Love It/Hate It

Six Sigma has its fans and its foes

Nothing Stirs up controversy within the quality community quite like Six Sigma. Based on letters, comments and articles, I think it’s safe to say Six Sigma might just be one of the most revered—and possibly one of the most reviled—quality methods to date.

Its detractors cite the approach’s rigidity, saying it hinders innovation and creativity required for breakthrough improvement and invention. Proponents credit it with streamlining processes, reducing defects and saving companies millions—even billions—of dollars.

And even though it’s been widely deployed throughout industry for more than a decade, some still refer to Six Sigma as a "flavor of the month." Whatever that means, and whether it’s true, the fact remains that Six Sigma’s use is still widespread—even more now that it’s combined with lean.

Will Six Sigma survive into the next decade? The answer to that question seems to depend on who you ask. Two articles in this issue offer different looks at pros and cons of the method.

In "Critical Stage", author A.H. "Jack" West looks at Six Sigma’s impact and offers six ways quality professionals can ensure its continued effectiveness. In "Tune Up", authors I. Elaine Allen and Thomas Davenport advocate using Six Sigma—at times combining it with other improvement methods—to maximize effectiveness and achieve optimal results.

"Overall, an organization must be prepared and skillful to deploy variations of process management initiatives—implementing disciplined process management tools such as Six Sigma but also valuing disruptive innovation and change to develop new products and processes," they write.

Where do you stand? Have your opinions on the method changed over time? Has Six Sigma succeeded or failed in your workplace? What are Six Sigma’s greatest strengths, and what are its future challenges? To weigh in on the Six Sigma debate, use the "comment" tool on these articles’ web pages, e-mail editor@asq.org or visit the QP discussion board.

As debate rages over U.S. healthcare reform, we’ve added an audio interview with former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill to QP’s website, where he discusses ways to improve healthcare quality and advocates striving for perfection. An outspoken—and well spoken—leader, O’Neill’s comments will reinspire the "good isn’t good enough" belief inherent in quality professionals. The print interview, published in June, is also available in our archives.

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