Thursday, June 12, 2008

Quality Tool/Technique: "Six Sigma - Been There, Done That"

Six Sigma – Been There, Done That!

I recived an Email yesterday asking my views (actually help to keep it a float in a mid size company) on Six Sigma. I decided I would post a write-up I did in 2005, since my views have not changed.

I have received a number of questions about my earlier comments on quality (see Quality and Me…) and would I provide some thoughts on Six-Sigma. I thought it must be time since I received an Email from one of the leading On-Line Six Sigma Resource Groups with the title story being “The Warning Signals of a Failing Six Sigma Program.”

Other requests have come from friends stuck in the middle of a stalled effort, and from others who are responsible for the implementation while the company they work for continues to downsize (but please remember, the officer says “this has nothing to do with the quality effort).” Gosh, how many times do they think the rank and file is going to believe this crap? When are leaders going to wake up and discover the best time for improvements are all the time not just during downtimes? That means make it part of you job, don’t flaunt it, or sell it, just do it.

I will only comment on my experiences. Please understand that Six-Sigma goes by many derivatives today (Design, Mfg, Transactional/Service, Lean, Financial, IT, etc), much like many of its quality predecessors programs (TQM, TQL, TQC, CQI, PMI, etc). Most consultants and many quality groups will disagree with my statement, because their programs are unique where others have failed. I wish everyone would just state the program they have today is an “evolution” of earlier programs, instead of taking the first training day explaining the differences of their new and better process which “they” have developed. Six Sigma was no different when it came riding out of the west (Arizona) with all the answers. A few consulting groups located in Arizona did a brilliant marketing campaign and led the way for all other consulting groups to add Six-Sigma to their bag of skills (ISO, Reengineering, etc).

The same problems that exist today (see above article for reasons) are the same problems that stalled or killed the earlier programs. Trust me on this; I am not going to show a matrix listing all the similarities. Did all that many times within my own organizations.

In the United States just about all of these programs started out in the Manufacturing sector where the quality principles and SPC tools are somewhat more applicable than the Service (many consultants also call this transactional) sector. Then as successes and momentum gain they add the Service Sector because that is the area where most of the previous programs have stalled or failed.

Many people I have talked to will not believe that Six-Sigma can work in the service factor. I know this is not true since that is the sector I have worked in most of my career and implemented many, if not all of the programs listed above in the last 25 years. Granted, they all came and went, but there were some real gains and improvements for those work groups and departments willing to make quality of way of life in how they do their everyday work. Those that failed, refused to take the time to understand this key factor and chose to have quality remain exclusionary with the Quality Experts and Staff groups owning the show and being responsible. Of course the Quality Department’s view was that they are there to help you with trained experts (i.e., black belts), and it is your responsibility (Department VPS).

My Six-Sigma Journey: I will not provide the names of the quality groups involved. The point here is the message, not the messenger group (there are too many).

1) Since the late 80s one of my responsibilities as the quality guy was to attend the training and seminars by the many consulting companies (this also included companies that spun off their quality departments to provide training to other companies) promoting improvement techniques and determine if our company should pursue a contract. I also attended (60+) on my own to keep up with the latest learning’s.

2) The one effort we did when the Baldridge Award was at its highlight was to take our officers and Quality People on trips to the winners companies and learn from them the secrets of their successes. We did this for the first three years of the Baldridge Award; this really held the momentum of our quality effort. I must say, that the best of the best (I have visited many on my own too) was Milliken in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Tremendous people and leaders who really understood the importance of improvement and that were their customer and their people.

3) I attended my first training and seminars on Six Sigma in 1998 and 1999. Much was being published, all the Quality magazines adds were now shifting from TQM, Process Mgt and ISO to Six Sigma and many companies jumped at the chance to learn from the consultants who once worked at GE and Allied Signal and opened up shop in Arizona. One of the instructors was someone I had 10 years earlier for Team Leader Training.

a. The training material at this time was written for the Manufacturing Sector (one of the groups asked me to help them write one for Transactional – I declined).

b. 95% of the training was a combination of the successful predecessor quality programs. The remaining 5% was devoted to using more SPC Tools i.e., ANOVA, Chi-square, Order of Significance Charts, etc) than the common Control Charts and Histograms. The other difference was the new tools could be done by computer software so employees should no longer be afraid of statistics. I asked if the rank and file employees had become smarter since I had found most of our employees had 7 – 8th grade math skills. I was told that was the glory of Six Sigma, the computer will provide the answers and your Black Belts, or Master Black Belts will provide the support. Looked to me like exclusionary (rank and file teams supported by a quality department separate group or outside experts who eventually train in-house experts) rather than inclusionary implementation (part of how I do my job, I should not have to rely on outside help).

c. Another big difference the new consulting groups did which I thought was a good idea, although very expensive was to have your people trained to be Black Belts at their location. The idea was to go to class for a week or two and then come back and apply your learning’s to a process that would produce big savings, thus attacking the bottom line, where other quality efforts did not (not true where I worked). Total time would be about six months. Black Belts or Master Black Belts were not handed out easily, a number of successes had to be acquired before receiving your belt to add validity to the position.

d. In 1998, a much larger company who was rich in Quality having won many of the National and some International Awards for Quality acquired the company I worked for. The old style quality which one them accolades was being fazed out and Six Sigma was to be implemented because on of our major suppliers (big kuhunas of Six Sigma) said if we want to continue doing business with them we need to have Six Sigma Processes.

e. Quality at my old company was being internalized and was beginning to be considered part of everyone’s job; we earned some ISO Certificates (another story) and were consider value added members of the company. Once the merger took place and things settled down we were integrated with the much larger Quality Department (I took another job in the field which allowed me to continue my skills transfer program with the working folks) who was starting to look at Six Sigma Programs.

f. This took about a year for them to decide and they selected one of the old time consultant groups who had just added Six Sigma to their name. I attended the first training class and would eventually be certified as Green Belts after taking 5 classes over a 2month span.

At this time the Six Sigma effort was taking off and many consulting groups were offering training faster and cheaper. Faster meant many things to many people and less costly got upper managements ear. What earlier took months, even a year to obtain a Black Belt was now being done in weeks.

At my company the Six Sigma Department (first consultants did not want the old quality groups leading six sigma) was the old quality department. When we went to training all of our material supplied by the outside consulting group was done in a process management-manufacturing format (Where it used to say Quality or Process it now said Six Sigma, I know because they forgot to change some headings and I used to instruct process management classes). During the 5 classes training sessions we helped the instructor re-write the manuals to add transactional examples so that our employees could relate.

Eventually training was rolled out, those employees that went through the old Process Management Training saw little difference, and new employees saw value to the training. Because it took a year or so for the Six Sigma to take hold in “some” departments, the Six Sigma Group decided to change the rules.

My Department was one that took on the Six Sigma effort and since I had the background I was chosen to represent us in developing a Six Sigma Team and making process improvements. There were 8 teams all total from other departments led by others who had taken the reduced 3-day training. They even named a VP to lead the effort (no Quality or Six Sigma background).

My team chose to use Design for Six Sigma as our approach (this was a problem for the Six Sigma Department, they had not heard of Design for Six Sigma and challenged my process, they eventually understood after I sent a number of examples and documentation on DFSS). The team did a masterful job (especially the designer JCR) and we gave at least 10 presentations. The key was to present the new product/service and not sell Six Sigma. Let the results sell the process (Six Sigma Dept was not happy, they wanted to take credit).

As I mentioned earlier, the training classes went from 5 days to 3, and best of all, the Team Leader would earn a Black Belt after your team finishes. Since our product/service was getting the attention of the President and VPs, the Six Sigma Department wanted me to apply for my Black Belt so as to bring attention to their efforts because one of their main objectives was to have so many Black Belts by the end of the year.

I chose not to apply even though my team’s effort actually saved thousands of dollars and productivity time. Sad to say the 4 of the 8 original teams never got past the Define or Measure Stages, the other 3 teams finished but never provided any savings. They all earned Black Belts.

I informed the Director of the Six Sigma Department that I would not be certified under their program since it would undermine my previous certifications and those that were truly earned by others in different companies, nor would I contribute to another flawed implementation that was now being run by a group that had to have so many Black Belts and Green Belts to save their jobs.

Go to this site for 10 Six Sigma Quality Reports

Click on to read a related post by me on Six Sigma,


Anonymous said...


You must work where I do, I have not been at my company to experience all the programs that youhae, but I have seen enough to know you are absolutely correct.


qualityg says said...

Sorry to hear that, just keeping ask questions "please tell me, by what method...."

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