By George Strodtbeck
Three things leaders don’t understand about the value of six sigma.
This is intended for leaders of organizations. It is meant to make you stop and think about three points that I have observed you are missing when it comes to committing to deploying Six Sigma (or any continuous improvement system) into your organization.
I was prompted to write this after having read another all too common post complaining about the unfairness of Six Sigma. It echoed a basic complaint that I have been hearing for almost 20 years that goes something like this, “I have been solving problems for years, saving the company money and making our products better for our customers. Why don’t I get any credit like the Six Sigma people do?” This complaint reduces the idea of Six Sigma to its lowest common denominator; the individual. While Six Sigma can bring value to an individual’s career, for leaders, this line of thinking completely misses the point.
In this short post, I offer three points for your consideration if you are thinking about whether or not to pursue Six Sigma or another continuous improvement discipline.
- Six Sigma creates a common language enabling people to work together. Just think about this idea in a simple way. What if all of your service call people gave completely different advice when customers call needing help with one of your products? What if each warehouse used different measures for evaluating inventory? What if your engineers used their own personally developed approaches for designing your products? In a word, CHAOS! In each of those cases you expect people to follow established company standards. So, ask yourself, why is it ok for people to approach the company’s most important problems in whatever way they think is best? When people come together to solve problems and make improvements a common language and approach is invaluable for fast resolution. More importantly, it facilitates getting to the “right” answer more effectively.
- Six Sigma provides the tools for effectively and efficiently attacking complex problems. Consider this situation: You have design centers in 3 different countries. You get parts from India, China, Mexico, Canada, Brazil and the US. You assemble those parts in assembly centers in Germany, England, and the US. And, you sell in 200 countries. When you have a product failure, how do you attack it? Solving this problem is already hard, but lacking a common approach, like Six Sigma, it is even harder.
- For any size organization, the discipline and structure of Six Sigma gives visibility to talented people faster than almost any other system. The project review introduces leadership to people at all levels and in all functions. This visibility expands the pool of potential future leaders as a result of demonstrated capabilities.
There is nothing new or revolutionary in the three points above. They have been written about and said before. I believe they need to be repeated often.
If you are quite sure your company is already doing these things well, you don’t need Six Sigma or something like it. If not, which I have observed is more often the case, you owe it to the people you lead, your board and your customers to at least consider it.
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