How can Six Sigma be applied in a software development?


There is a clear tendency among many new comers to Six Sigma.  That tendency is to artificially and unwittingly limit the scope of Design-For-Six-Sigma (DFSS) to the configuration of hardware-based products and processes.  As a result, it is currently common to equate DFSS with such fields of practice as engineering and manufacturing, which have their roots in the optimization of product and process performance characteristics.

Supporting these hardware-focused activities are a battery of such quality tools as robust design, QFD, voice of the customer and certain elements of the ISO and QS 9000 standards.  But while the organizations that have applied and benefited from these tools have made a major contribution to the field of design, they have done so far from the edges of possibility.  They have, in other words, artificially constrained the idea of design to the hard manufacturing and engineering disciplines.

As a profession, it seems we have not given due consideration in thought or action to the sheer magnitude of design activities that occur outside the confines of hardware-based products and processes.  The quality profession (as a general rule) is not directing its capability and capacity toward soft products, systems, processes and functions.  As a result, the quality profession is dooming itself to a path of sub-optimization and constrained application.  Plain and simple, we must not allow this to happen in such an era of great opportunity.

Having said this, we can acknowledge that quality-based values have been recognized and integrated into traditional design processes, which is to say we design for reliability, for low cost, for maintainability, serviceability, simplicity, assembly and so on.  However, the ways and means we employ to proactively abate risk before, during and after configuration and subsequent value realization is not well documented by the traditional design process.  Most often, the design team just tries to “figure it out along the way” or enlist the involvement of a consultant, whose intervention is likely to entail the use of traditional quality tools and practices, thereby constraining his or her value add.

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After all, the evidence is overwhelming.  We see far too many four sigma companies remain at four sigma, even after practicing classic forms of intervention.  This is not to say that such intervention is fruitless but that it simply does not produce a rate of positive change healthy enough to keep pace with increasing expectations.  Thus, the competitive position of these companies in the marketplace tends to remain relatively unchanged.

Unfortunately, many processes, systems, support functions, activities, events and transactions are “designed” in a vacuum, apart from any set of guidelines, established roadmap or set of best design practices.  These types of applications represent an enormous opportunity for spreading the principles and practices of DFSS into every domain of a business, not just the domain of hard products.  From the far-reaching implications of a new IT infrastructure to the myopic importance of assembling one’s daily calendar, these domains are rich with opportunity and ripe to become beneficiaries of DFSS.

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