As organizations adopt and deploy Six Sigma, they go through several stages of maturity. Until now, however, there has been no formal description of this evolution. The Six Sigma Maturity Model™, introduced here, provides an outline of five levels of Six Sigma development. The intent of the model is to help Six Sigma practitioners, deployment leaders and executives:

  1. Benchmark where their companies stand in relation to broader patterns experienced by other organizations.
  2. Assess the areas of strength and performance gaps in their deployments.
  3. Pinpoint specific steps they might take to close gaps and graduate to the next stage of their Six Sigma journey.
  4. Communicate progress to their Six Sigma teams and to the broader community within their companies to garner support for their continuous improvement efforts.

This model has been built out of the experience of working with dozens of leading Six Sigma companies, as well as input from a Six Sigma executive advisory board consisting of prominent consulting firms, authors and luminaries in the field.

The Six Sigma Maturity Model (Figure 1) outlines each of the five levels along various axes and describes the evolution of the organization along these axes as it progresses through the levels. Time frames that organizations typically spend at each level also are provided. Simple exit criteria define the transition from one level to the next. The model is designed as a general guideline, not a prescriptive roadmap for Six Sigma implementation.

The five levels are:

1. Launch – This is the starting point – wherein an initial few visionaries in the organization launch Six Sigma, training is initiated and projects are begun.

2. Early Success – The initial projects are yielding results and early successes are being achieved.

3. Scale and Replication – The early success has led to other parts of the organization buying in to Six Sigma and a broader launch of projects is under way.

4. Institutionalization – Throughout many parts of the company, projects are yielding broad-based financial impact.

5. Culture Transformation – Six Sigma is part of the organizational DNA, financial impact is sustained and the Six Sigma culture is pervasive – even beyond the Six Sigma practitioners and beyond the company boundaries.

Overview of the Six Sigma Maturity Model
Overview of the Six Sigma Maturity Model

Level 1: Launch

Driven by a burning platform in the business, the arrival of a new CEO with a prior Six Sigma background, a competitive benchmarking exercise or a bottom-up effort in a division of an organization, Six Sigma is launched within an enterprise. The launch can be top-down or bottom-up, but launches are generally quicker and more successful when they are top-down.

The launch usually occurs with the help of an external consulting and training firm. Consultants typically preside over initial executive and Champion sessions designed to establish the potential impacts of Six Sigma on business operations, revenues, costs and the company culture. There is buy-in to start the initial training sessions to get a core group of Black Belts and Master Black Belts who will lead the initial projects. Organizations generally appoint a vice president or director of Six Sigma who reports to an executive sponsor and whose charter is to ensure a successful deployment of Six Sigma. In bottom-up launches, there may not be as much senior executive involvement; support may only exist at a divisional level.

Table 1: The Axes of Launch
Axes Characteristics
Leadership Support Initial visionaries needed to provide impetus for adoption – top-down or bottom-up
Training Executive buy-in via external trainers; Champion training; initial Black Belts identified and trained
People A few driven believers, rest of the organization mostly skeptical
Project Selection Usually a burning platform provides focus; but need to avoid “boiling the ocean;”
need to manage excessive expectations
Financial Impact None yet, no projects completed
Reporting None yet, no projects completed

Key Challenges: To ensure that the initial team executing the Six Sigma effort has the necessary support in the organization, and to ensure proper project selection in order to drive successes at the next level.

Duration and Next Level: This level typically lasts between three and nine months. An organization moves to the next level when initial training is completed and the first set of projects is under way, although not yet completed.

Level 2: Early Success

At this level, the initial projects are well under way – many have been completed. Improvements have already demonstrated significant financial and other impacts. The support that was given to the initial team is being validated by the early results. This is a critical “show me” stage, where it is important for the early successes to be made visible so the rest of the organization can see the real impact from Six Sigma. This is where the ambiguity and uncertainty about the potential business impact of Six Sigma are replaced by proven, relevant examples of business problems faced by the company and addressed by the successful application of Six Sigma.

Table 2: The Axes of Early Success
Axes Characteristics
Leadership Support The initial projects that are completed validate the vision of the leadership
Training A few waves are completed, usually still external
People Initial results are helpful; but most of the organization still waiting to see if this will affect them
Project Selection Low-hanging fruit (easy to identify projects that will yield significant results) are plentiful
Financial Impact Initial results are having some impact; usually focused on cost reduction
Reporting No consistency yet, no roll-ups because number of projects is still small
Software Focus is on statistical tools for the Belts

Key Challenges: To ensure that projects are completed in a reasonable time and that they have meaningful financial impact on the business.

Duration and Next Level: Typical companies stay at this level for between six and 18 months. A company moves to the next level of Six Sigma maturity when the initial successes have led to the other organizations in the company beginning to adopt Six Sigma.

Level 3: Scale/Replication

At this level, the company has experienced solid success from the initial deployment, and other parts of the company are buying into Six Sigma. This is the stage at which the Six Sigma effort really scales across the company and gathers momentum. Many waves of training are in progress across many parts of the company. Projects are being pursued in multiple organizations (divisions, plants, units, etc.).

Table 3: The Axes of Scale/Replication
Axes Characteristics
Leadership Support Decision to drive Six Sigma throughout the company; leadership across the company buys in
Training Many waves across the company; often external trainers; content is customized to the company
People Six Sigma now seen as a career development path; change agents throughout
the organization see a platform that works
Project Selection Usually replication of the patterns of success already done (similar projects
for similar problems in plants/distribution centers, etc.)
Financial Impact Consistent measures of impact are in place
Reporting Enough projects completed so that average impact per project, per Belt, etc.
can be predicted; aggregate impact across the organization is significant
Software Software goes beyond statistical tools to project tracking; consistent
application of methodology and financial impact reporting is ensured
Strategy Maturity Creation of strategy maps to ensure that the mass of projects under way
are aligned with corporate and organizational priorities

Key Challenges: To ensure that the methodology is consistently applied in other parts of the company, and to ensure that financial impact and results are replicated. It is important to have a strong deployment leader for the company who ensures consistency of methodology and results.

Duration and Next Level: The Scale/Replication level typically lasts for between one and three years. A company goes to the next level when significant financial results have come in throughout the various organizations in the company and significant financial impact is being reported company-wide.

Level 4: Institutionalization

At this level, it is not just replication of the success of another organization, but replication of the success within each organization in the company. There is enough financial impact from projects in each organization that meaningful comparisons can be made between organizations on average project impact, average cycle time, total impact, etc. The Six Sigma processes have become institutionalized throughout the company.

Table 4: The Axes of Institutionalization
Axes Characteristics
Leadership Support Top leadership across the business units, geographies and divisions are all
expected to be Six Sigma supporters
Training Very large scale; usually internalized, use of in-house Master Black Belts as
trainers; e-learning is used for scale
People Initial Black Belt waves have been repatriated, with enhanced career prospects
and positions in the organization
Project Selection Formal idea-generation/evaluation process in place to ensure continued flow
of meaningful projects; no more low-hanging fruit
Financial Impact Strict controls in place to ensure validation of results; measures evolve to include revenue impact
Reporting Comparison of results for each organizational unit; aggregate corporate-wide results are reported
Software Project tracking typically evolves to include knowledge management and portfolio management
Strategy Maturity Strategy maps at corporate and organizational level; going beyond alignment,
to actually launch projects to impact the strategic goals
Beyond DMAIC DMAIC is mastered; but DFSS, Lean, Kaizen, etc. also are integral parts of the organization

Key Challenges: To set up consistent processes for Six Sigma execution. For example, consistency should be achieved in areas such as project selection and scoring, approvals, financial impact measurement and validation, project execution roadmaps, reports, Belt training, etc. This should be pursued while allowing for controlled variation in different parts of the company, ranging, for example, from manufacturing to transaction-heavy organizations.

Duration and Next Level: The institutionalization level can last from between two and four years, or more. A company progress to the next level after multiple years of company-wide adoption of Six Sigma leading to Six Sigma being embedded throughout all parts of the company.

Level 5: Culture Transformation

At this level, the company has had sustained success with Six Sigma for a long period. Six Sigma is embedded in the company DNA. “Six Sigma is the way we do business” is truly practiced. The methodologies of Six Sigma are applied not just to Six Sigma projects and by people trained in Six Sigma, but throughout all execution processes. Six Sigma also has been applied to the extended enterprise – customers, vendors, distribution chain and supply chain – for mutual benefit. The culture is data-driven, process- and metrics-oriented and focused on financial impact.

Table 5: The Axes of Culture Change
Axes Characteristics
Leadership Support Top leadership across the business units, geographies and divisions are all
expected to be Six Sigma supporters
Training Very large scale; usually internalized, use of in-house Master Black Belts as
trainers; e-learning is used for scale
People Initial Black Belt waves have been repatriated, have risen in career stature
and positions in the organization
Project Selection Formal idea-generation/evaluation process in place to ensure continued flow of meaningful projects
Financial Impact Strict controls in place to ensure validation of results; measures include revenue impact
Reporting Comparison of results for each organizational unit routinely done;
aggregate corporate-wide results are reported
Software Integrated portfolio and strategy management across the enterprise; replacement
of legacy applications by vendor applications
Strategy Maturity Full closed-loop of strategy, to projects, to roll-up of project results, to organization’s strategic goals
Beyond DMAIC Six Sigma is being applied in spirit to all project portfolios – new products, IT projects
Culture Change Entire organization operates at a higher performance level; Six Sigma embedded
in culture; extends to customers, vendors, supply chain, distribution chain

Key Challenges: To continue to keep Six Sigma fresh and to innovate in the new areas where it can be applied as the company inevitably goes through natural business cycles of growth, threat, acquisitions, etc.

Duration: There is no end-point or duration at this level.

The Value of the Maturity Model

Having some standard by which to measure, an organization can assess its own level in the maturity model. This may be done internally, by benchmarking with other companies, or with the help of a consulting firm. A gap analysis can then help identify what critical axes need to progress within the business. After communicating the findings to others in the company and getting buy-in to fix the gaps, the organization can lay out a roadmap of how to advance to the next level and work toward getting there.

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