Six Sigma Sucks

Over the past weeks and months I have become increasingly aware that there is a grouchy counter-Six Sigma-culture out there. As indisputable proof of this, a Google search on the phrase “Six Sigma sucks” returns no less than 111,000 hits. (See for yourself here.) Even discounting bitter G.I. Joe fans, this is a big number.

I certainly didn’t read through all of the links, but I did peruse the first score or so. And I also spent quite a bit of time reading through the collected wisdom on a page ostensibly devoted to “The Truth about Six Sigma Quality…Fallacies, Faults and Errors” located here. Incidentally, I was directed to this site from, of all places, the forums on

Because there is a lot to read on the subject of “Six Sigma Sucks”, allow me to paraphrase the vast majority of what is out there in the three points below. And, of course, to respond. Because behind the smarmy smarter-than-thou attitude that pervades most of these pieces, there is little more than a lot of unfounded assumptions, much plain misunderstanding, and no small measure of grumpy complaining masquerading as fact.

1. The math is wrong.

There seems to be a small but dedicated community of folks (mostly academics and consultants) who are obsessed with some or all of the following: the definition of defects; the focus on defect reduction; use of Sigma as a process measure; usefulness of DPMO as a process metric; whether using the normal curve as a basis for process improvement work is appropriate; whether Harry’s “1.5 sigma shift” is real and if so how it may be explained; whether Six Sigma is a reasonable goal in the first place; etc, etc, etc.

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Such arguments, in my opinion, entirely miss the point regarding data-driven continuous improvement. Sure, math and statistics get tortured and misused all the time in the name of Six Sigma. And sure, errors are made. That’s not surprising – a few weeks of training and access to a lot of computing power does not make people into statisticians or mathematicians. But if we can get to the point of discussing and debating the problems and opportunities in an organization in a data-driven, consistent way, then the battle is already won. We don’t have to be right in every case, or even most cases, to make progress. Dwelling on the fact that the math is sometimes wrong is a bit like suggesting that we should never start jogging to lose a few pounds unless our running technique is already perfect. In fact, we make a lot of progress even if our technique is terrible. And not to start at all would be a much worse mistake than starting poorly.

Furthermore, “the math is wrong” is not only a weak argument, but also one aimed against a view long since discarded by most serious practitioners of continuous improvement. In my opinion and experience, the best Six Sigma programs today no longer focus on simple defect reduction. Many don’t even teach Z-scores or process capability indices. As the detractors are fond of pointing out, gurus like Deming, Shewhart, Wheeler, and many others have much more sophisticated and nuanced views than simple “Six Sigma quality” on the use of statistics to drive continuous improvement. What the detractors don’t seem to realize is that Six Sigma practitioners realize this too. We’re not dumb or close-minded. We all continue to learn, and Six Sigma curricula have largely moved on in their own cumbersome, evolutionary fashion.

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2. Consultants vastly overstate the value of the program.

This one, of course, is often true. But it’s definitely not a Six Sigma-specific problem. And it’s not done by good consultants, consultants who understand the plusses and minuses of Six Sigma, and are careful to talk clients through both. There will always be examples of very expensive programs that start with a blizzard of flashy PowerPoint and end with no results, but that’s hardly the fault of Six Sigma in general. Where and when it happens, it happens independent of the program or subject matter. “Caveat emptor” always applies to any consultant services, and “garbage in, garbage out” always applies to any program or initiative. Six Sigma isn’t any different, but that’s hardly a serious knock against the subject matter.

3. Six Sigma isn’t anything new – [insert your favorite author here] had it right way back when they wrote [insert your favorite book here].

Well of course they did. You won’t find a bigger fan of Deming than me. And Shewhart was absolutely a genius. Every book that Wheeler has written has provided me with numerous light-through-the-clouds moments. Tufte is beyond elegant in his views on the graphical display of information. And yet Deming’s 14 points and PDCA methodology still aren’t common vernacular. The vast majority of people using Shewhart’s control charts still don’t understand them. Wheeler’s intuitive and eminently comprehensible explanations of basic statistics still get misunderstood regularly. And to what I can only assume is Tufte’s ongoing dismay, three-dimensionally rendered bar graphs showing one variable are more common than ever. So apparently just being right isn’t enough. We need a way to institutionalize those realizations across large organizations, a way to create a common vocabulary, a way to get everyone a company moving in the same direction. We need an excuse for everyone to read the magic book. And like it or not, programs that generate hype provide a means to those ends. If there’s a better, more efficient way to achieve the same cultural results, I haven’t found it yet.

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What bothers me most about the various “Six Sigma Sucks” pieces I read is that their authors inevitably imbue their words with a certain the-Emperor-has-no-clothes self-heroism, subtly suggesting that they are cleverer than we Six Sigma lemmings who run blindly towards the sea. But what they fail to realize is that those of us on the inside are thinking about the same things they are, wrestling with the same issues, lying awake at night wondering how best to evolve Six Sigma going forward. We understand and worry over the shortcomings of the program more than anyone. The only difference is that we don’t let it stop us from doing the best work we can right now, even as we seek better ways.

Comments 103

  1. Phil Whateley

    I both agree and disagree with your comments. It is probably true that there are many people who are using good, valid statistical tools in the name of “Six Sigma”. There are also many, many people out there (here) who are using valid statistical tools but who wouldn’t be seen dead calling their work Six-Sigma.

    The problem is that the initial motivation for Six-Sigma was (a) to de-skill the use of statistical tools by making them a recipe, and (b) to create a method which would leverage the perception of market analysts in Wall Street (principally) to raise stock/share prices. This has led to massive implementation with little thought for ability, competence or understanding.

    In many cases the advocacy/use of Six-Sigma by badly trained engineers has put improvement through the use of statistical methods into reverse. I think that it is disingenuous to claim that the statistical methods which work are, by virtue of being statistical “Six-Sigma” and anything outside Six-Sigma is non-statistical. Six-Sigma has failed, and its name is tarnished, and it is about time everybody dropped the name and just started using good statistics.

  2. Andrew Downard


    You suggest that "it is about time everybody dropped the name and just started using good statistics." The problem is that good statistics have been around for a long time. Some of the seminal works on DOE, for example, were written at the beginning of the 20th century. Other "good statistics" techniques have been around much longer. Yet their use is not widespread. The problem as I see it is not identifying or understanding the best techniques, but rather driving implementation of those techniques. And in this area, I think Six Sigma is helping.

    I certainly didn’t mean to imply that anything Six Sigma is good and anything outside of Six Sigma is bad. To your point, I couldnt care less what we call it. If I thought I could successfully run a program called "Everybody Start Using Good Statistics" I’d do it in a heartbeat. But to change the culture of an organization, some of the "hype" elements of Six Sigma are useful. To overlook this point is, in my opinion, naive. Whether you love the hype or hate it, it serves a purpose.

    Finally, I think your suggestions a and b are very much true…of badly run programs. And badly run programs are, well, bad. But there are plenty of good programs out there that don’t make these mistakes. As with all things, variation exists. The fact that the low end of the Six Sigma distribution could stand to be improved is certainly true, but it does not mean that all Six Sigma is bad, or that the program as a whole has failed.


  3. Cathy

    Results 1 – 10 of about 563 for "six sigma sucks".

    Look up the term correctly and find out that only 563 uses are made of the statement "six sigma sucks".

    Your statistics are incorrect.

    Can your understanding of the entire program correlate to this error?

  4. Andrew Downard


    My statistics are not, in fact, "incorrect". You report a different statistic than the one I used. Fair enough. That’s why I posted a link to my results – so that you could see the data for yourself and take issue if you so chose. Neither statistic is right or wrong; they are two different answers to two different questions. As far as I am aware there are no standards for how to conduct searches on Google, but if you want to see your way as correct and my way as incorrect that is your perrogative.

    Again, this is why I was careful to provide a link the source for my number. And also to point out that the total included unrelated hits.

    That being said, I did run the search your way before I posted the entry. I also ran a related search ("Six Sigma" sucks), which returned 61,000 hits. In addition I ran several similar test searches using the "Advanced Search" page at Google. You might be interested to know that your way misses out on some of the more interesting and pertinent Six Sigma criticisms, such as a article about Jack Welch’s proteges, or a blog by an employee who is disgruntled about the program. My less restricted search found these and similar items that use the words in close proximity, but don’t include the exact phrase "Six Sigma sucks". I don’t view that as "incorrect".

    In any case, none of this has an impact one way or the other on my main points. Replace "111,000" with "563" if it makes you happy. Then think about point 1.

  5. Ron

    Hi Phil,

    I sense you might be a disgruntled statistician upset with some so called Black Belt failing to understand and properly explain the difference between Leptokurtosis and Platykurtosis. Am I right?

    I am one of those "engineers" trained in these dark arts of Six Sigma. I am a, hold you breath as I am sure you despise these titles, a "Master" Black Belt.

    Your comments about Six Sigma failing are simply not true. I have seen it work with my own eyes at many companies, including mine.

    Are there things to be improved with my current companies Six Sigma and Lean implementation? You betcha (engineering slang). And are some consultants bastardizing the methodology? Uh huh. Welcome to capitalism my friend.

    But guess what… I just trained 25 controllers from around the world in a green belt class and once they really understood something as simple as Voice of the Customer and Voice of the Process I had already won.

    You see, the issue is not whether our green belts and black belts are experts in statistics. Rather, the thing that will change the world is when people start to think different and challenge the status quo.

    And guess what…

    Six Sigma and Lean are the BEST and I repeat BEST tools available to Western civilization to make things better in our companies. Simple as that.

    Let’s add TOC in there. Mr. Goldratt knows his stuff too. Just ask Alex Rogo.

    Oh, I can explain Leptokurtosis and Platykurtosis too. You would be proud.

  6. Ron


    The true essence of Six Sigma and Continuous Improvement is not to "win" but to "make progress."

    So I suggest you bring suggestions for how to make Six Sigma better or leave those of us who believe in Six Sigma and are trying to use it to make our companies more profitbale using it alone.

    Then again, if you want to debate I am up for it too! I know the truth and power behind the methodology.

    Life is short mate. Be happy!


  7. Andrew Downard


    I’m confused. What makes you think I am not a believer in Six Sigma? Seems to me we are 100% in agreement.


  8. tuanman

    Throw data into the conversation in getting to a solution and you’ve just called me a lier. I know what the solution is and the facts can’t change my mind. That kind of thinking and the "improper" use of six sigma as a "get rich quick" methodolgy, not as a improvement methodology leads to the mass exodus of black belts in disgust, disgrace or worse disbanding (which I’ve seen all three).
    Six Sigma does suck when you are the one getting sucked up for quick wins, large dollar savings, short time lines, and presenting facts that don’t support "my opinion on the real problem and/or solution".

  9. Andrew Downard


    True, but is this kind of thing the fault of the program? In my experience the best program in the world can’t fix the behaviour you are talking about. If the environment you describe is present prior to Six Sigma deployment, it will probably be present during and after the program as well.

    As for the question of what to do about the root causes of the issues you describe…not sure I have a quick answer to that one!


  10. Kathy

    You don’t need to have a statistics degree to use or understand 6 Sigma. You need to be able to get groups excited about change, collect the correct data on your project, understand the tools available to you in order to statistically prove whether a factor has an impact on your process or not and "move the ball". Maybe you just needed to have better training and understanding of the process.

  11. Chew JC

    Bad Cat, White Cat, any cat, so long as it catches mice

  12. Jeff the Poustman

    Seems to me that within this internicine debate it might be easy to forget the privilege of even having SS to criticize. Like the folks who were complaining their tap water was a tad cloudy– until grandma came in and reflected on how cloudy the old well water was when she used to haul it by bucket.

    Those who point out that SS is about continuous improvement are tracking with the issue: SS is better than anything else so far. Should we be content with cloudy tapwater? Not at all. We work to improve it. We work to improve SS, too.

    Just signed up for my Master’s Cert in SS from Villanova. Looking to apply SS in transactional contexts. Would love to interact a bit with some who have walked the road before me.

    [email protected]

  13. Caiwen

    Andrew, i cannot agree with you any more. This world, by nature , has variation. I never expect there exists a perfect consensus by everyone on anything in the world. It is always much easier to criticize something than do it better. Certainly, nothing is perfect. As long as it works or helps, it is worth advocation.

  14. Carolina

    I do agree, six sigma is the best thing available so far to improve processes (and change the mind of the unmotivated base workers), even in projects where the data is not enough to do statitics as ellegantly as one would like.

    How can it be wrong when it suggests that before implementing solutions, you should know what the problem is; how the problem occurs and why it occurs. If you are lucky enough to have all data needed and can run all the tests, the world is perfect, if not, at least you have gathered enough arguments to fight against chaotic movement that goes no where.

  15. Andrew Downard

    Hi Josh,

    The question of whether Six Sigma is just a trend, or will it be around until you retire, is one with no definite answer at this point. There are as many opinions as people thinking about it. The tools and concepts will certainly be around a long time (a safe bet because most of them pre-date "Six Sigma" itself anyway), but who knows about Six Sigma as a program. I could give you my opinion, but I can’t predict the future any better than anyone else. Still, learning a new toolset and approach is never a bad idea.

    Your other question is easier. Get the degree. There’s no question a degree will greatly increase your employability as a Black Belt, or even as a non-Black Belt. As for what field, industrial engineering is probably most closely aligned with Lean/Six Sigma, but you should of course pick something that interests you and will be an enabler for the direction you want to take your career. I my experience there is no one field of study that produces better Black Belts than another. As in all things, success has more to do with attitude and on-the-job experience than with the particular details of what you study in school.

    Just my opinion…sounds to me like you might want to talk this over with the folks at your local college or university. (Or if you’re feeling brave, post your questions to the iSixSigma discussion forums!)


  16. Josh

    Just wanted to get some opinions. By getting a 6 sigma black belt without an Associates or Bachelors would it entitle me a good career? Is this just a trend, or can I bank on it until I retire and to retire on? Should I get the certification and get a degree to be safe? If I get a degree what would be the best course of study to compliment it? What is the job descrption? Again, if anyone has any insight please feel free to contact me. I am trying to make a decision ASAP and I feel a bit lost. Thanks.

  17. Mark

    I have been with close to 100 different automotive supplying customers. I build my companies TS program and have studied six sigma. From my prospective what is off putting to me and others about six sigma is the self promotion in which green and black belts approach quality and improvement as an unknowable secret only to them. Quality and improvment come down to the substance of individuals not wether someone took a couple hour course which I did. Six Sigma has become a way of putting down or delegitmizing a customer, supplier, or co-worker. A platuea from which to criticize others as not knowing or not getting it or not understanding statistics. Have you ever worked with a six sigma trained person who does not have a soap box.

    I have never seen 2 people with belts from different companies come together and agree on six sigma. Allot of unimportant details are debated. The use of stats are used mostly to show improvement and justify ones existence.

  18. James Mealy

    I think that Mark is dead on about what irks so many people, including me, about Six Sigma. It’s the notion that it is a secret mystery that cannot be understood by mere mortals. That those who have access to the sanctum sanctorum of SS speak a language that only they can understand. All too often, the champions of SS are talentless managers who use SS to coopt the work of others as their own.

  19. Andrew Downard

    James, Mark,

    You’ll get no argument from me. And for what it’s worth, I nod my head particularly emphatically at your (Mark’s) observation about what happens when two belts from different backgrounds come together. In fact, I’ve seen it happen even with belts from different parts of the same company! That says something about how fundamental the concepts being taught really are (or aren’t).

    But there are two things I would say in response. One is that all the hype (including the jargon) does serve a purpose. I don’t condone people acting the way you describe, but setting up a program that is visibily new and different than what has come before is not necessarily a bad strategy for catalyzing change. If not managed closely enough, however, this strategy can have the side effects you described. Clearly this is to be avoided, but my suspicion is that a lot of deployment champions either willfully ignore such side effects, or simply accept them as collateral damage. Whether the trade-offs in this scenario are good ones is open to debate.

    Second, good programs can be poorly implemented. To me, a poor Six Sigma deployment (which I think is what you were both alluding to) does not mean that Six Sigma is a bad program. Just like a bad Oracle deployment doesn’t mean Oracle is bad software. All I’m saying is that we ought to be clear about whether we have issues with the content of the program (I generally don’t) or the way it is often implemented (I often do).


  20. Jimmy

    Blah Blah Blah, just like all the other crappy programs that were going to save the world and will go the same way as the rest. Why don’t we just “Do it Smart” and get the job done. I just got all 6 sigmaed up this past week. I spent an extra 10 days putting a report and getting a letter signed so that we could be more lean. I don’t talk this way much, but it’s all BS.

    Thank you have a nice day.

  21. Andrew Downard


    Why? Because if it was as easy as saying “’Do It Smart’ and get the job done” then every business would already be running perfectly. There would be no such thing as a consultant. And pigs would be winging their way over Times Square.

    Of course all programs come and go. It does not logically follow that all programs are bad. If anything, it provides evidence that programs have a life cycle. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    You’ve been at it for 10 days and don’t see the point. Fine. But consider at least three possible explanations:

    1) You’re right: it is all BS
    2) You’re wrong: there is value but you aren’t able to comprehend it yet
    3) The middle path: your assessment of your own experience with Six Sigma is accurate, but that doesn’t mean Six Sigma in general is bad. Hopefully your 10 day ordeal at least convinced you that one data point does not make a trend.

    Which of these is the correct? You’d have to collect some data (beyond your own experience) and see which explanation is best supported by the facts to make a determination.


  22. Mike Carnell

    I apologize for coming in late on this Blog but just happened upon it and it tweaked an emotional response particularly point #2.

    It may or may not be true but why would it matter? Consultants do not make the decision to deploy. Leadership Teams do. Motorola was the “Cradle of mankind for SS so lets look past it. Bossidy was next in ’95 and Welch in ’96. There are two strong personalities that were not swayed by consultants. I was one of the consultants on both deployments and had to prove our value just as every other program did. How many people honestly believe that any consultant can control either Bossidy or Welch or did not control even mislead them? What a stupid assumption.

    Looking beyond them since they are a fairly untypical pair of CEO’s. Lets say that the consulting community as a whole contrived a consistent lie to sell SS. That would mean that the Leadership teams of every company that has done SS has bought into the lie and were so weak, misled, etc that they did not figure it out and went into this thing completely blinded by some BS put together by a group of people whom they have absolutely no requirement to speak to. That wouldn’t say much for the Leadership teams of a few hundred companies in the world.

    The other side of that is that forums such as iSixSigma are as open to people publishing bad results as they are good results – these poor leadership teams were not able to find those results?

    The whole thing falls apart too easily.

  23. Andrew Downard


    Thanks for the thouthful reply. Just want to be clear that I completely agree with what you are saying.

    I do think *some* consultants and conference organizers overstate and/or oversimplify the value of Six Sigma or similar programs. There is a lot of literature and advertising out there that, to me, states implicitly or explicity that all you have to do is wave a magic Six Sigma wand and the money will come rolling in. "Attending this 2-day pre-conference workshop will show you how to slash your manufacturing costs by 30%!"

    My point is simply that nay-sayers point to this kind of thing as evidence that Six Sigma is all hype. But as you correctly point out, the fact that *some* consultants make *some* dubious claims doesn’t mean that the program is bunk. That’s my point! There are plenty of good consultants out there, and plenty of good leadership teams engaged with them. Which is why it annoys me when doubters point to a few bad apples and call the whole barrel rotten.

    Again, to be clear, #2 IS NOT a sound reason to believe Six Sigma Sucks.


  24. Mike Carnell


    I didn’t mean to imply that I thought you believed this. I do see it frequently in the Discussion Forum and find it very irritating.

    It creates the impression that consultants have completely free access to the Leadership teams at any time and can tell them anything they choose and they will just sit there like bobble head dolls and do whatever the consultant tells them to do. A person can contemplate that for about a nano second before they realize how ludicrous that is. If it doesn’t seem ludicrous to some out there, pick a CEO, call their office and try to schedule an appointment. If you do get that appointment (just tell them you are a consultant – you’ll get walked right in – correct?) tell them that you can create all kinds of benefits and they will send you away with a big check.

    Most members of Leadership Teams have a pretty good BS detector. Regardless of the claims they always have the option of picking up the phone and calling the people consultants have claimed to help. If they don’t, that is their issue not the consultants.

    In fact I believe most Leadership Teams exercise caution when they make these types of decisions. The biggest issue I see with them is when they do decide to go, they need to participate in the planning and implementation of the initiative – not exclusive to SS. Any consultant that walks in and can do it without your participation – your BS detector should be going out of control.

    Just my opinion.

  25. Andrew Downard



  26. John Corr

    You’ve avoided the primary reason why Six Sigma sucks in Service businesses:

    It’s far too much effort for too little financial or operational impact. There are much more straightforward ways of achieving the same business results in a fraction of the time & effort.

    Take a look at some of the Lean approaches from Michael George and others and you can find more powerful approaches to getting the business results you want in a good deal less time.

    P.S. Yes some of the Six Sigma tools are great – you just don’t need to distract yourself with all the unnecessary baggage.

  27. Andrew Downard


    It is true that Six Sigma methods are sometimes applied in situations for which they are not the best choice. And it is also true that there is sometimes an "all or nothing" mentality associated with Six Sigma projects – i.e. that if we are going to call it a Six Sigma project then we need to use every tool we learned in the course.

    I don’t think you’ll find much opposition, even among Six Sigma professionals, to your suggestion that Lean efforts often give you a bigger bang for your buck in service areas, especially early on in a deployment. Good continuous improvement programs will have a mechanism or process for matching the right tools to the opportunity. Using a lot of complicated tools where they are not required is clearly wasteful.

    One strong advantage of the classic Lean toolset over the classic Six Sigma toolset is simplicity and accessibility. On the other hand, there are always those thorny areas where you do need to go deeper, dig into the data, run experiments, and uncover non-obvious paths forward. Six Sigma tends to be good at this. As I said, I think the trick is select the right toolset for the opportunity at hand.

    This is all old news, of course. George and others have literally written the book on how to select, sequence, and blend various toolsets like Six Sigma and Lean. It’s not a case of either/or, but rather which/when.

    So – I agree with you – but I don’t see this as a reason Six Sigma sucks!


  28. Don

    Six Sigma is the opiate of middle management, the fall-back position in the absence of talent. It is what is resorted to by companies which are unable to hire premium talent in key positions.

    The mantra of repeatable, measurable process is sickening to me as it limits and deters innovation and creativity. Six Sigma is a bag of promises and escalating costs which, when implemented, functions primarily as a scapegoat in the place of personal responsibility ("We didn’t meet our goals because our Six Sigma process needs improvement! Let’s spend more time and money on a Six Sigma process to manage our Six Sigma implementation!)

    I am the CEO of a publicly traded company, and every quarter I have to listen to a division lead propose to achieve their forecasts via a Six Sigma implementation. I have found that a much easier way to improve results in a given division is simply to swap out the manager. Replace a manager who is having trouble with a manager that produces results and guess what–good results follow the good manager and bad results follow the bad manager.

    Further, many managers produce bad results despite the fact that they have fundamental talent. In these cases, mentoring, guidance and seasoning invariably are the cure–as opposed some statistical, ethereal entity that has self-referential hype as a fundamental tenet.

    A company is what its people do. A process is as good as the people who run it. I’ll take good people over good process any day.

  29. Andrew Downard


    If you are indeed the CEO of a publicly traded company, then I’m not sure why Six Sigma troubles you. You’re in charge. Do your thing. If you don’t like Six Sigma, don’t do it. Why the fuss? Either you are right or you are wrong, and your shareholders will let you know either way. You don’t have to listen to me or anyone else.

    Your last statement is a tautology and falsely implies that one need choose between good people and good process. Even the most ardent Six Sigma supporters don’t believe that. Personally, I’m with you – good process can’t exist without good people. This is not an argument against Six Sigma.

    Not all companies are able to (or even want to) “hire premium talent in key positions.” Many want to develop and create premium talent internally on an ongoing basis. Actually, your penultimate paragraph suggests you want this as well. Properly deployed, Six Sigma provides a vehicle to systematically apply mentoring and guidance where they are required. Poorly deployed, it doesn’t. Again, this is not an argument against Six Sigma.

    My point is this: you are arguing against Six Sigma done badly. But no one is trying to defend Six Sigma done badly. Except perhaps the guy who handed you the bag of promises and delivers escalating costs with no personal responsibility. Don’t blame Six Sigma for this – get a new guy.

    By the way, for which publicly traded company are you the CEO?


  30. KEL

    I believe in the 3 legged stool approach; people, process and tools in that order. Good people with performing good processes with the right tools get things done.

  31. Andrew Downard


    For what it’s worth, I think you make an interesting point. I don’t know if you’re right, but it’s an interesting hypothesis.

    If you read through some of my other blog entries, you’ll see I share your view of the need to cutomize and find balance. My point is that Six Sigma doesn’t suck as a program, any more than workout or SPC or any of the other ancestor programs did. The problem isn’t the program, it’s the interaction between the organization and program. And that will probably be true of any program – there’s nothing special about Six Sigma in this respect. Pointing to supposed failings of Six Sigma is a red herring. Maybe you’ve figured out one reason why.


  32. corn29

    I came across this blog while doing some research for a class in my MBA program.

    All to often, CIP implementations usually become the senior management’s pet program and that is where the resources and immediate attention goes. A problem I’ve seen very regularly, and not addressed here yet, is when this happens, the product begins to suffer.

    When the product suffers, the staff (the ones actually doing the real work mind you) gets flustrated and starts to throw the "<<insert CIP name here>> sucks" around. Six Sigma is currently the target because the that’s the CIP du jour. At this rate, and when someone comes up with a new name for some process improvement program, the staff will parrot, "<<the new program>> sucks" too.

    The root cause of this problem is the process folks try to leverage every feature of the CIP framework & the staff pushes back when presented with requirements which are not practical to their organization — nowhere in any CIP does it say thou shalt do ____.

    Until organizations & consultants learn to find a balance between the product, the process, and to TAILOR the program to a given organization’s needs, there will never be uniform acceptance of CIP within an organization nor harmony between different CIP consultants.

    BTW, if Ron could provide some empirical data regarding his claims, it would help his defense of 6 Sigma seem more relevant (& tangible). He presents anecdotes as facts but without detailing the data, the claims seem a bit hollow.

  33. Kris

    Here is my view of six sigma – a layman’s view. Some simple statistics I think we all can agree upon. A certain percentage of the human race has barely enough brain power to tie their shoes. A percentage of them end up, who knows how, with degrees.

    Now you have some half wit in your company, because he just barely can function in his position, you are unable to fire him. Technically he has done nothing wrong. He hasn’t really done anything, either.

    Your choices, move him to another department or promote him. So wallah – along comes six sigma – teach all your deadweight all they can learn from a book. Maybe, just maybe, they may gain an ounce of common sense, meanwhile spend millions on the spin doctors. Well at least they can spend your money making pretty charts, so you can show your customer you have a problem when he finds it.

    Six sigma and ISO are both self perpetuating ideologies. Neither one is required to be successful. Neither one will save a bad product (think AZTEC – the perfect market research vehicle – why did it take some old man to finally kill it? Because he was a ’car guy’. Never was it mentioned he was a six sigma blackbelt. The belt titles are just another farce to hide behind.

    My apologies to those with deep beliefs in the latest business fads, but has Motorola really done anything lately, besides scale back production of their six sigma defect free products?

  34. Betty Smith

    I quite agree with you about several of your opinions – while Bill was alive he worked hard to help Motorola with their quality. Frankly, I never heard of a "belt" thing from him. His principals were simple and effective. Some thinks just get blow out of hand – he would be amazed.

    Betty Smith

  35. Andrew Downard


    Let me attempt to paraphrase what you said, paragraph by paragrah:

    1) Statistics are okay, but most people are dumb.
    2) Companies employ some dumb people.
    3) Teaching Six Sigma to dumb people doesn’t help customers.
    4) Six Sigma and ISO are not sufficient to ensure success.
    5) You are sceptical that Motorola has had any recent successes.

    Is my summary reasonably accurate? If it is, you’re going to have to help me out, because it looks a lot like a rambling mess of unsupported opinion. Except for the bits that are self-evident pablum. And the unintended tautolgies. Frankly, I’m not sure where to even start with a response. Did you even read the orignal post?

    And – heavens! – you think that the "belt" titles are a farce? Well, goodness me, I’m sure you are the first one to ever lodge that complaint. How original of you!

    I’m happy to have an intelligent discussion about the plusses and minuses of Six Sigma, but you’re going to have to bring more than this to the table.


  36. Andrew Downard


    These two previous blog entries address some of the "points" (and I use that term loosely) you raise:

    entry #1
    entry #2


  37. DC

    Let’s face it…Six Sigma sucks!

  38. Scot ZR

    Well, I just came across this blog – lots of people out there have had bitterly painful experiences with poorly implemented six sigma programs, I think…

    I’d like to ask them a couple of questions:

    • Do hammers suck because I can’t use one to fix my TV?
    • Does penicillin suck because it won’t cure every disease?

    Just like any other tool, six sigma sucks when applied poorly, or when viewed as a miracle cure for everything. That being said, it’s a great tool to have available to use when it’s needed, just like any other process improvement tool you might choose.

    Disclosure time: I am a certified Green Belt and also a certified Quality Auditor for ISO 9001. This also means that due to repeated exposure, I am immune to "Program of the month" comments…

    Now a couple of responses to specific posts:

    Kris: Regarding the "latest business fad" comment, I don’t think wanting to remove variability from your process and make it work better is really a fad. Power ties? There’s a fad for you.

    Don: I suspect you would list "operator error" as your root cause for most problems. While that is sometimes the case, it’s usually a symptom of something else; insufficient training, lack of resources, or a process that allows for error… if you remove as much variability as possible, and remove as many opportunities for error as you can, just think what great people could do with a great process!

    Kel: I agree. Good people with performing good processes with the right tools get things done. Six sigma helps with the second leg.

    Well, off to work for day 2 of our external ISO audit…


  39. Kris


    What I was getting at is Six Sigma is no better, nor worse than anything that came before it. Like the other posts, I see quite a bit of elitism with the belts, some of the one’s I know couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag. That is the situation in any business. Why are belt title’s necessary, if not to enable elitism? Isn’t training enough? Or is it to signify, you or your company, spent more money on training than someone else?
    Why is there a need to argue the ’nuts and bolts’ of six sigma?
    Either something works or it doesn’t. To argue over shifts, or to try to justify a "magic" 1.5 number, is just like trying to save a sinking ship with a bucket. Maybe if you get 1,000 passengers to bail, it will stay afloat for awhile.

  40. Andrew Downard


    Belt titles don’t add any value, and quite possibly increase cynicism about Six Sigma in general. I have no argument with you there. Nor, I suspect, would most people who are serious about Six Sigma. But like it or not, the belt titles have become part of business common vernacular. Trying to get rid of them at this point is a fool’s errand. Too bad, because the definition of levels has become so variable that the titles themselves no longer have much meaning. Anyway, my point is that you are advancing an argument against a viewpoint that no one is trying to defend. Six Sigma itself doesn’t suck, but I’m prepared to admit that the belt terminology does.

    About shifts, the whole point of the original blog was that it was pointless and misguided to argue about statistical arcana. The much-discussed 1.5 sigma shift falls into this category. I have never, ever seen a project where this concept mattered.

    Given all this, the interesting question is: what value does Six Sigma provide? If the basic statistics aren’t new and the belt levels aren’t particularly useful, why have the program at all? Good question. My answer is in point 3 of the orginal blog.

    Thanks for the discussion.


  41. Frank

    ignore lean six sigma ! — and hopefully it will blow away quickly. (the emperor has no clothes)

  42. Andrew Downard


    This is going to sound facetious, but it is not intended to be.

    Think hard about the true meaning of kaizen. Meditate on it. What do you think continuous improvement over time is going to look like if it is "quality systems" in general that are being improved?

    Would we expect things to look the same year after year? No. Would we expect new ideas to replace old ones over time? Yes. Would we expect programs and fads to have a life cycle? Yes. Would we expect any given program or fad to be perfect? No. Will there be some that stink? Yes.

    Will we improve over time? Well, I say yes, and I think you’d say no. But I’ll tell you what: your suggestion of doing absolutely nothing ENSURES that there will be no improvement over time. My way of embracing change at least opens up the door to the possibility of improvement.

    Like I said, think hard about the concept of kaizen, and how kaizen is likely to manifest itself in the context of quality improvement systems. I think you’ll find the answer is pretty close to what is going on right now.


  43. Frank

    My father-in-law told me his take on quality programs, etc is this: "You have to ask yourself only two questions, and for both you can only answer ’yes’ or ’no’. The first question is: ’Am I producing a quality product?’… If the answer is no, you better really think long and hard as to why you are in business or why your organization even exits. If the answer to the first question is ’yes’, then you ask yourself — can you prove it? If you can’t, then how do you know you are producing a quality product? ….

    Zen in on that big-guy.

    His point, and mine is simple… let’s not spend a whole lot of resources on BS procedures that nobody reads, and BS processes that cost time and money… spend time on leading and managing… because if you are a leader of an organization and a manager …and you can’t run an efficient organization…well then I say what good are you, and it’s time you hit the road.

    It’s pretty simple, a company or organization that needs consultants and quality gurus has more problems than just "quality" …

    it has serious leadership and management issues…

    Because it should have never gotten that way in the first place.

    So, all the quality programs in the world won’t fix that problem.

    The goal for any organization is to minimize resources on programs and processes, because that stuff doesn’t create quality … it only helps identify the deadwood, waste, and out of bounds stuff. You want to concentrate your energies on being the best at what you do (i.e. offense not defense)

    As my grandfather used to say…you don’t win ball games playing defense… you win them playing offense — scoring points… you can’t win a game if you don’t score any points.

    So, concentrate on more on doing the positives… doing things right… and less on preventing the negatives..the rotten fruit is easy to pick out…just don’t produce it in the first place! (or hire it)

  44. Andrew Downard


    If your father in law was correct, Toyota wouldn’t exist. Do you suppose they started out with a quality product? No. Even today, I suspect they would answer your father in law’s first question with a "no". They started out where they could, and improved over time. If they listened to your adice, they would have given up after their first production run.

    Your position does not allow for change, evolution, and improvement over time. For goodness sake, it doesn’t even allow for new product development. Customers change. Technology changes. Markets change. The world changes. A quality product today is a poor product tomorrow. Your father in law’s take on things does not provide a framework to respond to that. It might have been a cogent philosophy 40 years ago, but it isn’t today.

    Incidentally, Six Sigma won’t be the right program 10 years from now for similar reasons. Maybe it isn’t even the best program right now. I’m okay with that. I look forward to the evolution.

    Your final two paragraphs are no more than platitudes. They are unrealistic, unhelpful, and do not operationalize. Even the sports analogy is poor: you certainly can’t be a winner with no defense at all. Sooner or later, someone is going to have a better offense than you. They might have a better defense too. And the rules of the game might change on you. Then what? You’ll get beaten silly in the short term. Is the answer to do nothing and fade away? Why not work to get good good at both? Why not focus on continuous improvement?

    We’re going to have to agree to disagree. You quote your father and grandfather in support of your stand against the continued use and evolution of quality programs. My ancestors have nothing to say on the subject, and I think the continued change and growth we are witnessing in the quality world are very healthy. We’re on opposite sides of the fence. Fair enough.


  45. Frank

    Ever since the 80’s (as the U.S. was transforming from an industrial economy to a service-oriented economy), there existed self-proclaimed "gurus" of quality. We had programs like quality circles, zero-defects, and any combination of the like.

    It seems like every five to ten years a new program is born — which is essentially a reinvention of an one, i.e. (been there done that).

    Here’s the crime: corporations expend vast resources into writing new procedures, training personnel, hiring consultants, etc. — only to end up with a new program and the same return on investment they had before. When will they learn from their previous mistakes?

    We (in the U.S.) have this knack for creating B.S. programs that grows a new generation of bogus consulting companies full of Elmer Gantrys.

    The come on a periodic basis like an epidemic (the quality epidemic). They are like a bad disease (like cancer or herpes and need to be eradicated).

    Wake up guys — we are talking about expending overhead here…

    Here’s my rub: I have no problem if private and publicly held corporations want to waste their resources shucking and jiving about quality and SPC, because I know they will end up exactly where they were before a year later.

    But when the DoD and the rest of the Federal government waste my hard earned tax dollars, because their leadership and management is inept and incompetent, I have grave concerns.

    I just can’t wait until this fad passes like all the others.

    Kind regards,

  46. Andrew Downard


    So you are advocating we do…nothing?

    Like many other comments on this blog, yours argues against Six Sigma done badly. But no one is suggesting that Six Sigma done badly is a good thing. You are arguing against a position that no one is defending.

    Of course Six Sigma is a fad. Of course programs come and go. Of course there is a new thing every 5-10 years that contains elements of previous things. Noticing this does not make you clever. Newsflash: even Six Sigma people know this. And the good ones embrace it. Change happens. Evolution occurs. No one is arguing that this is not the case. If anything, I would argue that this process of renewal is a sign of health and vitality, not the opposite.

    So I ask you again. What do you suggest we do?


  47. Frank

    You have to get away from focusing on the minutia.

    It’s all about running a business. Companies don’t have infinite amounts of capital to expend on "programs" any kind of program.

    I get disappointed when organizations are unable to draw from within their rank and file to solve their own problems without hiring "consultants" — in a previous life I worked as a manufacturing engineer for a few fairly large corporations in 3 different industries — one of which has had the most well known trademark in the world for at least 50 years.

    Each one of them (while I was there) embarked on programs like the one you advocate. Overall they were a waste of time and resources. The shortcomings in each one of the organizations was a failure for key management personnel to perform satisfactorily, and nothing more.

    The tools and techniques your program advocates is nothing new .

    Why should people hire Lean Six Sigma consultants and implement the program? What is different than what is already present?

    Tell me why ISO9000 and CMMI companies would pay for this "other" program too?

    Kind regards,

  48. Andrew Downard


    Someone HAS to focus on the minutae. But that’s a whole separate conversation.

    Anyway, if you read my previous posts, you’ll see I am no fan of using consultants for continuous improvement programs. Maybe to get started, sure. But past that, no. I completely agree that the expertise should be drawn from within the organization. Consultants should be used sparingly, and with great caution.

    I think what "programs" of any type can bring is focus and discipline. Those things are far more important than the content of the specific program itself. Which means that which program you choose isn’t of great importance. To use your example, I wouldn’t recommend anyone that has a good CMMI program go out and shop for a Lean Six Sigma program. If you’ve got the organization discipline and focus to do one well, the other isn’t going to add much incremental value. I might poach a few tools, but there is no need to have another set of coffee mugs made up. Any decent program will serve the same purpose, as long as the organization has the stick-to-it-iveness to see them through. And to your point, if there is poor leadership at the top, no program is going to help that.

    About the tools and techniques – again, I have said many times on this site that there is nothing new there. You’ll get no argument from me on that one. See my point 3 in the original blog.

    Surprisingly enough, I think we have found quite a bit to agree on…


  49. Frank

    Six Sigma is nothing more than a subset of good industrial engineering practices… i.e. Industrial Engineering 101, shame on those organizations who can’t do that on their own without having to use hyped up standard manufacturing principles and practices. Shame on the management for not being able to lead these efforts on their own without the hype, i.e. black belt, green belt, kaizen, and all the jazz.. There would be considerable cost savings and they could achieve the same results. [/color”>

  50. JS

    Why 6 Sigma doesn’t suck…

    To put it simply, because it works. I am a relative newcomer to CI, but I have found that if the organization supports the effort & you can get employees to maintain the discipline then the results become evident.

    I am not surprised that this thread has lived this long and find it a testament to the power of CI. Does the program have flaws? Yes. Does it fix every problem? No. I have found in my short time in this role that there is no Holy Grail for improvement, but that people who work on improvement use many of the tools available, including 6 Sigma, to try and surpass the status quo.

    For me, improvement methodologies, whatever the breed or type, are an extension of human life. Just as our ancestors were not content to draw upon cave walls, we should not be content to sit idly by while our businesses continue to crank the same product or service year after year with the same rate of return. Anyone who cares about growth should feel empowered to suggest or initiate change. Some businesses will not embrace any improvement ever; this is a simple fact. However, there is too much documented proof of how an effective implementation of an improvement effort has helped an organization to simply write off the tool altogether.

    Mine is probably a naive and unedcated view of the world at large, and I accept that it is wholly my opinion, but I believe that my type of passion for improvement can only benefit my organization and benefit me for many years to come.

  51. Robert Smith

    This discussion reminds me very much of that which went on in the heyday of Reengineering. All the Reengineering advocates went absolutely nuts when anyone questioned the method.

    It was made clear that only fools (and academicians) would dare question Reengineering.

    Later, when it was discovered that more than 90 percent of Reengineering efforts left a company no better or even worse off than before, the Reengineering advocates simply moved on … to Lean, to Six-Sigma, etc.

    My proposal is to move on to the next "new thing," MAGIC! After all, who could possible question magic?

  52. Andrew Downard


    First off, to avoid repeating myself too much, let me quote from the original blog entry:

    What bothers me most about the various "Six Sigma Sucks" pieces I read is that their authors inevitably imbue their words with a certain the-Emperor-has-no-clothes self-heroism, subtly suggesting that they are cleverer than we Six Sigma lemmings who run blindly towards the sea. But what they fail to realize is that those of us on the inside are thinking about the same things they are, wrestling with the same issues, lying awake at night wondering how best to evolve Six Sigma going forward. We understand and worry over the shortcomings of the program more than anyone. The only difference is that we don’t let it stop us from doing the best work we can right now, even as we seek better ways.

    Let me be clear: I think you are dead wrong. In my experience, among serious Six Sigma professionals, questioning the method is heavily encouraged. Are there a few wingnuts who get shirty about it? Sure. But they are a small minority. As a group, I contend that Six Sigma folks are generally very much open to the shortcomings of the program, and very interested in ways to adress them and improve. If that hasn’t been your experience, well, find some new Six Sigma folks to hang around with.

    As for your claim about 90% and Reengineering, show me the study, including the raw data and sampling methodology, and we’ll talk. I’m tired of hearing about such studies. Never have I been able to turn one up. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I will continue to assume that the existence of the studies themselves is an urban myth (countless citations notwithstanding).


  53. Robert Smith


    The methodologies employed in Six Sigma, or Lean, or Lean-Six Sigma are — as I hope we can all agree — not new. Only the names and some of the terminology are new. (And the strange obsession for handing out differenc colored belts,) If properly understood, however, these methods can lead to improved performance.

    Unfortunately, what is missing is the fact that too many Lean and Six Sigma advocates are unaware of the limitations of the method. This failure to recognize the limitations and scientific basis of Lean and Six Sigma has been a primary factor in the enormous failure rates of these methods — despite an abundance of strictly anecdotal references.

    As to providing you with a list of reference as to the scientific surveys conducted that list the failure and disillusionment rate of Reengineering, etc., I would suggest that you take the time to read the literature on the subject. For example, examine the survey of Lean presented this year in the IIE magazine. Or the discussion of Six Sigma in that same magazine. Or read the articles on the failure rate of Reengineering … by the original promoters of that fad.

  54. Andrew Downard


    Among my blog entries, you will find I agree with you many times over on everything you said in your first paragraph. (But I forgive you for not reading my entire oeuvre in advance. Even I couldn’t stay awake reading some of those entries.)

    I also agree entirely with your second paragraph. But that is an argument against poor understanding and bad implementation of the program, not the program itself. A good program that is not well understood or well implemented will fail. That is true of any program you care to mention. It’s not an argument against Six Sigma, it’s an argument against Six Sigma done badly. And no one is advocating Six Sigma done badly.

    As for your third paragraph, I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have read fairly widely on this topic. As you can probably guess, it is part of my day job to do so. Admittedly I don’t regularly read the IIE magazine; perhaps it has what I am looking for, and I will check it out. That being said, I have read many article which make mention of “surveys” and studies” in support of various numbers, but not once have I been able to find the original work. Quite often the trail leads back to consultants, who claim the data are proprietary. This is true of articles that are both pro- and con-Six Sigma. Neither camp can come up with much meat. I would dearly love to find a primary source on this topic; from the number of times you see numbers tossed out in “popular” media articles, you’d think there have been many studies done. I have not found this to be true. I would be thrilled if someone can set me straight and show me one.


  55. Bruce

    I’ve scanned much of this thread. Some is thoughtful and some is simply baseless. Nevertheless, I’ll give my two cents worth. All tools and items are worthless if the user can’t use them. A basketball in my hands is worth about $19. In Michael Jordan’s hands its worth about $33 million. A baseball in my hands is worth about $6 and in Roger Clemens’ about $4.75 million. I think the reader should get the point.

    So, L6S is no different. It is only as good as the data collected, tools used, and processes monitored. In the hands of some it’s a worthless CIP tool and in the hands of others it’s of immense value. I can tell you all one thing for sure I go in a surgery room for life saving surgery, I would rather have them using products from a company which is producing and documenting products at 1 sig than a company producing products by the seat of their pants and documented with opinion.

  56. Bruce

    In addition:

    L6S is not the tool or means to the end. There are numerous CIP tools and methodologies and a one fix all will never work. The process chair must know what they are trying to improve, and use the appropriate tool. My post was not meant as a fis all endorsement for L6S. TOC and numerous others can dovetail CIP endevors to maximize sucess in any number of combinations of CIP projects and formats.

  57. Andrew Downard


    How dare you express a thoughtful, balanced opinion in this forum!

    Just kidding. I like your basketball/baseball analogy a lot. Enough that I will probably steal it. Hope that’s okay.

    My defenses of Six Sigma in this thread notwithstanding, if you peruse my other blog entries you will see that my views are in alignment with yours. You have just expressed your point more clearly and succinctly than I typically do.

    Thanks for commenting.


  58. Jerry

    Hi, there,

    Once you realize that human beings are less-than-smart animals, then you will find the answers to a lot of questions.

    I would propose a quasi-zero defect methodology using probability density function of quantum effect, using super-charged DMAIC cycle handler.

    That just might sell if I were a big-shot CEO of a multi-national corporation.

  59. Andrew Downard


    I find arguments resting on the premise that CEO’s of muti-national coprorations are dumb usually turn out to be less entertaining when interrupted by facts. So I’ll step back from this one.


  60. T. Campbell


    Far and away, the biggest winners of the Six Sigma race are the trainers and promoters who convince company presidents (seeking magic for their bottom lines) to use it, and then get the contract to “beltify” a company’s entire population by teaching them more information than they can ever use, without surety that it most of it or even some of it applies to their situation. This is their cash cow.

    All other user’s results are questionable.

  61. Andrew Downard

    Dear T. Campbell,

    This is precisely the point addressed under heading #2 in the original blog entry.

    The fact that some consultants do a poor job does not mean Six Sigma is bad. If it did, everything would share the same fate because there are bad consultants in every field.

    You are advancing an argument that several other commentors have also tried to make: that Six Sigma done badly is bad. You’re not wrong, it’s just not a very interesting observation.

    Regarding your statement that "all other user’s results are questionable", that’s a pretty strong claim. Care to share some data or specific examples?


  62. T. Campbell

    My division does not currently use lean 6 sig, but our parent organization is pushing us to do so, so I am studying about it, including reading blogs like this one.

    I recently filled out aquestionnaire about it, one that asked if we had experience in each of the hundreds of things associated with 6 sig. The Q&A was pointless because a single question could have been asked: Any experience with 6 sig, yes or no? If no, then the rest of the questionnaire was pointless. However, after reading the whole thing anyway, I realized that 90% of it was useless to my operation because we design and build large, precision, one of a kind structures, thus our statistical samples are 1. This exposure was a dismal failure since that simple question was not asked.

    That is not to say that my impression of 6 sig is all bad, or good for that matter. It is just that it doesn’t appear to significantly apply to our situation. We don’t build 100,000 identical items with 100 parts, we build one item with 100,000 and sometimes a million parts, all different.

    Our world consists of continuously challenging our staff and suppliers for new creative approaches, to push beyond the current limitsof their capabilities. Statistics and Kaizen Facilitators have nothing to do with any of this. What is effective is to occasionally get in a room with interested parties and debate the subtleties of the relevant physics as they apply to a particular problem. This must be working because we keep winning "Gold Supplier" and "Supplier of the Year" awards from our customers. Perhaps that is because we have a limited staff of about 80, very smart, hand picked personnel. If we throw a formula process into this mix, then we are in danger of trying to create the Mona Lisa with a book of rules.

    To answer your question, my comment on its being questionable came from reading this blog, and realizing that we would have to limit any 6S training to the small part which is useful.

  63. Andrew Downard

    Thanks for the reply.

    First of all, just because you make one-of-a-kind items, that doesn’t mean your sample size will always be 1. Many processes that produce one-of-a-kind products still use statistical techniques with great success. Presumably you measure more than one thing for your structures, and you probably make some of those measurements mutiple times through the design and build process. There is opportunity there.

    In fact, the fewer the measurements you make, the more important things like measurement systems become. High volume environments can get away with some things you can’t, because your products are far too valuable to discard as defects. I’d argue this makes Six Sigma more important to you, not less.

    All the being said, I’d never suggest Six Sigma be put into place if you don’t need it. Frankly, if you don’t see room for improvement in what you are doing, don’t mess with it. Six Sigma isn’t a panacea, and it’s not the only way to get good at things.

    I would absolutely limit any Six Sigma training to the places where you think it would be useful. Indeed, failure to do this is, I suspect, a major reason that many deployments fail. Be strategic, and don’t train the masses just because everyone else is doing it.


  64. Balaji S. Reddie

    Six Sigma doesn’t suck – Six Sigma is just not enough .
    Sad that people still associate Deming with 14 points and PDSA only .
    He was preaching "Profound Knowledge" toward the end of his life which lays the foundation for understanding events around you . Hope some day people wake up to his "Thoery of Profound Knowledge" !!

  65. Matthew Metz

    We ran into a situation a few years back early in our six sigma program. Each project we took on, Six Sigma was the tool of choice. Some were successful and some were not. After backing up a few steps to look at this, we observed that not every project was a six sigma project. Some were more of the lean variety. Some were” just do its”.

    This recognition has helped in the future with an understanding that six sigma is not a one size fits all mentality. A menu of continuous improvement tools are needed to choose from.

  66. Gene Monroe

    The author doesn’t really hit the issue (in my mind) until the closing paragraph when he (wrongly) asserts that we lie awake at night worrying about the same things -how to move six sigma forward.

    This is typical of the misplaced priority of putting the process over the product. I lie awake worrying about how to realize meaningful improvements. I don’t lie awake at night worrying about how to get everyone to "drink the koolaid." Six Sigma is not an end-all, be-all solution. If it were, 95% of publicly-held Six Sigma companies wouldn’t underperform their market averages.

    -Gene Monroe

  67. Andrew Downard


    When I said I worried about "how best to evolve Six Sigma going forward", I did not mean "how best to make everyone drink the kool-aid". If you scan my other posts, you’ll see not much of a believer in the standard dogma of Six Sigma.

    That being said, I don’t think you can seperate process and product. If you are working on one, you are working on the other, whether you like it or not. It’s not a matter of prioritization.

    Do 95% of publicly held Six Sigma companies really underperform their market averages? I’d love to see the original data, survey methodology, and method of calculation that support your conclusion. Can you provide this context?


  68. Snoogins!

    I believe it is a cult just like the Scientologists and it must be stopped before the world is taken over by paperwork.

  69. bhushan

    hi all,
    can u tell me what will be the value addition of this discussion if we dont go for the solution.
    Whatever may be the reality; six sigma helps to any organization if it treated properly,
    If the six sigma wants to be succeeded the priority mustbe given to 5S.
    Six sigma is a unique thing that can be initiated to progress.

  70. Andrew Downard


    I have some bad news. I think we’re too late to prevent the world from being taken over by paperwork.

    The Six Sigma-Scientology connection is worthy of further investigation. After all, they both start with the letter S. Coincidence? I think not.


  71. ANY

    Six sigma is a waste of valuable investors dollars. While most companies are spending money creating the newest fade and proper employee training others are trying to avoid a lawsuit. Sure you can fight with paperwork, and the game of let’s confuse the hell out of them, but why not train the proper way. Doing the math on the average dollar spent, man power used, and results that lead to another project wouldn’t make since to the naked eyed consultant or would it? Sure a person who counts fast may not be the man for this or would they? Bottom line the whole shake down process is garbage! If you invest in the proper tools, and add quality training from the start you wouldn’t have to play catch up with the product.


  72. Andrew Downard


    I’d love to respond, but I have no idea what you are trying to say. (Or do I?)

    Regarding your first statement, care to provide data?

    Regarding your last statement…well, writing that sentence down is a little easier than making it happen in a large organization. See my point #3 in the original post.


  73. Any


    All people continue to repeat the learning process day in and day out. What I’m stating is giving the evidence that most of today’s successful companies have used the method of dedicated training to develop the employee from heaven(eager, reliable, and always willing to put fort the effort). Sure you will come across those who may not relate right away, because as human nature all do not learn at the same pace. You must first have knowledge of the situation, then have the option to apply it. When the experiment is being conducted is there certainty that the person is completely aware of the answer or is it another useless test (waste of investors dollars)? The consultant has to wear the seat of the trainee, trainor, apply the knowledge in the numerous of situation there could be, be able to compentently asset quality results of themselves, and find away for other to arrive at that same desination that may not click as fast as we like. Instead we bring someone on the outside who spend about 3 to 12 month trying to figure out the how too? and not the why’s? So we quickly take their words and go running full speed toward a wall that could have been avoid time after time. The prydiam is the biggest explaination for it first, and second how much did your company just spend to find themselves chasing their own tails. "We can expect that each oppurtunity given human nature will always be the cause of it, force is not a resolution to opposition"!! Apply some beliefs to the everlasting process maybe that gas will start the fire your looking for. Althought there’s diversity amongs large companies everybody worship in some form shape or fashion no matter what profession. A week mind will always find a place of comfort. Let’s just hope that this SIX SIGMA process doesn’t fail and make the news! LOL!! Especially with the economy being in yhe state that it is in.


  74. Any

    Oh!! by the way what a great way to end a company or close down a few branchs!

  75. Andrew Downard


    First, you say you are "giving the evidence". But you’re not. You are repeating the same bunch of tired complaints that others have made innumerable times with no supporting evidence. All have have offered are a bunch of unsubstantiated claims and ideas. Who knows…maybe you’re right. My point is that these accusations are made over and over again in the absence of any data which would support them.

    Second, you make the mistake of arguing that Six Sigma done badly returns bad results. That’s a tautology, and hardly an interesting observation anyway. If you want to make a meaningful point, talk to me about why you think Six Sigma done WELL will return poor results. And don’t do it with generalities and unattributable quotations. Do it with data and evidence. Because if you want to have THAT conversation, I can produce plenty of evidence that Six Sigma done well does return a significant amount of value. So can others.

    Third, if you read my other entries, you’ll see that I don’t agree with Black Belt "Swat Teams" or the deployment of consultants to solve problems. I might be the only person you’ll meet who believes that NO Black Belts should be full time – that having part-time, embedded Black Belts is the fastest route to addressing root causes and acheiving true cultural change. Like you (I think) I firmly believe that induction is a necessary part of the process, and induction is almost impossible to teach. Six Sigma can help a lot with deduction, but induction relies on talented, experienced, and creative individuals.

    Fourth…really, how has Six Sigma ever been a "great way to end a company"? Can you name a single example? And in the unlikely event that you can, are you sure that it was Six Sigma that put the nail in the coffin? I’m guessing there would have to be a lot of other people standing around with hammers.


  76. Any


    Your point is well taken. To get right to the point here you have subject A who care for the income but don’t care for what they do. Give them aa reason to care don’t take away the moral. Then you sit and say the point are useless or tired, please be a realist. If ther was a perfect way innovaion would not be real. Point blank iT SUCKS ACCEPT IT !!


  77. Andrew Downard


    I’m sorry. I don’t understand what you are trying to say.



    The fact is SIX SIGMA not only sucks, it is a CON job.

  79. Michael Marx


    Do you think we should close the comments on this post? It seems that lately the commentators are not offering any valid points against Six Sigma.

    I doubt SHELDON will explain why he thinks Six Sigma is a con job — and without any intelligent reasoning it is a worthless comment not even worthy of your response.

    You’ve garnered 79 comments so far, and have repeated your arguments many times for those who do not take the time to read all the comments first. It’s your post, your call. Let me know.

    Michael Marx

  80. Roland

    My problem with it is that many think it is the be all end all solution. It is not right for every process, because many processes dont lend themselves to such analysis. How would you apply LSS to a think tank whose prime activity is research and innovation?

    Furthermore, I have been through the Black Belt training and they have made a relatively simple data analysis process more complicated than necessary with too much extra documentation and justification milestones.

    If you believe this is the best way to analyze every problem in business, then I weep for you.

  81. Andrew Downard


    I take your point. No one is suggesting your think tank replace their innovation process with DMAIC.

    But how to apply Six Sigma? Well…

    Do they hire new people occasionally? Do they bill their clients? Do they produce reports and documents? Do they purchase goods and service from vendors? Do they have a structured communication process? Do they budget? These areas are all fertile ground for process improvement.

    The questions of whether it is *useful* do work in these areas, or whether the think tank would place any priority on it…that’s a different discussion. But I don’t see any question about whether process improvement is possible.

    At the end of the day, every business produces something that is sold to a customer. And every business has to have some fundamental processes to enable that to happen. You might argue that organizations not focused on profit generation are different, but I submit that versions of those fundamental processes still exist. That means process improvement work can be done, though it doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done. Every organization also has to make decisions about where to spend time and energy, and process improvement isn’t always it.

    To your point about Six Sigma not being right for every process, I agree 100%. I’d never suggest otherwise. Use the right tool for the job, and Six Sigma is not always going to be the right tool.

    I’m sorry about your Black Belt training experience. I once went to a tailor who sold me a suit that didn’t fit…but it didn’t cause me to conclude that clothes should be avoided. There are a lot of bad tailors out there, just like there are a lot of terrible Six Sigma courses. That doesn’t mean that clothes, or Six Sigma, are inherently bad.


  82. Jim Brady

    Six Sigma is not a panacea…the "Silver Bullet".

    The concept and approach are often maligned by "Upper Management" and that is part of the problem with unsuccessful deployment. Without support for projects from the "Top Down" it will never succeed.

    That being said, most companies are inundated with paper, rules, regulations, compliance issues, procedures, etc…sound familiar? Before you become involved with DPMO, deviation and statistical prognostication, clean "The House".

    I’m a Six Sigma Black Belt working within the Nuclear Industry and have been involved with Process Improvement for about 5 years. Before you begin pursuit of a Six Sigma deployment fix the simple things first!

    Most problems encountered within the DMAIC methodology spring from the fact that the projects identified did not fit the Six Sigma framework to begin with! Examples include: not enough data, solutions already known, the workers were not consulted prior to project identification…take my word for it, most of your problems can be fixed by the people performing the work.

    Six Sigma contains an incredible array of very powerful tools…but so do other Process Improvement methodologies.

    Here’s the deal…use every tool at your disposal to go fix the problems. Build yourself a "Tool Box" of improvement techniques. Use what you need to fix the problem… and don’t forget the most important part of the fix. Consult those closest to the work before you attempt anything…the results will be amazing!

    "Small, continuous improvements over time, will lead to the desired state"!

    "Go to Gemba"…when you get there, you’ll have most of it licked! I love my job!!!

  83. Andrew Downard


    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’m glad we have people like you working in our nuclear facilities.



    Why Six Sigma is a con job.

    The Six Sigma program bought by the management and then pushed to the masses of increasingly high tech US labor forces is indeed a con job.

    This whole thing is over genearlization and thus a over-simplification of a statistical concept, arising out of a GE of outlandish ego of Jack Welch at the expense of many other sound managerial principles. It is GE consulting’s buzzword that has done zilch for GE itself after Jack squeezed out whatever he could expediently for then.

    Could GE consulting help out GE financial now?

    With six sigma, GE could only convert the no1 and no2 they bought in every sector they enter into a mediocre alsoran.

  85. Andrew Downard


    There are so many things I could say, but perhaps I’ll ask a question instead.

    Suppose you are right that Six Sigma inappropriately over-simplifies statistical concepts. Then why is the program so popular, and why has it lasted so long?

    One explanation would be that everyone using it is foolish. But do you think perhaps there might be some other explanations?


  86. Gene Monroe


    My apologies for the slow reply.

    "When I said I worried about "how best to evolve Six Sigma going forward", I did not mean "how best to make everyone drink the kool-aid". If you scan my other posts, you’ll see not much of a believer in the standard dogma of Six Sigma."

    I’d like to understand precisely how you make this distinction. It’s certainly not clear in your post, and I’ve neither the time nor inclination to read your entire blog history. Do your own work.

    "That being said, I don’t think you can seperate process and product. If you are working on one, you are working on the other, whether you like it or not. It’s not a matter of prioritization."

    Try to distinguish between improvement and the methodology to realize it. The simple fact that there are dozens of marketed "processes" for realizing an improved outcome is strong support that the two are distinct. I am not referring to the process yielding the product – I figured you’d gathered that from the initial posting.

    "Do 95% of publicly held Six Sigma companies really underperform their market averages?"

    Yes, they do.

    "I’d love to see the original data, survey methodology, and method of calculation that support your conclusion. Can you provide this context?"

    Ahhh – the classic stall technique. Perhaps a few control charts would be needed, too? Try typing a few search strings in your browser, you’ll find all the evidence you need.


  87. Andrew Downard


    Nice to hear back from you. Let me try to clarify:

    Getting everyone to drink the kool aid, to me, means forcing everyone to do things the same way, ignoring problems with the methodology, passing up opportunities to tailor the approach, and putting the integrity of the jargon and roadmap before the intent and goals of the exercise.

    Wondering how best to evolve Six Sigma going forward, to me, means facing up to the strengths and weaknesses of the program, blending and sequencing it with other approaches, and generally trying to make it better over time. I’d never suggest Six Sigma is perfect. There are many, many ways to improve it as a program.

    The former approach denies the existence of opportunities to improve the methodology. The latter approach seeks and embraces those same opportunities.

    Regarding process and product, one is a means and the other is an end. The two concepts distinct. I get that. But in practice, how do you do work on one without doing work on the other? I don’t see any value in a partition between working on improvments and working on methodology to produce improvements. Sure, the concepts are distinct, but I don’t think the work is.

    On the 95%…you think asking to know where that specific number came from is a stall technique? Why would I be stalling? I haven’t been asked anything. You’re the one who provided the number. Where did you get it? Just tell us.

    Saying "95%" implies a degree of rigor in your investigation that "type a few search strings in your browser…find all the evidence you need" does not. 95% implies data leading to a calculation. You brought it up, you said 95%, you show me the calculation.

    This so-called study is cited all over the place. I challenge you, or anyone, to produce it. Otherwise, just say you’ve done a few Google searches, if that’s the evidence you have. Don’t dress it up with a made-up statistic. That’s you stalling, not me.


  88. Jarek


    I have one example as to why Lean/6-sigma is bad, especially in the long run. Toyota was the biggest failure in the history of Formula One racing. They had the biggest budget for 8 years and never won a single race. Grand Prix racing is the most technologically advanced competitive, innovative and evolutionary environment in the world and is entirely metric and data driven.
    Toyota blamed their decision to quit F1 on the global economy, but everyone involved in the sport blamed it on their management style. They ran the team according to the "Toyota way" and were consistently beaten by good old fashioned common sense.

  89. Andrew Downard

    Hi Jarek,

    I know nothing about car racing, so I can’t comment very intelligently. But I do have to point out three things:

    1) In all the press I read, Toyota was very open in acknowledging their failure in F1. They embraced that, and were trying to improve. I suspect they would have got there in the long run, but they had to make some hard decisions in order to ensure there would be a long run. Pulling resources out of a non-core activity to focus on saving the core business is hard to fault. It took a lot longer that 8 years for Toyota to get where they are in other areas.

    2) I’m not sure "The Toyota Way" can reasonably be expected to apply to winning F1. I love the philosophy as much as anyone, but it’s not a panacea. Would we expect a Toyota’s mass-manufacturing and continuous improvement philosophy to help win F1? Do we have any evidence that Toyota did? I don’t know. There’s a saying I like: you can’t save your way to profitability. Meaning that regardless of how efficient you get in your factories, at some point you have to sell something. Being excellent in one area doesn’t automatically imply excellence in other areas.

    Interesting question though. Maybe someone who knows more about it will chime in.


  90. Sally

    Corporate US is in need of a good douching. Their management is clueless, their concern for employees is only driven by what organizations want to look like instead of how they really are and improvement/quality is truly hard to produce when you are so messed up because leadership and its roots in integrity are so lacking. I have been in the corporate world for 25 years, and it truly does suck. I am so very tired of it all and am thinking of "downsizing" to get away from it. As to Six Sigma, frankly, unless you can spin it on a dime, most organizations won’t pay for the effort to really do a thorough job of the analysis, so it’s great to understand the concepts, but who the heck in the boardroom wants to see a bunch of runtime charts when all they want are the top five or six areas to improve, the findings and recommendations for how this will happen. And you’d better produce those results soon. U.S. business is floundering because it is so poorly run, and although I don’t believe other countries have any better answers than we do, I know that many workers in other countries are NOT overworked and treated as we in the U.S. are now.

  91. Andrew Downard

    Hi Sally,

    Not going to disagree with the thrust of your comments…

    To focus in on your thoughts about Six Sigma, I agree that there is very little appetite for the details in the boardroom. One of the topics that was on my list – but I never got to – while still actively blogging was the seeming paradox that we’re supposed to have "senior management fully on board" but we all know that that the guts of Six Sigma won’t fly in the boardroom.It’s easy to talk about a "top down deployment", but the reality of what that means are always a bit fuzzy, especially when you’re talking about the flow of technical project information up and down the chain.

    I think there’s a lot to talk about in this area…but I’m not blogging here anymore :)


  92. Alex

    I was an engineer in 1985 when 6-sigma was introduced to our company. Most people who spoke about it knew nothing about statistics. Most organizations are in 3-4 sigma range and CANNOT AFFORD 6 sigma, it is very expensive and not really necessary. Where do you see 6 sigma which is equated to 3 ppm defect rate? Car industry? aircraft industry? C’mon people. I can understand when you manufacture product in millions (like ICs and microcomputers) then you can even trend 6sigma events. If you do not get production in millions you will not be able to prove 3 ppm defect rate!
    Also the ICs manufactured in sterile environment fail after 12 month quite often, just look at your warranty. So even if 6 sigma is implemented you may have no superior quality of the product just because of the design issues.

    Often 6-Sigma is a lure to replace all kind of IT equipment and infrastructure to accomplish a desirable flowchart structure of 6 Sigma process.
    Defects always will exist unless your process has no variables. Just use common sense, analyze your process using your good college education and do not try to get 3 ppm defect rate, save your company money. Remember, Apollo missions were accomplished before 6-sigma era and after 6-sigma was introduced we had all kind of problems in all industries. The main effort should be placed on the design.

  93. Carlos Hernandez

    If Six Sigma Sucks..

    How many companies have failed implementing Six Sigma? I need company names!


  94. PS

    Just stumbled across this very interesting blog. Is it dead now? Has Six Sigma won or has another fad taken over?

  95. Tim

    Six sigma isn’t good unless you like to see people get laid off. It’s a tool to instill a culture of layoffs are OK. Hiring temporary employees until our boat completely sinks is also OK. Six Sigma sucks!

  96. San

    Throw this Six Sigma Away – Your company would have instantly saved millions… Hire Rightly Skilled (read ‘WELL’ skilled) people to do the job – I guess that sums it up…

    Things like SS are created to “enable” a POOR performer to perform his job.. Why hire Poor performers in the first place… Things like SS and LSS are a big hoax – a theory created by an escapist who has something to blame on (say, “our process is wrong”) when something goes wrong…

    I have not seen technically superior souls use such jargons.. Any company would depend on these technical people… Credit goes to the “process”… Blame goes to the technician!!!!

  97. Bill

    Oh, for God’s sake. Can’t we just fix airplanes anymore? What the hell does all this CRAP have to do with launching my jet? I’ve tried, TRIED to work with YOU PEOPLE (six sigma, TQM, lean, etc…) for two decades now, and it’s all just garbage. Who cares what some fool in the conference room thinks? Either PERMIT me to get the halon leak in the second line hangar equipment room fixed, or go back to your office and count money. This drivel is nothing more than bullet statements, resume polishing, and “playing the game”. Read my review of Six Pillars on Amazon if you want more. And no, I do not drive a pickup truck or have tatoos. Done.

  98. San

    I reiterate – it is a hoax… Please read my comment above…

  99. San

    @Carlos Hernandez :

    Motorola, GE, etc…

    Motorola would have been dead but for google. and GE but for Obama… One invented Six Sigma and the other religiously practiced it… Both deserved to die..

  100. Fred Cox

    I was cyber-noodling when one link led me to another and eventually to this discussion. Question: Is six-sigma still alive and well as a (vociferously arguably) valid solution to manufacturing goals? I’d love to know whether it remains an active process or is semi-remembered only as the Solution du Jour?

  101. Jim

    My experience is that too many businesses use it and shouldn’t. There are two basic business types: production(self explanatory) and service, what I refer as maintenance. A maintenance business type provides a service where the goal is “maintain” a positive growing customer base. The company itself becomes the product trying to be sold! No production elements here. Pushing something like Six Sigma has the opposite effect. Contact me if you would like to learn more. I have watched Six Sigma destroy a business.

  102. Dean_Weller

    Spoiler: Motorola isn’t to blame for my experience.

    I started as a white belt and was between green and black when I started to make the connection. By “green belt” I’m not talking Caterpillar’s poor excuse for a green belt; we were more closely trained like Ford’s employees if even THEY compare.

    At the beginning of the class we had 31 people and eventually were down to just 7. We covered all the material in “The Certified Six Sigma Green Belt Handbook” First Edition by Munro, Ramu, and Zrymiak and our professor was from Motorola. We were starting to cover parts of “The Certified Six Sigma Black Belt Handbook” first edition but at the time I hadn’t received my official certification yet. It wasn’t “official”. But rest assured it was “in the mail”. I was pretty convinced the post office was holding it for two long months as practical joke.

    This was an “official certification” rather than some crap third party opinion.

    Certified: Yes.

    Higher than most standards: You bet.

    Opinion and practical use outside of a historical context: There wasn’t any apart from Kaizen which are management principles that should have been implemented to increase quality and of course that eighth waste in Lean.

    Was I ever going to use a project charter when pitching something to management. No.

    Was I ever going to use a Ishikawa diagram? No.

    It’s far easier to ask for all ideas pertaining to an issue. No dumb idea exists.

    Does the visual properties of a fish-bone diagram help?

    Not unless you’re border-line “special needs” or an “old man” trying remember what was said two seconds ago.

    Prior to my first project the answers were clear as day. The Fish-bone diagram was pointless so skipped it altogether and completed it afterwards. Turned it in: 100%.

    The process within itself was a waste. Why would I bother going through this painstaking process in 30+ steps when I can cut it down to five and get the same result? I stuck through it and danced to the tune I was told. I had a gut wrenching feeling that SS was snake oil disguised as a panacea. A cure all for all the wastes in manufacturing transportation and warehousing. I didn’t realize how “right” I actually was at the time and when it really hit home, I WAS NOT in class.

    It wasn’t Motorola.

    It was listening to a VP at GM “rag on” about how little everyone really understood SS.

    By sheer accident I was invited to a corporate event by someone in my class. The guy went on about how foolishly the company poured billions of dollars into outside “consultants” to train internal employees and how the savings were just “miscalculated estimates” which would later be proved incorrect.

    With all that and my class coming to an end a few weeks later, I relapsed in the bottom of a bottle. (Yeah, after being sober for a few years out of college. I really got skunk drunk. Don’t judge.)

    I thought about people offering close to six figure salaries for a BB in the 90’s and early 2000’s..

    All this crap about this cure all was just BS and at the center of all of it a “certification”?

    It pretty much came down to that. I didn’t get out of bed that weekend. I was in fetal position trying to wrap my mind around “what was likely the cause of modern civilizations downfall”. Why our country can be closely compared to Rome’s Republic just before it fell apart.

    Why were so many companies filled to the brim with corporate crap? Why were there so many useless executives? What were these so called VP’s actually contributing? The questions had enticed me to stay in bed and mull it over with a sober mind for the next few days.

    Short answer to the latter: Nothing. Every single one of them. Really, absolutely, verifiable 100%, W.A.S.T.E.

    All these fake theories backed by BS.

    Four of us were left when the class ended.

    Certified BB and all of us that were left agreed “it was pointless”.

    I decided to leave PM and focused on I/O and O/L during my grad studies.

    About six months ago I stumbled across Rand Corporation’s theory on what was pretty much the contributing factor to the downfall to American civilization. “Truth Decay”. Just looking at the time line and all the crap that happened through the 90’s. Just remembering Jack Welsh’s antics about “fear of change” and a “top down approach” which crippled many corporations including both GE, Sears, and even 3M before they realized there was an “obvious” issue. It all was surreal and the title at the top of this thread led me to google. The first result led me here to share with everyone.

    With that, I’ll say this.

    If you are in anyway affiliated with Motorola GM or Six Sigma to smallest degree even as a legal representative or are a part of any judicial or legislative branch in any government this is all just a made up story from a few pages in my fictional book that I’ve been working on since my undergrad. Six Sigma really does work and its a wonderful timeless classic deserving the highest respect. This is all a lie.

    If not: No it isn’t.

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