Has Six Sigma lost it's way and is it on its way becoming another fad?

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The simpliest form of an answer to each of your questions is “yes.”  There does exist an ever-present danger that Six Sigma will become diluted.  In fact, there are many signs that it has already happened.  For example, many business executives now see Six Sigma as a commodity.  So what is driving a lot of this?  How can this trend be reversed?  The answer to these questions (and other such inquires) can be readily projected from the following personal assertions:

1) The society of quality professionals should actively seek to assure the “integrity of knowledge transfer” by developing and implementing instructor certifications.  This would provide experienced consultants with the sorely needed credentials necessary to differentiate themselves from the “overnight wonders” currently stepping out of corporate positions into newly formed consultancies.

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2) The society of quality professionals should immediately discontinue its Black Belt and Green Belt certification initiative.  There is no data, research, or credible business leadership experience that definitively links such a certification to business performance (at least where Six Sigma is concerned).  In fact, several key business leaders within several of the Fortune 50 have expressed their adamant opposition to such certifications.  Until such a linkage is made, this practice should be stopped.  Certifying quality professionals within their full-time occupations is a good thing, but certifying context-sensitive, limited-duration, business-focused Six Sigma jobs is quite another.  The leadership of a corporation should determine the nature and direction of its Black Belts, not a series of CQE-like exam questions.  However, it is recommended that Six Sigma practitioners be given a conduit for “registering” their individual accomplishments.  This would serve to recognize and distinguish their notable contributions while avoiding the drawbacks of role certification.

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3) Black Belts should be developed as “idea mongers,” not “tool masters.”  Black Belts must form the pool from which the future leadership of a corporation is drawn.  Black Belts must not be viewed as quality professionals or quasi-statisticians, as this is a sure-fire way to stagnate their upward mobility.  By focusing on tools, the line between a Black Belt and a Certified Quality Engineer becomes quite blurred.

4) Many consultancies are currently “down-sizing” their Black Belt (and Green Belt) curricula so as to generate more sales.  Essentially, this only serves to momentarily stabilize their business – in the long run, it will eliminate the market all together.

At present, there appears to be no other quality initiatives on the radar screen of business.  Owing to the implications of this, it is my opinion that Six Sigma will continue to dominate for at least another decade.  After all, it is not very often that a corporate initiative comes along that has the recognized capability and capacity to deliver something other than promises.  Even if something else was on the horizon, it takes at least a decade (or two) to become firmly entrenched on an international scale.  Until then, Six Sigma rules — even though it is being progressively diluted and corrupted.  For more on this topic, see Harry, M. J. “Six Sigma Knowledge Design.”

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