How can I determine if Six Sigma will work in my organization?

Determining if some initiative can “fit” an organization is much like buying a pair of shoes – you can know the exact size of each foot, but sooner or later, you must put the shoes on and walk around a little.  There is no substitute for experience.

Six Sigma is an idea-centric, tool-based, fact-driven, top-down, data-motivated, role-intensive, system of management.  Lets face it, most organizations like to think of themselves in this way, but in reality, they live in the shadows of these attributes.  To this day, Six Sigma is just one of those things that requires a “leap of faith,” in spite of the many successes that have been publicly acknowledged.

As many practitioners of Six Sigma already know, there exists a virtual labyrinth of statistical concepts, methods, techniques, and procedures.  In a rationally transparent manner, we refer to the global collection of such analytical ways and means as “tools.”  Of course, such tools can be effectively employed to facilitate the aims of most localized problem solving activities as well as the lofty goals of global, large-scale continuous improvement initiatives. 

Only by focused thinking and disciplined practice will an organization be able to fully leverage the tools of Six Sigma – from the discovery of vital cause-and-effect relationships to establishing the longitudinal capability of a process.  Perhaps by instinct, we naturally link the idea of “decision-making” to the world of statistics – as a science as well as an art.  Through the implicit power of such linkages, breakthrough can be realized.

Given these insights, we must bear in mind how the tools of Six Sigma can be used to significantly extend one’s leadership capability.  Remember, one of the distinguishing characteristics of a true leader is the uncanny ability to acquire, absorb, and amalgamate many different types and forms of information (and data).  An effective leader often calls upon such synthesized knowledge to effectively convince their following that the “status quo” is a far more dangerous position than that of “change.” 

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Perhaps by inference, many view change as the occasional clash of symbols when, in reality, it is the melody.  As many would attest, the Six Sigma system of management is rich with credibility and far more effective than the overactive phrase: “Trust me.”  Not surprisingly, the extent to which we can adapt such tools and enablers is directly related to the scope and depth of our knowledge – especially our theoretical and experiential learning (about those tools and enablers). 

Today, many people are still unable to connect the dots, so to speak – they find it difficult to see how certain tools and enablers can be used to support a particular problem-solving task or project.  In a manner of speaking, there will always be a following of people that seek to short-circuit the system.  They look for a “generic-box-of-tools” that can be promoted as a “panacea-for-positive-change,” deployed in the form of an “step-wise-application-cookbook,” and then instantly implemented by a simple “push-of-the-button,” without the consumption of resources.

Thus, we come to understand that the problem with Six Sigma is not related to the application methodology, supporting tools, or sustaining enablers.  Rather, the problem is one of leadership.  When the leadership of an organization lacks certain types and forms of analytical knowledge, it is quite likely that any kind of improvement initiative will fail.

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