Six Sigma Article Is Misleading

I found James Lucas' article "The Essential Six Sigma" (January 2002, p. 27) both dated and inaccurate. Though I applaud him for accurately describing the generic implementation plan and summing up the effects of Six Sigma as success breeds success, he did present the following inaccuracies in the article:

1. General Electric's (GE's) Six Sigma system is of little use outside GE. Only a handful of consultants successfully practice this approach because it lacks an adequate infrastructure to succeed outside GE's rigid corporate systems.

2. Total quality management (TQM) and Six Sigma are totally separate initiatives. The former failed, and the latter, when properly taught, is succeeding.

3. GE used a fragmented approach to Six Sigma training and applies different curricula to different portions of its organization. This inhibits the ability of Master Black Belts (MBB) and Black Belts (BB) to move within GE.

4. Define, measure, analyze, improve, control (DMAIC) is the industry standard, not MAIC. Plan, do, check, act went out with TQM and has no functional relationship to a proper Six Sigma program.

5. The 1% rule of thumb (p. 29) is the reason many companies attempting Six Sigma fail. If you only have one MBB for every 100 BBs, you cannot mentor. Realistically, you should have one MBB for every 10 BBs.

6. Training cannot vary from trainer to trainer. The material and the approach must be uniform.

7. GE began its Six Sigma program only after Six Sigma was perfected at Allied Signal.

It is imperative for informed readers not to fall prey to the GE myth. Six Sigma is important to industry in the United States and to me personally.

Six Sigma Master Black Belt
Coral Springs, FL

Author's Response: I do not see the seven inaccuracies you claim are in my article. So I will answer your points in order:

1. I ended my article with the sentence, "It (Six Sigma) has been successful for the companies that have adopted it, and this success will encourage other companies to adopt it." Therefore, I don't understand your first point and the focus on GE.

2. Both TQM and Six Sigma have been applied successfully. Because Six Sigma can be succinctly described as adding an improvement system to the other business systems of a company, it is easier to implement. I took a detailed look at all the elements of TQM, and I verified my formula:

[current business system] +
[Six Sigma] = [TQM]

is a good approximation that ties TQM and Six Sigma together.

3. GE's Six Sigma training is different for different areas of the company. For instance, the curriculum elements for financial BBs are different from those for manufacturing BBs. I think this is proper, and the advantages of focused training outweigh any inhibition of BB movement within the organization. However, I do not see where I addressed this point in my article.

4. You have stronger feelings than I do about the need to precisely define the steps of the Breakthrough Strategy. I prefer more flexibility because, in my experience, a process that is too rigid can inhibit improvement.

5. The 100 to 1 MBB/BB ratio was given by Mikel Harry on p. 61 of his book (noted in reference 2). I wrote, "Recent implementation experience suggests the BB to MBB ratio should be closer to 10 to 1," so my article agrees with the ratio you propose.

6. I stand by my statement that there is still much trainer to trainer variability in Six Sigma training. The training process could be improved by reducing this variability.

7. I do not see where I addressed this in my article. My sidebar shows Six Sigma is still not perfected.

J.M. Lucas and Associates
Wilmington, DE


GE's Management Practices Opposite of Deming's

Numerous quality articles link Jack Welch and GE's success to the implementation of Six Sigma. Some of these same articles quote W. Edwards Deming. For example, in the January 2002 article on Design for Six Sigma (David Treichler and others, "Design for Six Sigma: 15 Lessons Learned," p. 33), the authors reference workout and GE's efforts toward worker empowerment. In my opinion, GE represents the management practices Deming preached against, such as the focus on short-term profits and quarterly statements. Deming's 14 points include pride of workmanship, driving out fear and eliminating quotas.

I would like to point out some of GE's other "successes":

  • In 1980, the year before Jack Welch took over, GE employed 402,000 people, with 285,000 in the United States. The company had a net profit of $1.5 billion and a revenue of $25 billion. In 2000, GE employed 313,000, with 168,000 in the United States. The company's revenue was $130 billion, with a net profit of $12.7 billion.
  • During Welch's reign, GE's employment picture changed dramatically. Financial services grew fivefold, and GE closed or sold 78 plants in the United States.
  • GE was involved in more instances of Pentagon fraud (before it sold its arms business in 1993) than any other military contractor.
  • GE-owned Kidder Peabody was sued by the Equal Opportunity Commission and accused of illegally forcing out 17 investment bankers because of age.

This information is taken from Thomas O'Boyle's book At Any Cost (Westminster, MD: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999).

I think we quality professionals need to look carefully at how we promote quality initiatives. Throwing out numbers of $1 million annual savings per Black Belt may not be the whole story. A high stress, high demand environment for cost reduction may be behind those numbers.

Briggs and Stratton
Murray, KY


Quality Department Is Outcast of the Organization

Recently, I have read many articles about the changing world for quality professionals. I have been in the quality field for 17 years, and the quality department is always seen as the outcast in the organization, but we bring this scorn on ourselves. Every year a new fad arises, and quality professionals embrace it, write articles, sacrifice virgins and pray to the new quality god. The latest fad is Six Sigma.

Motorola is credited with being the originator of Six Sigma. It also had the distinction of being the company with the most layoffs in 2001. But Six Sigma is not alone: QS-9000 was heralded as the thing that was sure to save the automotive industry.

My old company produced parts for a major automotive supplier. It decided to put all the parts it sourced up for bid to the lowest bidder, and quality was not a factor. Instead of using limited resources to improve the process, the company spent thousands of dollars for certifications that accomplished very little.

It's time quality professionals came clean. Few new quality concepts have been developed in 50 years. Yes, we have better technology and better equipment to analyze data, but all we do is wrap old thoughts in new paper and create more rich consultants. Is it any wonder we are not treated seriously? Our managers see the program of the day wither and die without positive impact.

Deming had quality figured out 50 years ago. All the buzzwords and certifications are just things that get in the way. Quality can and should be a practical profession, but it has come to be seen as a nonvalued, unnecessary function that exists to make sure companies keep their certifications. Until we get back to the practical applications Deming prescribed, quality will continue to be underestimated. I for one am proud to be in quality. I just wish more of us would come down from the clouds and get involved in the real world of running our businesses.

Ridgid Products
Orange, VA


What Happens to Those Registered to QS-9000 TE?

R. Dan Reid's article, "Automotive Quality Management System Evolves," in the January 2002 issue ("Standards Outlook," p. 98) confirms my conclusion that the days of QS-9000 are numbered, and its successor is TS 16949:2002.

That's good for parts suppliers, but what is the plan for tooling and equipment suppliers registered to QS-9000 TE? Will there be a TE supplement to TS 16949, and if so, when? If not, what and when?

Wes-Tech Automation Systems
Buffalo Grove, IL

Author's Response: I cannot confirm your suspicion about a supplement to TS 16949. Remember, TS 16949 was a deliverable of the International Automotive Task Force, and the tooling and equipment supplement was one of the DaimlerChrysler, Ford and GM manuals.

I haven't heard of any new initiative designed to update the TE supplement at this time, but there could eventually be customer specific updates for companies requiring TE certification.

The effort required to develop and come to a consensus on a common manual is substantial, and the appetite of companies to invest this much effort given the payback is definitely on the wane. An easy alternative may be for these customers to require their tooling and equipment suppliers to be ISO 9001:2000 certified.

GM Powertrain
Waterford, MI


'QP' Has Achieved A Reasonable Balance

In his January 2002 editorial ("Why Six Sigma?" p. 6), A. Blanton Godfrey said, "Let us know what you want to see in future issues of QP and Six Sigma Forum Magazine."

Well, since you asked ... personally, I am very much against Six Sigma and believe ASQ has overembraced this methodology. There are several technical flaws with Six Sigma that have never been adequately explained:

  • The 1.5 sigma shift. If you are performing statistical process control (SPC) properly, you will detect a shift well before you reach 1.5 sigma.
  • The reliance on targets and specifications, which are required to determine sigma level.
  • The idea of putting all the training eggs in one basket ($35,000). There are moves, such as OSHA's voluntary protection program (VPP), to provide for more employee involvement, but Six Sigma hurts VPP efforts when training budgets are limited and reinforces an elitist approach to improvements.

I think QP has reached a balance in reporting the sometimes conflicting methods of achieving quality. And, yes, there is conflict between a Deming based approach and Six Sigma. However, QP is balanced. The January 2002 issue, which was primarily focused on Six Sigma, had two SPC/Deming based articles.

As long as QP continues to do what Godfrey promises in his editorial, I believe the magazine is on a reasonable track. Personally, I would like ASQ to take a more self-critical look at what it is embracing with Six Sigma, but professionally I believe QP has achieved a reasonable balance point over the past 12 months.

ASQ certified quality engineer
Fluor Hanford
Pasco, WA


Author Should Have Used The Term 'Registration'

In the December 2001 article "Johnson Space Center Reaches for the Stars" ("Emerging Sectors," p. 61), Leon Blum uses the term "certification." I believe he should have used the term "registration" instead.

In the United States, "certification" is used for conformity assessment of products and people, "accreditation" is used for conformity assessment of laboratories and accreditation bodies, and "registration" is used for conformity assessment of quality and environmental management systems. While the three terms--certification, accreditation and registration--may be used differently in other economies, I believe their use in the United States should be consistent.

National Institute of Standards and Technology
Gaithersburg, MD

Editor's Note: We consult with a number of quality professionals involved in the creation of new standards and define the terms based on what they tell us. Jack West, one such professional and frequent "Standards Outlook" author, explains the difference among the words in the following way.

"Most of the world uses 'certified,' and some even use the word 'accredited,' which is totally incorrect. For all practical purposes, most people (myself included) recognize 'registered' and 'certified' as being the same thing and use the words synonymously. In reality, the two words are slightly different.

"Here is the way it should be thought of: An organization contracts with a certification body, often called a registrar, to audit its quality management system for the purpose of certifying that system's conformity with ISO 9001. If the results of the audit are OK, the certification body or registrar issues a certificate to the organization (making it a certified organization) and lists the organization in its registry of certified organizations (making the organization registered). Thus, the organization is both certified and registered.

"Then there is the word 'accredited.' 'Accredited' means 'determined to be competent.' The Registrar Accreditation Board accredits the competency of certification bodies (registrars). Not all certification bodies are accredited.

"I hope this doesn't make a simple concept more confusing."

Productivity and Quality Consulting
The Woodlands, TX

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