Many business opportunities stem from seven sources. These opportunities can also be applied to software Six Sigma and can be useful to consider when choosing good Black Belt and Green Belt projects.

By Karl D. Williams

A new book about long-time management guru Peter Drucker (The Definitive Drucker by Elizabeth Haas Edersheim) discuses key sources of opportunity in the business world. Some of these opportunities spring from tough and unseen challenges. A large majority of opportunities come from seven sources – the unexpected, industry and market disparities, incongruities, process vulnerabilities, demographic changes, perception and priority changes, and new knowledge. These opportunities can also be applied to software Six Sigma and can be useful to consider when choosing good Black Belt and Green Belt projects.

The Unexpected

Frequent unexpected occurrences signal that our expectations are out of sync with reality. Recognizing and understanding the reason for this mismatch is a powerful tool for innovation. These occurrences include unforeseen successes and failures within the group as well as in our customer base.

In the software industry, this scenario often plays out when a new product or software release is completed. Shortly thereafter, issues pour in from customers complaining of defects, missing functionality or operational difficulties. Soon a big question comes down from above: “Why did we not catch these problems in testing?”

This is a perfect base for a Six Sigma project. In one example, such an effort resulted in isolating two main causes of escaped defects:

  1. Lack of a test tool to stress the system as it would be in the field
  2. Inability to test for security breaches

The first cause was addressed by purchasing a new tool to stress the system; the latter was resolved by special training for the test team specializing in security testing.

Industry and Market Disparities

Another set of circumstances in which a mismatch between supply and demand becomes an opportunity is when a group has missed advances in industry or among competitors. There are too many examples of this among U.S. companies that used to be perceived as industry leaders. Some industries are even named for these companies, but to protect the guilty, those names will not be mentioned. If this has or is occurring in your organization, there is a wealth of potential Six Sigma projects hiding there, both DMAIC and DMADV. Search these out for Black Belt and Green Belt projects before it is too late.


Incongruities in expectations signal opportunities. A customer-value incongruity is a discrepancy between what customers want and what software teams think they want. A good example here is the online banking side of the banking industry. This capability has been available in some form for many years, but it was little utilized early in its evolution. Why? The product that software teams thought users wanted did not match actual user wants and needs. Countless Six Sigma projects were executed around this opportunity with ensuing improvements happening almost monthly in all the major banking suppliers.

There is some interesting background here that may also be applicable in your business. Why were so many Six Sigma projects run in this area? One reason, of course, was to make online banking more desirable and draw additional users who were satisfied with online banking. However, the biggest reason was the tremendous cost savings for banks by having customers use online approaches compared to the typical walk-in, paper-laden banking approach, which is very costly to banks. Look in your area to see if there are similar scenarios you could leverage via a Six Sigma project.

Process Vulnerabilities

A process vulnerability refers to some part of the workflow that is missing, difficult or not working. Ultimately, this prevents users from being satisfied with the product. Many organizations perform peer reviews. However, they have no knowledge of the effectiveness and efficiency of their peer reviews. (Effectiveness is the defects found vs. defects actually there. Efficiency is the number of defects found per hour of peer review preparation and review).

Many groups collect the data needed to provide this information. Few, however, actually use it to characterize the process and improve its results. There is a gold mine of Six Sigma projects that can be built around the scenario of improving review effectiveness and efficiency. Interestingly, this same data can drive another whole set of Six Sigma projects regarding the question “Why (or how) did these defects get inserted into the product to begin with?” Additionally, the same situations and potentials revolve around the various testing phases.

Demographic Changes

Broad shifts in demographics create shifts in demand and mismatches with traditional supplies of products and services. One of the boldest examples of this is the changes faced by the cellular telephone industry over the past 20 years. The cell phone was originally conceived as a device for business users, initially executives. Today, the feature set offered is dominated by the needs of teenagers and personal users.

While this has created new markets for the cell phone, one can only imagine the potential Six Sigma projects that were available and executed over the past 20 years as this revolution was unfolding. Find similar situations within your businesses to use as Belt projects.

Perception and Priority Changes That Shift Customer Habits and Wants

Changes in perception do not change the facts, they just change customers’ interpretation of the facts – and that creates opportunities. Demand and supply no longer match. Years ago, the application of new software releases typically meant downtime while the new software was installed and sanity tested and cutover was completed for use. The perception and priority of industry needs caused a shift in requirements.

For example, large telephony suppliers change software releases several times per year to add new features and correct defects. At one time in history, hours of downtime were perceived as acceptable. With the increased importance of telephone services (e.g., 911 service) the expectation was zero downtime for cutover to new software releases. Many Six Sigma or similar projects were completed to investigate and correct issues that caused downtime (DMAIC) and new technological approaches (DMADV) to ultimately reduce cutover downtime to zero. Search your environment for similar scenarios as sources of Belt projects.

New Knowledge

The most obvious source of innovative ideas is scientific breakthrough. Such innovations tend to have long lead times and are often high risk and, potentially, high impact. Consider the changeover in the software development area over the past decades from a “line-of-code” mentality to an object-oriented approach where lines of code are no longer relevant. While this has been a good change for developers, there is a lack of good estimating methodologies and tools to handle this new approach. Many potential Belt projects are available in this area waiting to be solved. Additionally, think of other areas of new knowledge that could be the source of Six Sigma projects.


Collectively, these seven sources of opportunity – the unexpected, industry and market disparities, incongruities, process vulnerabilities, demographic changes, perception and priority changes, and new knowledge – account for the large majority of opportunities. This list of opportunities may be useful to check when struggling to find the appropriate project for a Black Belt or Green Belt.

About the Author: Karl D. Williams is a principal consultant for Six Sigma Advantage. He has trained more than 17,000 people in CMM, CMMI, Six Sigma and software skills. Mr. Williams was a director at Motorola and more recently was a senior vice president of process design for Bank of America. He is a Master Black Belt, an SEI-authorized CMMI trainer and lead assessor and has performed more than 170 CMM, CMMI, QSR and customized assessments at more than 100 organizations in 20 countries. He has published more than 80 articles and authored a book entitled Continuous Improvement & Reengineering…A Better Way. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author