"What’s wrong with Six Sigma?” ask John Goodman and Jon Theuerkauf on p. 37 of this issue. I can think of some quality professionals who would answer, “Everything!” The authors argue the concepts and tools comprising the methodology are sound; any problems usually lie with implementation. Couldn’t we say the same about quality in general?
Whenever any type of quality initiative fails—whether it’s Six Sigma, ISO 9000, the Baldrige criteria or a more elementary tool like statistical process control—isn’t it typically because it was the wrong tool or methodology for the situation, or it wasn’t supported sufficiently (either with resources or management commitment) or it wasn’t followed through on properly?
Often the root cause of implementation problems is lack of buy-in. That can happen at any level, from senior management down to frontline workers (on the shop floor or in the office, clinic or classroom). But most quality professionals and experts would agree the top level buy-in is most important—not only do senior leaders control the flow of resources (money, equipment and personnel), but they also set the vision and strategy for the organization as well as the code of conduct for how it operates.
How do you reach those top decision makers? One way ASQ is helping is through its economic case for quality initiative, which will soon provide information and tools to prove quality has a positive impact on the bottom line. (Read a brief update on p. 14 in “Keeping Current,” and watch for more information in future issues and online at www.asq.org.) Another way is through the ASQ Research Committee, a program designed to engage organizations and their senior leaders.
For example, one of the first topics selected for research is leadership and its role in sustaining quality over time. Does a company’s level of quality rise and fall depending on who the CEO is and how personally committed that person is to improvement and performance excellence? Common sense says yes, but can that premise be proved? (This topic is being pursued in conjunction with the Juran Center at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, in response to a challenge issued by Joseph M. Juran.)
Other research topics include a critical analysis of what is and isn’t working with Six Sigma; an innovation project in conjunction with the Council on Competitiveness; expansion and accessibility of the quality body of knowledge; and the use of quality in healthcare, higher education and government. For more information, visit www.asq.org/pub/research.
Obviously, research alone
won’t cause change; the data and analyses it creates have
to be implemented in real-world situations. (There’s that
implementation bugaboo again.) But well-documented information is
a powerful tool for achieving the buy-in so crucial to