The Future of Six Sigma Is Improvement - ASQ

The Future of Six Sigma Is Improvement


Tom Pearson, ASQ Fellow; Praedictus, Technical Fellow, Indianapolis

The “Your Opinion” column in the November 2001 issue asks, “What is the future of Six Sigma?” This is a question of great interest to us all, and each of the respondents offered valuable wisdom and insight.

However, experience shows each of these areas (except eco-effective designs) is effectively addressed by leading Six Sigma trainers. Of course, some training is better than others, and not everyone who talks about or attempts Six Sigma will have adequate background. Some practitioners will always be more skilled, better trained and more successful than others. Not everyone who can spell Six Sigma can be successful at it.

Fortunately, the Six Sigma Forum and the American Society for Quality, with their body of knowledge and Six Sigma Black Belt certification, are establishing professional standards for Six Sigma. This is the key step in the critical control phase of Six Sigma’s own design, measure, analyze, improve, control loop.

Six Sigma is the current state-of-the-art in business improvement systems science. Like any science, it must continue to evolve and improve. The question is not so much what the next generation of systems will be called, but what improvement will be made.

Current efforts to integrate the best of lean manufacturing and business process modeling and simulation are well underway. Additional efforts to integrate information building, management and delivery systems will expand organization wisdom. Dynamic systems science, integrated measurement and business metric systems, and new tools for exploration and innovation will also play a role in the next generation of Six Sigma.

New systems will provide more business improvement in less time, with less risk, at lower cost. Whether we call these new systems Six Sigma II or the next big thing, they will be built upon the strong foundations of Six Sigma, just as Six Sigma is built on the strengths of the best methods that came before it. Simply put, the future of Six Sigma is improvement activated by the scientific process.

Six Sigma Will Continue To Make Contributions

By Jack West, Northrop Grumman
Glen Burnie, MD

Is Six Sigma likely to follow a life cycle pattern similar to that of other improvement initiatives, such as quality circles, total quality management and reengineering?

Each of these initiatives is built on what came before them: They added new tools and techniques to those commonly in use, garnered prominent early adopters, demonstrated success, generalized the methodology, demonstrated success in broader contexts, received publicity, became widely adopted (but not fully implemented) and in most cases did not deliver the anticipated benefits so they were abandoned.

Will Six Sigma be different? Let’s look at the similarities and differences between it and its predecessors.

Two of the most prominent similarities:

  1. Six Sigma’s design, measure, analyze, improve, control strategy is based on the time tested tools of the quality profession, from gage repeatability and reproducibility through control charts. It has enhanced the tool set with concepts such as rolled throughput yield and the use of sigma as a universal measure of process performance.
  2. Six Sigma insists on a top down, leadership driven approach with wide participation.

Two of the most prominent differences:

  1. Six Sigma requires a greater degree of accountability for quantified and sustained results. This accountability is pervasive throughout Six Sigma deployment, from executive objective setting to Champion project selection to Black Belt (BB) project execution. It creates a support infrastructure that assures BBs have the requisite organizational and financial resources to complete projects. It also requires the creation and management of a control plan to sustain the results.
  2. Six Sigma has adopted the minicomputer and software to integrate, democratize and demystify tools that were previously the province of specialists.

Are these differences enough to keep Six Sigma from a fate similar to the initiatives that came before it? I think the jury is still out—Six Sigma has revolutionized (I use that word carefully because of personal experience) the way many people and organizations select, manage and execute improvement projects and the way they design products and processes. This trend portends well for Six Sigma’s longevity and lasting contribution to the practice of management.

However, I also see organizations that claim to have adopted Six Sigma without a comprehensive training program or the creation of the vital infrastructure. These implementations are unlikely to produce anything close to their potential or to meet the expectations of the organizations’ leaders.

Six Sigma has the potential to break the life cycle pattern and become an accepted part of management science. At a minimum it has and will continue to make an important contribution to the practice of management in general and quality in particular.

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