A recent iSixSigma Discussion Forum thread posed the following question: “Have there been any Six Sigma deployments that have failed?” My answer is ambiguous enough to make me sound like a politician. The question immediately begs definition of the term “failure.” My definition of a failure would be anything that does not deliver the Return On Investment (ROI) required by the company for any other investment. Using this definition, I am not aware of any deployment that has been a failure. It is also necessary to understand that once a company has invested the money and resources to do a multi-year Six Sigma deployment and made it public (typically through the annual report), it is highly unlikely they will step forward and admit they could not execute, regardless of the outcome.
Six Sigma consultants typically define successful deployments in the following way: A successful Six Sigma deployment is one that provides an acceptable ROI and leaves a stand-alone program (not requiring further assistance from outside resources). I am not aware of a failure by this definition either. But even successful programs may have required some level of assistance when the consulting resources left. Most Master Black Belts, Black Belts and Green Belts rise to the occasion to support the business in this case.
There are many programs that have failed to deliver the frequently bloated promises of savings, which are the result of over-zealous salesmanship (both internal and external). The highest savings I have seen in a wave averaged $175,000 per project. This occurred once and the average did not hold over the life of the program. Typical waves produce savings in the $100,000 to $125,000 per project range. It is, however, a function of project selection. Given this critical dependency, it is very likely there have been many failures to meet expectations.
I am also not aware of any Six Sigma deployment that has been without some form of failure. A Six Sigma deployment is no different than any other program or business initiative. You make plans and develop metrics to evaluate the progress. When the deployment is not going as expected, you make adjustments. President Harry Truman once said something like: “I’ll make a decision and if it is wrong, I’ll make another one.” The key is to plan, do, check and act on the results.
The following list are some of the ways Six Sigma deployments have failed to meet expectations. When you consider the infinite number of ways a deployment can fail, if you are superficially engaged the odds lie in favor of a failure.