Sunday, May 11, 2008

Total Quality vs Six Sigma Six Years Ago

I received an Email from a friend of mine that I worked with for over 10 years. He was going through his files and he found this write-up I did in April of 2003.

He suggested that I post it on my Blog. The only changes I made was to rename the company in question with "ACME."

From: qualityg
Date: 4/14/03

I would like to start out by stating that I have been involved in the Quality Arena since Quality of Worklife and Circles were first started in the United States in 1978. I have led Quality initiatives, led teams, advised teams, consulted officers and union workers, trained over 8,000 employees and taught hundreds in College on the aspects of Quality Improvement initiatives. I am also certified in a number of quality areas. I could go on but the point I’m trying to make is no one is more of an advocate for quality and what it means than me. However, I am troubled by the constant barrage of misinformation and costs that are associated with Six Sigma implementation.

It's unfortunate that the quality community hasn't recognized that evaluative methods and tools don't improve quality. Organizations improve quality by using methods and tools consistently to emphasize planning and refine their designs, not by appraising quality. Quality is only improved when the organizational culture is committed to change and is willing to make quality a priority and internalize it into the day-to-day operations of the entire organization. There are no shortcuts. If quality matters, it should be a way of life.

It's a sham to see so many resources being wasted in the name of quality when it's still viewed as an appraisal system. When I began my quality journey in 1978 quality-methodology innovation and implementation were second to none, yet quality was (as it still is) a problem. This remained true even when the quality "gurus" (Deming, Juran, Crosby and others) introduced innovative ideas to address quality in the planning stages--that is, building quality into design, not simply monitoring it at the process level or inspecting it after the product or process is finished.
Similarly, ISO 9000 and QS-9000 had flashy introductions but fell short on delivery. They created a generation of overwhelming paper trails but offered no major quality breakthroughs. Organizations fell in love with the process but forgot the purpose of ISO 9000, which is to increase the effectiveness of quality systems. Ford and Firestone both fly banners and flags that state ISO certification. Telecom even has a version of there own called TL-9000 (AT&T does not participate in this forum).

We reinvent the wheel with each new quality fad, but we give it a new name in the hope that the name will help us beat the competition. Unfortunately, the more we change, the more we stay the same.

The new wave of quality methodology, Six Sigma, is "revolutionizing" many organizations. That's a shame--most consultants know it's simply a repackaging of old concepts, but they play along because it's highly marketed, and, for the short-term, there's a great deal of money to be made. I challenge anyone to dust off an old copy of his or her Problem Solving and Process Management Training Materials and compare it to the present day DMAIC training material.

Six Sigma presents nothing new to the quality field of defect prevention. It's little more than an old appraisal methodology that focuses on problems after they've already occurred (DMAIC). Some claim it challenges the old paradigm of horizontal integration by focusing on top down integration, but (although vertical integration, or executive accountability, is an important issue that's worth exploring) Six Sigma is not a revolutionary concept. From 1991 to 1994 I worked as the quality consultant for "ACME" Officers. They were all committed and drove quality throughout their organizations.

Six Sigma is a marketing ploy that has enthralled many quality professionals for at least three reasons. First, it offers easy money, because both the training and qualification are controlled as though the concepts are unique and innovative and can only be understood, taught and implemented in one way. In reality, many consultants who promote the Six Sigma methodology lack consistency in their training materials and course content, and they themselves lack a knowledge base to build on. Second, Current in-house Quality professionals are fighting for their jobs, they move from quality initiative to initiative (TQM, Baldridge, ISO, Reengineering, Six Sigma, etc.) trying to say afloat (most Six Sigma experts say a cardinal sin to make is to have the Quality Department lead the Six Sigma effort, it should be led by engineers and those working on day to day issues). Thirdly, Six Sigma sounds impressive because companies like GE, Allied Signal, etc., claim exceptional returns on their Six Sigma investments. Although it's true that some companies--and they constitute a small percentage of the whole--have had exceptional returns on investment, they only experienced such a tremendous turnaround because they attacked the simplest, easiest-to-solve problems first, and their quality levels were so low that anything they tried would have been a success.

This same phenomenon and exhortations were announced by Motorola, Milliken, Federal Express, IBM, and AT&T in the TQM days of the late 80s and early 90s. You see at that time companies like GE and Allied Signal would not partake in the quality movement; they relied solely on selling companies off and laying off people by the tens of thousands. Today you here about Jack Welsh, it used to be Roger Milliken, Tom Glavine, Jim Akers, Fred Smith. In my opinion, the companies mentioned that led the quality revolution in the early days have gotten rid of most of their low hanging fruit and require complex solutions to complex problems. GE, Allied Signal and the new wave of quality companies are 5-10 years behind the others in their quality efforts.

Two of the leading proponents of Six Sigma, Mikel Harry and Richard Schroeder, define Six Sigma in their book Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World's Top Corporations as "a business process that allows companies to drastically improve their bottom line by designing and monitoring everyday business activities in ways that minimize waste and resources while increasing customer satisfaction." Obviously, quality improvement and cost efficiency should be inherent in the design process, but can't this be attained with other proven initiatives? For example, organizations that follow the benchmarking process can improve their bottom line by at least 30 percent. Whatever the initiative, if top management is sloppy in defining quality expectations and is not held accountable for bad decisions, quality will suffer.

Harry and Schroeder argue that those in the financial community are impatient for results and only the Six Sigma approach will satisfy them. It's silly to assume that the financial community is unaware of the dangers of the abandonment and misuse of otherwise sound programs designed to improve productivity, effectiveness and employee moral. It's unlikely that this relatively new phenomenon will take over the executive culture and revolutionize organizations' bottom lines--it didn't work when the goal was at three sigma; how in the world is it going to work at the six sigma level?

Harry and Schroeder further define Six Sigma as "a disciplined method of using extremely rigorous data-gathering and statistical analysis to pinpoint sources of errors and ways of eliminating them." Again, this is nothing new--quality professionals have tried for at least the last 20 years to come up with quality metrics and methodologies (e.g., Seven Step and Process Management from Qualtec) to do precisely that. Most of their efforts have been wasted not due to weak tools or methodologies or statistics but due to lack of management support. Another reason is the lack of understanding with the day-to-day worker in the basics of math and reading. Six Sigma proponents will have you believe the computer will take care of all this, all I can say is I read a story last week that indicated that high school test scores for reading, writing and arithmetic have not improved since the introduction of the computer in the classrooms. However, learning more about a computer has vastly improved. The same applies to the workplace, we know allot about PCs and can create charts and graphs, but many have no idea on how to truly create and interpret the data for improvement opportunities. This is strange since in 1992 I helped set up the following structure at ACME:
*TQM - 1993 vs Six Sigma - 2003
7 Step Problem Solving vs DMAIC (Problem Solving)
Process Mgt/Reengineering vs DFSS (Design for Six Sigma)
Team Leaders vs Team Leaders
Quality Advisors vs Green Belts
Process Analysts vs Black Belts
Internal Consultant/Certifier vs Master Black Belt
Executive Quality Council Champions vs Top Down Implementation
Cost Savings Cost of Quality vs Verified by Finance Dept
Quality Run Quality Department vs Quality Run by Engineering Department & Six Sigma Dept

* All were trained and certified by outside consultants (Qualtec), many trained and certified by American Society for Quality (ASQ).

Six Sigma consultants proclaim that with the addition of Master Black Belts, Black Belts, and now the new Yellow Belts will be the difference from the earlier failures of TQM and other initiatives.
Quality gets discussed but is seldom internalized; it's usually placed on the back burner and serves only to use management power that already exists in the concepts of conformance and nonconformance and cost of quality. Quality plays second fiddle in any organization that focuses on corrective actions, and that's exactly what Six Sigma is: another prescriptive corrective action. As long as management isn't rewarded for cost avoidance (build quality upfront in designs), nothing will change.

We give quality a great deal of lip service because it's "the right thing to do," but we all know that it's typically an afterthought--how else can we explain the fact that we have so much rework and so many internal customer complaints even after so many quality programs have been implemented and so many millions of dollars have been spent in the name of quality? The answer, of course, is lack of management commitment and appropriate cultural environment for quality to grow and become part of the status quo. Because timing, production and cost are the true driving forces, we keep regurgitating old tools and methodologies to divert attention from the real problems.

Six Sigma proponents don't understand that modern-day quality is a planning-oriented activity rather than an appraisal activity. Modern-day quality proponents don't understand that training in specific tools and specific methodologies won't have favorable results unless the personnel trained in the tools and methodologies are allowed to utilize them in the improvement process on a consistent basis in their day-to-day jobs and not just on big projects that take forever and go nowhere in the long run.

Many programs and processes have been tried over the years. Some have been successful, some have been failures and still others are lingering. No one knows what affect the marketing blitz surrounding Six Sigma will have in the quality world. However, one thing is certain: Six Sigma is getting management's attention by promising to focus on bottom-line results. Let's hope it works this time and doesn't end up being just another flavor of the month. To succeed despite all of the methodology's shortcomings, users must accept that the major contributing factor is not so much the methodology itself but the politics of the organization's internal culture.

So, what are we to do with this Six Sigma phenomenon? We need to recognize it for what it is--an appraisal tool that does nothing for prevention--and use it only when it's appropriate and applicable. It's not a panacea, and it won't bring spectacular results in most organizations. A better way to report progress on a breakthrough project is to exhibit the before-and-after pictures without any financial report manipulations. We all must understand that some cases require problem solutions rather than root-cause solutions. We need problem solvers utilizing statistical thinking, not root-cause problem solvers dealing in high-level statistical analysis. This is especially true with transactional/service processes.

To solve actual problems, it takes more than one method, one observation, one study or one experiment. To demonstrate improvement, one must wait to see the process developing and confirm the results based on verification of the "fix." Power Point Storytelling alone won't do it. We need to invest a great deal of thought and set achievable measurable on a good target to track the improvement.

Here is the next wave coming ---> “Lean Six Sigma” – stay tuned!

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