iSixSigma

How are the Six Sigma methods (DMAIC, DFSS, etc.) applicable to software development and services industries?

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Obviously, you know how to ask a “huge” question.  In terms of scope and depth, it is nearly equivalent to the question: “How does one go about boiling the ocean without harming the ecosystem – give me some examples (case studies), tell me the best tools to use, how to use the tools, and kindly explain how can the effort be managed from a matrix point of view (please be specific)?”

Where Six Sigma and software is concerned, it would often appear that “talk and opinion” is about as bountiful as straws in a haystack, but “targeted decisions and guiding action” is like trying to find a needle buried somewhere within the haystack.  There is little doubt that Six Sigma can be widely and productively applied to the field of software design, development, and delivery, but there remains only a handful of practititioners that have actually proven this assertion (as a collective methodology).

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So the question still remains — can the tools and methods of Six Sigma (such as DMAIC) be focused to improve such things as software function, coding defects, code reuse, operational defects, mean-time-to-failure, documentation quality, and process cycle time, just to mention a few?  What constitutes a “software project?”  Should we take a problematic approach to improvement and focus on “process quality” or take a symptomatic approach and concentrate on product quality?  If we converge on product quality, will we become trapped in the controversy of “random defects” versus “uniform defects?”  Will this debate slow our journey to global deployment and implementation?  Can the principles of Design-For-Six-Sigma (DFSS) be practiced during the course of software design and development?  What about Processing-For-Six-Sigma (PFSS) practices and principles?  Does the field of Managing-For-Six-Sigma (MFSS) have anything to offer? 

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As individuals with only 24 hours in a day, such questions (and consequential answers) are often perceived (and treated) as roadblocks rather than bridges.  My point to this seemingly disjointed answer is simple – there is no singular answer.  There is however, good leadership.  The type of people that will “step up to the plate and make it happen.”  These types of leaders believe “where there is a will, there is a way.” 

Twenty years ago, Six Sigma was the same way.  People said it was impossible.  You would likely not believe how many times I have heard the phrase: “Mike, are you crazy … do you have any idea of what must be done to realize your vision … nobody will support that much improvement … no one will track with you that long … its way too complicated … you will be alone in woods … so just focus on your engineering career … forget such lofty ideals and thinking”  Well, in hindsight, it is easy to see that many underestimated the will of a leader – the power of believing, adapting, improvising, and never quitting.  The success of Six Sigma is more about creative leadership and a “can do” attitude. 

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Application cookbooks and statistical tools are important, but not the centerpiece.  Just like when it comes to fixing morning breakfast, it is easy to get the chicken to contribute, but getting the pig to commit his part is quite another story.

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