Exactly What About Six Sigma Doesn’t Work?

Nayism 38: Six Sigma doesn’t work. Just look at the Fortune 500 . . . yada . . . yada . . . yada. . . blah . . . blah . . blah

After reading yet another Six Sigma bashing news article, I find it interesting that intelligent people are publishing the kind of gibberish that naysayers all over the world have been dreaming of. But after all the naying and blah, blah, blah, exactly what about Six Sigma won’t work? Here’s what I say. . .

Let’s see, define the problem, measure it, analyze data to develop solutions, improve the process and make sure the improvement sticks. Sounds like a good approach to me. Maybe it’s the execution. Selecting a project that supports corporate objectives, using a cross-functional team made up of process experts and gathering input from the customer. Nope – no issues here. Right then, maybe it’s the data driven decision-making or the methodology’s ability to fix long standing problems. No – not a problem either.

So what are all these naysayers complaining about and exactly what about Six Sigma doesn’t work? Is there any substance or reality to their concerns or are they just the “Captain Hook” in a bad rendition of “Adventures in Sigmaland.” Maybe these naysayers just need a mommy.

Comments 10

  1. Doug Mitchell

    I posted about this topic on my blog after the Wall St. Journal had a piece highlighting Nardelli’s departure from Home Depot and possible problems that 6 Sigma caused there.

    In my experience as a BB, I think 6 Sigma is great. But you must agree that there’s nuance in deploying it in different environments. When that balance and modification is not executed properly (like Nardelli’s staff cuts that probably helped folks equate 6 Sigma with job loss), resentment can occur.

    The data (which as a BB I will not dismiss) shows the measure of stock prices of 6 Sigma companies pre and post 6 Sigma deployment. Many beat the S&P but many have trailed it. If stock price is the modern measurement of success for US comapnies (a tragic reality), then 6 Sigma vs. non is a wash at best. I think that interpretation is flat out wrong…but how much are you willing to bet that 6 Sigma is jettisoned at Home Depot and Wall Street will respond positively?

  2. geoff elliott

    It is not that Six SIgma doesn’t work in a given context. It is that SS is being prresented as aprobelm solving approach when it is clearly not. SS has a limited set of ANALYTICAL TOOLS (WHICH IS GOOD AND BAD). But SS has no problem solving diagnostic tools,

    SS cannot deal with messy problems, variable work content and emergent properties.
    So I agree with many of the naysayers

    Geoff Elliott

  3. Dan

    Geoff, you say that SS can’t deal with "messy problems, variable work content and emergent properties" and to that I say that you are mis-applying the philosophy. It CAN and it DOES work very well with exactly those items. How many times have you walked the process and found glaringly evident problems that need immediate fix? You don’t need any fancy statistical analysis to find and fix, in my experience, about 75% of the issues you will find. We call that the basic "blocking and tackling" of the business. How many times have you looked at the output of an FMEA and decided to just implement corrective actions rather than do further investigations to confirm the veracity of the cause? That’s where my Green Belts make the most of their money! As my company goes through significant change both internally and externally (being sold off is a wrenching experience!) we are using a combination of Lean and Six Sigma techniques to guide us through significant "messy" problems with wildly varying work content. We’re finding that the problems are easily identifiable through walking the process and in some cases, doing some limited data analysis (Pareto charts, Control Charts). Fixing them involves some very basic fundamentals including Standardized Work (which requires discipline) and vastly improved communications (enabled by IT). It doesn’t require high-power. Remember, Juran said quality improvement takes place project by project and in no other way.


  4. aint that easy

    Are you saying that implementations of Six Sigma never fail ? Or are you adopting the Deming/Dilbert position that Six Sigma would be fine if it weren’t for those idiots in upper management? [By the way, a sure sign that a management fad is about to die is when gurus/consultants/practitioners routinely blame upper management for the failures.]

    Being specific, here is one thing that does not work in Six Sigma: expecting that thousands of lightly trained “green belts” will routinely manage/facilitate significant improvement projects. The vast majority of green belts will never improve anything.

  5. dilbert

    From what I have seen of six sigma projects it is a system by idiots, for idiots. It winds up being a system of renaming every action you are taking on the project to fit the six sigma terminology and after you have adequately renamed everything on your project to be six sigmalicious, the project plods along just like it would have anyways, without all that new-age terminology attached to all the actions.
    In fact it usually makes a project worse because people respect the six sigma so much when they hear that the project is achieving these sigma metrics they go blind to any other reality about it.

  6. Jerome Alexander

    When will they learn that all management fads have a limited life! There are no “silver bullets” and no substitutes for good smart work. Worse yet is when some consultant tries to evangelize the workforce into believing in some “new religion” replete with its own rituals, icons, and Bibles. It’s all intended to convince the masses that their attitudes about pay cuts, grueling schedules and idiot managers are wrongminded. God forbid (the real one) that anyone ever gets on the wrong side of one of these “prophets” by having an original thought or dares to question the dogma. Remember the Spanish inquisition?

    What an insult to the intelligence of employees and good managers. Successful organizations innovate. They are honest with their workforce and respect divergent opinions. They do not need to use goofy gimmicks and play games with employees’ psyches. In fact, there is really only one thing that all successful organizations have in common – they are successful.

  7. macadoo

    6 Sigma works. It’s the lame people who don’t follow up or just quit that make it fail. It has worked constantly for my company. Biggest problem we have is management not making the associates perform their job tasks as they are paid.

  8. Guy W Wallace

    Six Sigma works, and works very well where appropriate – but not in every process performance context.

    What if the real root cause was a lack of employee motivation for many but not all performers – itself caused by dislike of a few of the managers due to their not making pay and promotions equitable? If the SS BB determines that as a root cause – what is there in the BB’s bag of tools/techniques that will address this root cause?

    I have a client – a civilian in the military – who is tacking a project to standardize SS across their very wide footprint – where many firms and practitioners are using their own version of SS. Pretty ironic that the methodology to reduce variation is practiced in such a variety of approaches.

    My biggest complaint is that there is not front-end on DMAIC that formally plans and schedules the effort and determines the probable "I" in ROI – before proceeding down the SS path. Or determines other variable variations – such as in the enabling human elements of process that are not addressable to the same extent as non-human enablers. Humans are less "control-able" to a SS level. And sometimes you can’t simply design them out of the process picture well enough and automate their tasks to achieve SS levels of performance.

    But don’t throw the SS baby out with the bathwater! And make sure that the process is as lean as possible before reducing variation of a fat, sloppy process.

  9. The Real Question

    For a quality system that is supposedly data driven, why are there apparently no externally available metrics for the success or failure of Six Sigma as a business process?

    The obvious and wrong answer is because it is proprietary secret stuff that companies can’t give out. Really? When Six Sigma acolytes spread the word between companies (Toyota shares methodology with others) and consulting firms abound, I have yet to see a chart, graph, table or otherwise that says: Before Six Sigma we made x amount of money. After we made y. And these gains [or losses] are attributable to Six Sigma and not other factors or external market conditions because of z.

    Where is the data?

  10. french Bob

    The principle of SS is fine, but is really a method of diagnostics for idiots with a fundamental lack of common sense and the inability to think strategically.

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