How Many Sigmas Does It Take to Solve a Problem Around Here?

Tonight I was thinking about some of my experiences since being involved with Six Sigma. One experience came to mind that when looking back, was so funny in the context of the situation, that I can’t resist sharing it.

I was working on a project that was to improve quality of parts arriving to a particular customer. This customer was very critical of our shipping quality, and rightfully so – we had some challenges with the product that we were making for that particular customer. The project had all the essentials of a great project – a clear problem definition, a good scope, variable data to analyze, with process controls that were adjustable (perfect for DOE’s, etc).

I was called into a meeting where we were discussing this product at the customer’s campus, and I (as the project leader of the problem) had to speak on project status. My audience consisted of various managers, and a senior manager who was running the meeting. There were probably ten or so people at the meeting, and I was the lowest organizational level person there. So after a few minutes of initial discussion, I started to give status. I started explaining how we framed the problem, and how our team established good measurement repeatability through the “Measure” phase. I stated that our team was in the “Analyze” phase, and I explained our analysis plan. As I was explaining, I noticed that the senior manager was squirming around in his chair, he seemed to become more and more uncomfortable as I kept explaining.

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Finally, he couldn’t resist anymore, and cutting me off he said:

“I don’t care if it takes one sigma, two sigmas, five sigmas or twelve sigmas! I just want the problem fixed… how many sigmas is it going to take!?”

I was completely taken back by this statement, and all of the managers’ eyes turned to me for my answer…. I was at a loss for words until I managed to muster up a response. I said:

“A lot

What else could I say??

Comments 2

  1. Sowmyan

    Customer review is a situation where the people who review are not too much interested in details. They want results. Time should be of essence when it is related to a ongoing problem. They also would also be vary of fixes that fail, and hence like to know how good a method is being applied to solve the problem.

    Your focus should be to acknowledge the problem, its current levels and give an indication of the time frame by which this will be fixed. You should briefly touch upon the point that a six sigma approach is being applied to root out the problem.

    If the customer sets up another briefing with their Quality department to understand the details, you may talk of your solution details. Senior management review is not the forum to get into details. Every communication should be appropriate in its scope to the audience.

  2. Kosta Chingas

    I’ll chalk some of the manager’s comment to inexperience from my part, as this happed when I first was a black belt back in 2000. Coming from engineering, I was always wrapped up in the details back then ;).

    Today, I can partially empathize with the man, since now I am in a position where I have to ask for results every day. So, really he wasn’t completely unfounded in his comments, but maybe he was more unfounded in the way it was done.

    Maybe a little coaching regarding your comment from that manager after the meeting would have gone a longer way with me back in 2000.

    The way I see it, now I have the chance to coach those skills to my engineers and staff, so overall it was a good thing!

    I still look back and smile at the whole episode…

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