Is Six Sigma Dead?

Abstract:Reports indicate that Six Sigma may be obsolete or worse. A QualPro study found that over 80 percent of large companies using Six Sigma trailed the S&P 500 since implementing it. The root causes of this Six Sigma’s repeated failures include lack of leadership commitment, incorrect accounting, poor integration with organizational culture, local thinking and lack of communication with employees. By correcting these failures and bad attitudes and giving improvement teams recognition and opportunities for further advancement, quality professionals can revive Six …

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From experience I find the LSS steps valuable but must be evaluated at each tollgate review. No improvement project should itself create more waste or non-value than doing nothing. A project should always assess returns and be prepared to stop when common sense outweighs process.
--RLHarris, 02-06-2014

Six Sigma has sent quality backwards a century. Its basis is utter nonsense. Read my papers:
--Dr Burns, 08-28-2012

Six Sigma is more alive than ever! The problems is the lack of knowledge of the people, not the method.
--Ulises Gonzalez, 03-01-2012

I'd like to address some of the comments given.
@AJSingh - Yes, lean and Six Sigma should be concurrent activities, but I believe we start at TOC to break constraints, follow with lean to insure the process is minimized and then apply Six Sigma to further refine the process. It is then that we keep applying all of them in a continual effort to improve.

@Jay Arthur - Yes, Six Sigma has become too slow and complex. Hence the need to apply only the right tools at the tight time. And those tools may not necessarily be only from SS. All are needed.

@George Houghton - The Six Sigma revival will be accomplished by combining the best of the best from the total quality toolbox.

@Karl Weinrich - The regulatory environment is one we all live in to one extent or another. It is part of the background on which we structure our responses.

@Christopher Hughes - What is past is prelude. Join the Continual Improvement Lab on LinkedIn to see how we are combining all the improvement methodologies into Integrated Continual Improvement technique. It is in its infancy at this time. Look for a website launch in December/January.

@Mindy and Vinil Komalan - Thank you for your kind words. Join the Continual Improvement Lab on LinkedIn as suggested above. We are putting the tools into the hands of the workers in simple, easy to use language even an executive can understand.

@Javier Rios - The reference to "new" tools was aimed at their more recent resurfacing and use, regardless of when they were created. As a "way of life," it means we are approaching a whole new era of integrated thinking.
--J. Bruce Weeks, 10-27-2011

The problem with Six Sigma is that from the start it was a few good ideas hiding what was mostly just existing quality concepts that the people who started it tried to rename and repackage.
--Darrell Ray, 10-17-2011

Six Sigma is just something to do to improve a given process. It is not a quality business management system like Baldrige. The tools of Six Sigma have been around for many years, Deming, Juran, Crosby, Feigenbaum, Ishikawa, Shewhart, Shingo, and Taguchi. It was never anything new that had not been around for years. It can die and will not negatively affect quality movements. Implementation of quality requires a culture change, not just a tool to improve a process.
--Kent Whitman, 10-12-2011

I agree with the article that Six Sigma is losing energy. In my view, when it became something that needed to be done, we lost the real meaning of it. The other comment is in regards to the "new methods." I do not think "systems thinking" is a new method. W. Edwards Deming brought it up more than 60 years ago, and it wasn't even new then. Besides, I do not think it is a method or "a way of life," and that is why it failed before. Systems thinking is the foundation for everything else, including Six Sigma, and they need to go together.
--Javier Rios, 10-11-2011

One of the things that stands out in this article for me is, "Similarly, to build a better process, an organization must use tools from all the quality toolboxes, including lean, Six Sigma and total quality management. And the tool used must be appropriate to the situation." This is a fact many people forget.

Quality is not about the numerous names or methods we have. It's about continuous improvement processes. It is not about fixing a small process or a large project, but rather an amalgamation of various methods and thinking that will help an organization survive over the long term.
--Vinil Komalan, 10-10-2011

This is a very good article. And if it could be shorter, it will be even better because them I can share it with leaders in my organization. Ford has been implementing Six Sigma since last century and experienced the same problems mentioned in the article. But I personally feel it has been going in the right direction in recent years, ever since it implemented the global quality improvement process (GQIP), which aligns Six Sigma with product quality improvement activities perfectly. The GQIP itself was designed in the define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC) format, and it clearly defined where Six Sigma as a problem-solving tool should be used to investigate customer complains or other prioritized quality problems. Maybe it would be interesting and beneficial for quality journals to explore Ford's Six Sigma program further to determine how to make Six Sigma serve its purpose.
--Mindy, 10-10-2011

I would like to see someone take a little deeper look at this topic. This article was interesting, but it didn't go beyond the usual superficial analysis of just getting a few quotes from supposed insiders.
--Christopher Hughes, 10-10-2011

One subject seems to be entirely missing in this discussion: the regulatory environment. In the pharmaceutical industry, you can never make a process or formula change without obtaining a regulatory review regarding the impact of the proposed change to the version approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Many companies that have been in the most trouble with the FDA have either ignored or paid only lip service to this reality. Certainly, manufacturing high quality products patients can trust is paramount, as is maintaining the identity, strength, quality and purity of products the FDA requires.
--Karl Weinrich, 10-10-2011

Revive Six Sigma? Really? Brush up on your history. Being the quality tool du jour means that eventually it is time for something new. Our industry lives for the newest, shiniest tools. Long gone are the days when quality practitioners admitted there was no substitute for hard work. Six Sigma has been a bit of an embarrassment since the details of the '1.5 sigma shift' came out of the closet. Time to move on...
--George Houghton, 10-10-2011

This seems like a regurgitation of conventional Six Sigma wisdom, which is wrong. Fifty years of research into how cultures adopt change shows that we need to crawl-walk-run our way to success by engaging informal leaders (the hubs) in successful projects focused on BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), such as reducing delay, defects and deviation by 50% in six months or less.

Culture change happens in projects not classrooms. Green Belt and Black Belt training is overkill for the 99% of workers not employed on a factory floor. I do agree we need to measure success in dollars saved, not belts trained.
The Six Sigma community has made Six Sigma too complex and slow to generate results. Six Sigma needs to drink its own Kool-Aid and find ways to simplify, streamline and optimize the methods and tools. Forget Green Belts and Black Belts. Be a Money Belt.
--Jay Arthur, 10-10-2011

Six Sigma is one of the many tools we in the quality field may use. We have a choice, and as leaders with responsibilities, we must make a choice of strategies for delivering quality as process and result. Six Sigma isn't dead. It is one of our many tools. Let's deliver quality!
--Gerald Brong, 10-10-2011

I agree with all point but the one that says lean activities should precede Six Sigma initiatives. My thought is that lean and Six Sigma should be concurrent activities.
--AJ Singh, 10-10-2011

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