I have been involved in design, manufacturing, quality assurance and electronic process development for the last 16 years. I have a bachelors of science in mechanical engineering and a masters of business administration. I am an ASQ certified quality engineer, quality manager and Six Sigma Black Belt and was a certified quality auditor in the past.
I have also been on two Baldrige evaluation teams for the Minnesota Council for Quality during the past year.
When I read the title of the article Drive Baldrige Level Performance by George Byrne and Bob Norris (May 2003, p. 13), I was intrigued as to how Six Sigma could be used by an organization to improve its performance scores on a Baldrige evaluation.
However, I was disappointed in the articles content. For each of the seven Baldrige sections, the authors first give a brief description of the requirements and then give a description of how a Six Sigma program can work to help achieve the requirements of each section.
As I read the article, I found myself struggling to understand the authors assertions that something unique about Six Sigma could be used to improve a Baldrige score. The same arguments could be made using ISO 9000, total quality management (TQM), other contemporary improvement programs or a companys self-defined business improvement program.
The authors state, Fortunately, a powerful methodology to do all these things does exist. It is Six Sigma ... (p. 14). I read this as a statement that only a Six Sigma program can help improve a Baldrige score.
They go on to say, ... and use specific Six Sigma tools such as root cause analysis, team charters and strategic improvement goals ... (p. 15). Root cause analysis, team charters and strategic improvement goals have been around for a long time and are not unique to Six Sigma. TQM and ISO 9000 havent had the long-term acceptance they deserve because claims about their content and value have been made that did not hold up. Lets not go down that road with Six Sigma.
Finally, on p. 21, the authors state, Increasingly, many Baldrige examiners are viewing Six Sigma as the ideal vehicle for deploying Baldrige improvement initiatives.
I dont see how this could be correct. Baldrige examiners perform an objective evaluation of the organization against the Baldrige criteria. During the evaluation process, the team members spend quite a bit of time challenging each others individual assessments to ensure the final reported assessment objectively addresses the Baldrige criteria, and only the Baldrige criteria. Only the companys current state is relevant to the examiner, not how it got there.
I believe a well-run Six Sigma program can benefit many organizations. With the improvement that occurs, it is likely a companys Baldrige score would improve. But, the same can also be said about a company implementing an ISO 9000:2000 program, lean enterprise, value stream mapping or its own self-defined improvement program. A companys success depends more on how well it implements its chosen improvement program than on which one was chosen.
Using the Baldrige criteria to develop an improvement program can benefit a wide spectrum of organizations relative to their current performance level. The Baldrige criteria are about helping a company get to the next level. Six Sigma program implementation is valuable to a company that is already doing fairly well. (Remember, a control mechanism must already be in place.)
If we say it is necessary to use Six Sigma to benefit from Bald-rige criteria, could Six Sigma be viewed by some companies as a barrier to improvement? Six Sigma should not be claimed as the best way!
President and consultant
Quality Process Solutions
Dan Waters states that we claim only a Six Sigma program can help improve a Baldrige score. Nowhere in the article do we make that claim, nor would we agree with that statement. Six Sigma is one of many means and ways to improve a Baldrige score.
He goes on to state that we imply there is something unique about Six Sigma (that) could be used to improve a Baldrige score. Again we do not make any assertion that Six Sigma is unique. And we wholeheartedly agree there are similar arguments to be made for ISO 9000, TQM and other rigorous, structured continuous improvement programs. However, for the purposes of this article we chose to show the complementary aspects of Six Sigma and Baldrige.
As for his comments about our statement on p. 15, anyone with a knowledge of Six Sigma knows root cause analysis, team charters and strategic improvement goals are just a few of the tools included in any successful strategic Six Sigma deployment. We admit they have been around for years.
True practitioners of Six Sigma take the best practices and tools of Six Sigmas TQM, reengineering and quality improvement predecessors and put them into a rigorous, structured methodology that, when followed, yields tangible results in a relatively short timeframe. Thats something the predecessors to Six Sigma could not necessarily claim.
Waters also challenges the assertion we make about Baldrige examiners on p. 21. Nowhere did we say Six Sigma is the only way to improve a Baldrige score. We both have served as Baldrige examiners and senior examiners for a combined total of 10 years. We have significant experience and tenure as senior reviewers for our respective state awards, too.
We based our statement that many Baldrige examiners are viewing Six Sigma as the ideal vehicle on the fact that a significant number of examiners within our personal networks at both the state and national level are telling us this. They view the prescriptive nature of the Six Sigma methodology as a perfect complement to the nonprescriptive nature and intentional design of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Criteria for Per-formance Excellence.
Waters is also incorrect when he states, During the evaluation process, the team members spend quite a bit of time challenging each others individual assessments to ensure the final reported assessment objectively addresses the Baldrige criteria, and only the Baldrige criteria. Only the companys current state is relevant to the examiner, not how it got there.
Examiners Want To Know How
Baldrige examiners assess objectively against the criteria, but they are also interested in the how, especially in categories one through six. They look for cycles of improvement and a systematic approach to meeting the requirements. They score based on the systematic improvement dimension, and we strongly believe Six Sigma provides such a systematic approach and evidence of cycles of improvement.
Furthermore, category seven of the criteria looks at measured performance over time for those key measurements that are important to the organization being assessed. Positive trends and results over time relative to benchmarks, industry standards and competitors are all important to the examiners, not just the organizations current state.
We have seen where the strategic application of Six Sigma can help an organization determine which measures are important to its strategy, measure those over time and keep those measures on a positive trend line or, at a minimum, in control.
Finally, Waters states Six Sigma program implementation is valuable to a company that is already doing fairly well. While Six Sigma can definitely benefit a company that is already doing well, our experience has proven most companies adopt a Six Sigma program when they have a burning platform or urgent need to do something to transform their business. That is, the senior leaders understand they must do something to meet changing demands of their marketplace or simply get better at whatever it is they need to do to grow, reduce costly defects and improve the bottom line.
The primary intent of our article was to show how Baldrige and Six Sigma can be aligned and are complementary in nature. Our experience with applicants at the national and state level provided us with the rationale for writing the article because most applicants in the early stages of their Baldrige journey struggle with the systematic approach aspect of the criteriatheir feedback reports reflect this fact.
Between the two of us, we have directed more than a dozen major Six Sigma deployments with literally thousands of Six Sigma projects for companies around the globe and have personally witnessed the power of this strategic improvement methodology.
We hoped those who read the article would appreciate and gain an understanding of Six Sigma as a vehicle for organizational transformationthat is, take it beyond the pervasive project mentality, so often associated with it. Six Sigma, when deployed properly, is a vehicle for strategic change that can transform an organization into a high performing entity. The world-class objective criteria that can be used to measure that performance is Baldrige. What a perfect fit!
George Byrne and Bob Norris
IBM Business Consulting Services