used as a concurrent engineering tool.

The tools and methodologies discussed here are not new. That does not mean they are obsolete, but, humans being humans we are always looking to the next big thing—that innovation. In the case of quality tools, they get repackaged.

In an ASQ TV interview, David Behling warns practitioners from getting too comfortable with names: “Lean and Six Sigma will be called something different and it will be captured by different names. I don’t think the elements or concepts of Six Sigma or lean have really changed since it first has been made noted. However, it continually gets repackaged and in a decade it will be repackaged and called something different. But when you read the book you’ll see it was the same thing taught 20 years ago.”

Eventually some things will change—slightly or wholesale. Undoubtedly much of it will remain the same. It’s all names and semantics. What is most important is that you do your research, determine what you need to use and use it correctly, all the way through to a profitable conclusion.

When investing in improvement plans, be sure to recognize what each method—and the accompanying tools—are truly meant to do before diving into a project. Also, don’t be fooled by fancy names as claims.

Call it what you like, the important part is that you are improving. The need for improvement will never go out of style.

 Improve your processes, cut costs, reduce defects. 

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