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Quality Remix: Six Problems I have with Six Sigma, Numbers 5 and 6

May 3, 2010
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I have big problems with the Six Sigma approach, and would not recommend it to anyone. Let me tell you the final two problems I have with Six Sigma in Part IV of this blog.

Problem five, Application

As I understand it, Six Sigma only applies to the products of a company, while it is claimed by some that it applies to “business processes.” I don’t know how that works. Do you run control charts on purchase orders or the balance sheets? Does Six Sigma consider the work done by engineering, purchasing, finance, HR, et al? Can you tell human resources they can hire 3.4 defective people per million, or tell engineering that 3.4 errors per million drawings is OK? Who keeps score? A performance standard should be easy to understand and apply to every job in a company; such as a standard like Zero Defects.



Problem six, So What?

If Six Sigma works for you, do it. Hundreds-maybe thousands-of organizations are doing it. Like everything else, some succeed and some fail. I only hear from the ones who have failed, and want to dump the idea. They recognize that Zero Defects is a simple, honest approach to producing a quality product or service. No gimmicks, no mystique. ZD is just a common sense idea to have work done right the first time. There are no special skills to learn, just the job that needs to be done right the first time. If you don’t know how to produce a quality product or service, all the black belts in the world can’t help you. Conversely, if you know how to produce a quality product, you don’t need a black belt.

I’ve been around a long time. I’ve dealt with thousands of business manager from the top guy in a big corporation, to the quality guy in a small screw machine shop, plus countless supervisors and workers. I have some idea about how they function. I honestly believe that upper management accepts the Six Sigma idea because it gives them a curtain to hide behind in an attempt to escape their responsibility for quality; they are more than willing to give that responsibility away. The black belt dashes in to accept the responsibility for quality, which can’t really be his or hers. I’d love to know how many plant managers, division managers, or CEO’s really understand Six Sigma. Six Sigma has mystique; it sounds like something important, something you should do. I can see the CEO at a Stockholder’s meeting, “We’re doing Six Sigma work!” Everyone smiles and nods in approval. “We’re going for seven,” he adds. The stockholders say, “Oooooooh.”

Why do I care? Well, I do care. I’ve spent 50 years trying to help people produce quality products and services, and I think Six Sigma is the wrong way to do it. It’s just my opinion, but I think that producing a quality product or service is all about leadership and the culture of the company. It’s about people. I know there are hundreds of kind-hearted, dedicated men and woman out there giving it their all. I’ve seen it for years; quality professionals willing to lie down in front of the truck to prevent bad stuff from getting out. I just think Six Sigma is the wrong approach, that’s all.

It’s my guess that any success of Six Sigma can be attributed to the “Hawthorne Effect.” You should Google that.

To see Part’s I, II and III of this blog, Click here, here and here.
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