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Quality Remix: Six Problems I have with Six Sigma, Part III

February 15, 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 3rd and 4th problems I have with Six Sigma in Part III of this blog.

Problem three, Training

It’s my understanding that training a black belt-or other belts-is an expensive proposition. I don’t know exactly what it costs, but a few years ago the black belt guru wrote a piece about how reasonable it was to spend $30,000/per belt. I’m told much of the training has to do with the problem-solving method. That’s fine, but if you are spending your time solving problems, you have already failed. You’re not preventing defects, you’re managing defects. The idea of quality management is to prevent defects, not find them and fix them. It might be a better idea to spend that money on training people to do their work right.

A person whose job it is to solve problems that belong to someone else will soon become the owner of all the problems; a trap many good-hearted quality managers fall into. If the quality person jumps in like Mighty Mouse and takes on a problem to save the day, the rightful owner gets off free. If a product is properly designed and the right production process is set up, it’s only necessary to train the operator on his or her role in the process.



Problem four, Who Needs a Belt?

Six Sigma requires that you have “belt people” to do the Six Sigma work. There could be Green belts, Black belts, even Master Black belts. I find that is kind of silly. Like all employees, belt people cost money; they add to overhead. In fact, they are overhead. These people are staff-they don’t produce the product. A competent quality engineer knows all the quality techniques such as SPC, gage R&R, calibration control, data analysis, statistical process control and so on. So who needs a black belt? Is it the problem-solving technique? As I said, if you spend your time solving problems, the game is over-you lost.

I might add that in Six Sigma, the people who actually do the work-the workers-seem to be ignored. Workers should be given the opportunity to identify and report problems they have in their workplace. Who knows better then them? I don’t see where Six Sigma provides that opportunity.


To see Part’s I and II of this blog, Click here and here. To read part IV, Click here.
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Six Sigma

Barb T
February 17, 2010
Finally someone else sees the true colors.

Six Sigma

Harold F
February 18, 2010
David: It is unfortunate that Six Sigma, as many good quality tools ends up being applied improperly in many organizations. I agree with you that the application of quality tools must start at the design stage (we apply Design for Six Sigma). Also, a Six Sigma event which does not involve in large part the floor personnel is simply a long meeting. Any Black Belt worth his/her salt knows this and lives by this. The industry, as is our nature has taken an excellent set of tools, prepackaged them and sold them as the "Silver Bullet". Six Sigma is simply a great set of tools applied by knowledgeable professionals. If the organization (starting at the top) does not share your ideas regarding where Quality ought to be applied (at the inception of a project), then you will find it difficult to succeed with all the best tools money can buy. However, if you organization understands the value of applying Six Sigma tools from design through maintenance of a system and supports it wholeheartedly, the benefits are sizeable. With regards to training, not all Black Belts are made the same and not all companies grasp the value and applicability of Six Sigma. The money spent for a Black Belt is substantial for any size company. Unless the organization is committed to their success, it is a waste of time and money. If we are to spend $30,000 training a professional, I would strongly recommend scrutinizing the training source and their curricula. As professionals, we all train employees at one time or another. Common sense tells me that if I sit an employee in a room for a week and show him/her nothing but PowerPoint Slides, I should not expect expertise come next Monday. The curriculum must be interactive, hands on and rigorous, otherwise you are buying a Yugo that looks like a Ferrari (with the Ferrari price tag of course). Lastly the training must begin with management before it takes place at the engineering level. A management which does not understand the value and limitations of a tool should never buy it. Your comments are an excellent reminder to those in the Six Sigma world to focus their knowledge and skills where it is most beneficial to their organizations. It is our responsibility as Quality professionals to educate our management in the application of all quality tools.

Problems with Six Sigma

Jeff Bloom
February 23, 2010
David, I don't disagree with your focus on eliminating defects and achieving a certain level of ROI. Associating Six Sigma with just problem solving as its major purpose is short sited. Six Sigma is also valuable for improving processes, design of experiments, customer engagement and supplier engagments. At many successful organizations Six Sigma is foucused on the entire life cycle of a program, project, module and system. Once you get an individual with these skill sets and an understanding of your business you will see a quantifiable ROI. Regarding people being asked to help solve problems that are not in their area is not a new approach. If the PI Lead took ownership of a project he lead or colead was a mistake. The process owner still ownes the new / updated process and should be held accountable to maintain the gains achieved from an improvement project. Six Sigma focuses on teams and SME. Part of the Discovery Phase requires the Six Sigma team to interview people, verify documentation, collect and analyze data. This can only be done by talking to the people doing the work. We also solict input as to how things could be better. One major mistake I see is taht there are people out there using some of the Quality tools with little experience and fail to put context to data. Which in my opinion provides just nice to know information.

Thanks for comments

Dave Crosby
March 8, 2010
Thanks for all the comments. I'm not always right, I just always have an opinion. You're very right about misuse of quality tools. When I sold my SPC software I would get questions that told me the people trying to do SPC didn't understand it. The same was true with ISO 9000. Many of the certification people didn't understand what they were certifying. I'm happy to see a movement toward Zero Defects (ZD). ZD and Six Sigma can co-exist without a problem.

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