Six Sigma was introduced in 1986 by Motorola engineer Bill Smith. It wasn’t until 1996 when Jack Welch included it into his business strategy at General Electric that it became popular.
What is Six Sigma? It’s a methodology used to improve the output quality in a process. For this methodology be successful, it identifies the causes of defects and then removes them.
The Six Sigma methodology was founded on data and targeting projects with quantifiable business outcomes. This approach has proven to be successful across many industries that have documented savings and improved customer satisfaction scores.
The core of its approach is the DMAIC roadmap. This roadmap is a flexible, problem-solving process that includes the following:
- Define – what is the business problem? What are the goals? What is the project scope and timeline for completion?
- Measure – this is where you collect the data to put the work into context. The team will then decide on what should be measured and how it should be measured.
- Analyze – analyze what’s preventing the progress of the process so it can be eliminated. This step includes analytic tools to list and prioritize causes of the problem, determining how process inputs impact process outputs and creating detailed process maps.
- Improve – test and implement solutions to eliminate root causes and prevent them from happening again. This can be done through brainstorming techniques or other problem-solving methods.
- Control – to make sure improvements are sustainable, monitor them by creating a control panel.
These steps should be repeated and applied to other processes in the project. Share the results with everyone on the team to develop support and organizational buy-in.
Why Six Sigma?
It’s credibility can be broken down in three ways:
- The effort to achieve stability and a predictable result from a process is what makes a business successful.
- There are parts of the manufacturing and business process that can be defined and measured. these parts can be measured to control and improve processes.
- The entire organization (top-down) is committed to sustaining quality improvements.
Features of Six Sigma
Six Sigma isn’t the first methodology developed to improve processes, but it does have different characteristics than the others. First, it focuses on measurable and quantifiable financial returns. Second, an organization’s leadership team is critical for implementing its methodology. Third, data is at the center of decision-making instead of making assumptions or educated guesses.
As agile methods continue to grown, they have found themselves partnering with Six Sigma. In the Agile Manifesto, the 12th principle states “at regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly“. Agile teams use Six Sigma to solve problems through empirical data that the methodology provides a set of tools to help with.
Skepticism of Six Sigma
Harvard Business Review notes some of its shortcomings. One, it doesn’t incorporate information technology which they believe is important. Two, they don’t believe it fits well with work geared towards finding innovative new methods and processes.
Even Jack Welch has admitted that it’s not a holistic approach for every company. But when it comes to product manufacturing, its ability to reduce defects provides results. It’s up to the organization to decide if this methodology is right for them.
Westland, J. (2022, June 10). Six sigma in Project Management: A quick guide. ProjectManager. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from https://www.projectmanager.com/blog/six-sigma-a-simple-guide-for-project-managers
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