iSixSigma

Ask the Expert: The Topic – Six Sigma Vision

Praveen Gupta, CEO of Quality Technology Company, explores the topic of Six Sigma vision – from visions for SixSigma initiatives and building support with “quick wins” to alternatives to the ubiquitous vision and mission statements.

Q: What should a company’s vision be for their Six Sigma initiative? Should it be to target 3.4 defects per million opportunities for every process? 

A: Creating a vision for a Six Sigma initiative requires a good understanding of the Six Sigma methodology, its intent and its benefits. Without clearly understanding its benefits, the corporate vision could miss its true objective. For example, one company understands Six Sigma as a DMAIC, and therefore, a five-step methodology. For another company, Six Sigma is understood as a strategy to dramatically improve business. Is Six Sigma a strategy, a methodology or a hammer?

GE sees Six Sigma as its DNA, Motorola sees it as a “culture thing” and Honeywell sees it as a standard of excellence. Born as an approach to accelerating improvement, promoting employee teamwork and achieving total customer satisfaction, Six Sigma was initially criticized for its unrealistic target of 3.4 defects per million opportunities, then analyzed to its limits and finally institutionalized at many corporations. Six Sigma is now generally comprehended as a strategy to improve corporate performance through continual reconfiguration, and a methodology for dramatic improvement, employee innovation and operations resulting in the best product or service at the highest profit.

With this understanding of Six Sigma, the corporate vision must look beyond the number 3.4. The vision must incorporate the philosophy, the methodology and the expected outcome. The vision needs not be a glamorous statement. Instead, the vision must be a set of words that relates to a particular corporate culture and a new direction to produce better corporate performance through a dramatic improvement in operations, and yet abiding by a company’s core values. At Motorola, the incubator for Six Sigma, vision also included beliefs, goals and initiatives.

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Q: Do all Six Sigma companies have roughly the same vision? Can you provide an example or two from your clients?

A: It is interesting that there is great similarity in the key words of many vision statements. But if correctly developed, each vision statement is born from a different feeling – a feeling specific to a company, its people, its objectives and commitment to the initiative. Sometimes, vision statements may not even include “Six Sigma words.” However, their intent reflects a commitment to achieve dramatic improvement. Here is an example of a vision statement:

Vision: Leading provider of integrated test systems, and engineering and manufacturing solutions to meet customers’ outsourcing needs.

Initiatives:

  1. Integrate all locations seamlessly.
  2. Implement Six Sigma methodology to achieve excellence.
  3. Manage projects well for efficiency and profitability.
  4. Implement a Business Scorecard to manage business by facts.
  5. Grow business to achieve company’s mission.
  6. Create a fun and learning environment for employee growth.

Here, no specific mention of Six Sigma is included in the vision statement; instead, Six Sigma is mentioned in an initiative aimed at realizing the vision.

Q: A number of experts say companies should show “quick wins” when implementing Six Sigma to build support. Is this the right approach?

A: When I was at Motorola, we started Six Sigma with small or quick wins. However, the corporate commitment to implement Six Sigma was not contingent upon the success or failure of those small wins. Instead the purpose of small wins was to learn more about the methodology before institutionalizing it. Unfortunately, some companies play for quick wins as a way to avoid making the big commitment to the Six Sigma initiative. Those companies are indecisive. They have not done their homework, and have fears about throwing away money in the Six Sigma basket, just like they had seen it done in the past with TQM, ISO 9000 and many other similar “programs of the year.”

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Instead, I suggest that a CEO or the leader of the company must first learn a lot about Six Sigma, its benefits and its methodology. The most important aspect is to understand Six Sigma’s intent. I believe if various methodologies are implemented in accordance to the original intent, the results are guaranteed sooner or later. If the commitment is only in compliance with the methodology and not the spirit or intent of Six Sigma to achieve better results, then the consultants, subject matter experts or statisticians take over and success is no longer guaranteed. Six Sigma and strong leadership lead to many quick as well as big wins. So, quick wins are good, but they must be sought only after an absolute commitment is made to Six Sigma.

Q: Many people dislike vision and mission statements. What would you suggest to be an appropriate and beneficial alternative for them?

A: Vision or mission statements with audacious words and without supporting action items become slogans. The slogans stay as long as the leader stays. As soon as the leader leaves a company, the slogan bites the dust and the vision becomes blurry. Each corporation must have a vision to communicate its future direction and expectation to its employees, suppliers and customers. How it is communicated depends upon the company’s leadership style and management systems. Rather than in a statement, the vision could be communicated using visuals throughout the company, leadership actions and interaction with employees.

People dislike vision and mission statements when the statements do not seem to relate to them, and when they do not translate into relevant actions. People love corporate vision and mission statements when they are communicated and executed through passionate management commitment. In addition to vision statements, progress towards realizing a company’s vision also must be communicated to employees. That is best done through measurements, such as Six Sigma Business Scorecard or other Dashboards.

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