Dilbert on Six Sigma and Innovation

Dilbert on Six Sigma and InnovationDilbert and his pointy haired boss tackled two topics that are near and dear to my heart: Six Sigma and innovation. In one fell swooop, he reduced both topics to buzz words and hype. While I’m sure there are many people who may agree with Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, I’m hoping this site has a few things to say in rebuttal.

What are your thoughts?

Comments 16

  1. Michael McBride

    Scott Adams has always been one of my favorite humorists. His work rarely fails to make me smile and often makes me laugh out loud.

    That said it’s always easier, and often more fun, to criticize than it is to participate. The success of the Dilbert comic strip is more of a commentary on the growing cynicism in our society than it is a reflection of fact.

    Sure, there are dozens of buzzword jockeys for every single, effective, practitioner of Six Sigma but the truth is that most people argue against it from a position of ignorance. I for one don’t see the logic in a person stating they are against a data oriented, employee driven, mathematically sound approach to management.

  2. Mike Glish

    The basis of this strip was probably from the recent Fortune Magazine article that argued that Jack Welch’s management ideas are ancient history and there are new and better ones being used today. The article stated that the companies using Six Sigma are lagging behind those that don’t use it.

    Normally I think that Dilbert finds the underlying truth of things and his irony is is funny. This one didn’t seem funny. Maybe it’s too close to home. I felt he was just parroting what the article said.


  3. Tom Nichols

    I couldn’t imagine that the strip was referencing factual data, so I went searching for the data…and posted here.

  4. qualityg

    This is hardly the first time Scott Adams has mentioned Six Sigma.

    Please realize his background was in Telecommunications where so-called improvement systems like six sigma came and went like managers after divestiture.


  5. black belt boy

    Dilbert dealt just another blow to the image of black belts (which resides somewhere between car salesman and politicians).

    Unfortunately, when six sigma works it works. Like so many other processes, it relies on many to support it and do the work. Much like lean, if one person choses to not pull their load it doesn’t work and the “system” looks like a failure.
    I understand that, especially in automotive, it has become the new TQM, Baldridge, etc. It is looked at as a fad and the numbers sometimes don’t hit the bottom line, not because of six sigma, but because the control is not followed and thus “six sigma doesn’t work”.
    I’d love to see six sigma in it’s true enviroment, but six sigma is sometimes used as a last resort to finding a problem (more like supporting a solution), but rather chasing dollars not variation in reducing manpower rather than improving a process.

  6. Six Sigma "Whitebelt"

    As a long time project manager who has recently begun his studies of Six Sigma, I must say that there are many things in Six Sigma I have been using for 20+ years to be successful.

    People are always looking for scapegoats to shield them from embarrassment when they, their team or organization fail. Everyone wants to finger point, except in the mirror.

    Six Sigma, TQM, Kaizen, etc all can and have been successful under good leadership and a workforce where individuals are held accountable.

    The sorry thing about this is that the Dilbert cartoon will be the only thing some people remember about Six Sigma. There is a trend for some in the media to misrepresent fiction as fact. Maybe Dilbert and his boss will visit the “Cox box” to be enlightened.

  7. Gary Burger

    Like most people where I work, I decorate my office with Dilbert cartoons. This is not because I believe everything Scott Adams writes is precisely accurate. Rather, I feel that it is good to look at the lighter side of what goes on in the workplace. The things Dilbert addresses about Six Sigma are true. Management often does not understand what Lean Six Sigma practitioners are doing. Many see Six Sigma as a fad because that is the way we treat it.

    Black Belts tout their craft as though we had some special power complete with magic code words derived from a dead language.

    The pointy hair boss proclaims that Six Sigma reduces defects and that is what we as Six Sigma practitioners proclaim also. That is not true. Six Sigma enables companies to determine what causes the defects so that other tools can be used to reduce the defects.

    Always remember that the purpose of Dilbert is to entertain not to instruct. Learn to laugh at yourself once in a while. It is good for the heart.

  8. Kniles

    I sent Scott Adams the following suggested Six Sigma idea:

    Imagine the first frame being managers reporting that everyone in the company is in agreement that Six Sigma is best for their company (desire and best due to cause and effect). The second frame is a VP saying that it’s been shot down and Dilbert asking why. The third frame being that the CEO said no because he read in a Dilbert cartoon that Six Sigma is a

    Now that would be funny …


  9. Kniles

    Dilbert Six Sigma "fad" strip may have cost society trillions of dollars.

    Six Sigma has been growing world wide and it’s still in its infancy. Thanks to Dilbert and Forbes’ stereotyping of Six Sigma as being a fad, ignorant employee’s at all levels will stall new programs from taking off, costing society trillions of dollars.

    Dilbert is creating what he fights to overcome … business waste and stupidity.


  10. Surendra Bodu

    I am so glad to see how some of you understand the damaging power of Dilbert / media in general.

    Next time you see Indiana Jones Temple of Doom, do not believe a single bit of information presented in it.

  11. Surendra Bodu

    Whatever it is, I find Dilbert’s comic effective. Take it as a wake up call.

    Six Sigma needs to blend innovation. Most companies end up in the Analysis Paralysis and Incremental Improvement phases after deploying Six Sigma.

    Innovation generates new products and revenues. Just think if there was no iPod, cell phone, website, video, light bulb or mutual fund. If Six Sigma community wants to get through the criticism, it needs to tweak the methodology to incorporate innovative improvements.

    Most of the times Six Sigma is used as a follow up to a management idea in order to generate matrix. This is a waste of labor because it is after the fact.

    Six Sigma works in operations because there is always a new business innovation that disrupts current operations. Then Six Sigma goes there and fixes the process. Kind of a testing environment. Instead it should take the lead in innovation of the next generation ideas.

    Everything said, Six Sigma depends on who is practicing it.

  12. Griff Bludworth

    Scott Adams trying to say Six Sigma forces one to not be innovative is lazy. There are easy to find examples where Six Sigma the initiative is poorly applied. However, Six Sigma the process improvement methodolgy is fundamental.

    DMAIC is a problem solving methodology used to improve existing products and processes. Relying on DMAIC for innovation is silly, since you are not working on fixing an existing process, but trying to create a new product or process.

    Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) methodology provides a process for innovation. Project definition, a sound business case and customer input drive a project team to innovate in an area that is valuable and feasible. This puts the innovator in a position to create what is needed and meet unspecified customer needs.

    Data based decision making and a structured methodology help the teams make timely and correct decisions and to keep their eye squarely on the Voice of the Customer.

    I was disappointed at the narrow point of view Scott Adams took in that strip.

  13. Bob Hubbard

    This cartoon strip is a great example of what I call the “Dilbert Indicator of Process Maturity”. Dumb processes are responsible for most of any organization’s problems and pointy-headed bosses are responsible for the dumb processes. Front-line employees identify with Dilbert, in that they have no say in how dumb processes get implemented or the negative impact to the business.

    Unfortunately, Six Sigma has come to represent yet one more way for pointy-headed bosses to beat up on employees and distract them from the job at hand. Six Sigma practitioners (I am a Six Sigma Black Belt in a large IT organization), tend to make things worse as we drone on and on about hypothesis testing, confidence intervals and whether or not our data fits a normal distribution. To quote another wise comic character (Pogo), “we have met the enemy, and he is us”.

    Either we learn how to make Six Sigma relevant and useful to “normal people”, or we will surely go the way of TQM and MBWA.

    Bob Hubbard, Six Sigma Black Belt

  14. MikeL

    I love the, six sigma, DMAIC; lean, 5s, blah blah blah, acronyms, they always come from pointy haired management styles.
    They think that these are tools for improvement when in reality the change in culture is the only tool toward improvement, starting at the top!
    Scott Adam’s Dilbert lives in a cubical in my, OEM sensor, company.
    We have so many buzz words "systems" flying around here you need a score card, with manager/directors, cross-referenced to pet projects, so you can keep track.
    If you think that the “systems” works you have no marketable production skills.
    Stay off the production floor!

  15. WheresTheBeef?

    What ever happened to common sense in management?

    We need formal processes in order to cut waste?

    Seems to me there is an overall issue of managers not understanding their businesses and their corresponding processes. If they did, then clearly, they should be able to come up with more efficient methods for implementation of operational procedures that should yield in lower waste.

    Being an engineer (currently wrapping up an MBA), it is alarming to see such emphasis being put on a "4.5 sigma plus 1.5 sigma shift" process.. You have green-belts and bladk belts that act as over-seer’s and not doers. You have champions that act as leaders that are actually followers. You have executives touting the cost savings of implementing "false" initiatives that shareholders eat up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner..

    Waste process identified: Coffee Breaks

    Total employees: 10,000
    Employees that drink coffee: 8,000
    Coffee breaks per day: 2
    Minutes on break: 5
    Hourly wage charged to customer: $80
    Tot. Min on coffee breaks:5*2*8000=80,000 min
    Cost per min: $1.34
    Total cost per day for coffee break: $1.34*80k=$107.2k
    Total work days: 250
    Total Cost Savings per yr: 250*$107.2=$26.8million

    Wow.. Get this to a blackbelt to get signed off.. earn yourself a coffee mug tomorrow!

  16. Six Sigma is Stupid

    Six Sigma is just plain stupid. You can’t generalize a level an acceptable rate of failure or defect. It needs to be put in perspective.

    In baseball, a 65% failure rate ends up in the Hall of Fame. You bat .350 lifetime…you’re in the Hall.

    That’s a fact and so is the methodolgy of Six Sigma.

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