Where did Six Sigma go wrong and how to prevent it?

After Henry Ford’s impact on the manufacturing industry there are various processes that can be attributed to his innovative take on time efficiency and manufacturing effectiveness. He gave value through improving on the assembly line for mass production. He did this to be able to offer a better service to his end users. When looking back he achieved this mainly by eliminating waste and accelerating the velocity of the processes. By focusing on what was important to the customer he added value in aspects that the customer was actually willing to pay for. Nowadays, companies incorporate this methodology to strive towards more efficient procedures that at the end of the day can allow increased productivity and bottom line, as well as quality improvement and customer satisfaction and experience.

When a company is in the hopes to apply Six Sigma, the first thing they must do is eliminate waste and with this easy acronym they can easily remember what to avoid in their companies. DOWNTIME: Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Non-Utilized Talent, Transportation, Inventory (be it too much or too little), Motion and Excess processing. See most companies will get it wrong the first time around, by thinking that an efficient company gets it done faster by increasing the velocity of the process. In reality, this is achieved by optimizing the procedures your company already has, thus speeding up the entire process or lead time. Once everything is said and done Six Sigma will ultimately (and hopefully) reduce defects and variation.

Although, the intention is to make this clear to companies, there are somewhere it still is not the way to go and they have managed to either not implement it at all, or do it poorly. Common phrases from companies where Six Sigma has gone wrong are things like “It’s just a fad”. Most employees or even managers at companies like this one, will see the work put into the process as extra work, not as a pay forward to improve quality and time efficiency. Although it may be tempting to say this, we have to remember that this process differs from other similar continuous improvement strategies in that it is focused entirely on the customer, decisions are made on data and analytics, and finally it’s oriented towards a return-on-investment policy. Another one you might hear is that a company “We don’t have time for a Lean Six Sigma program”. Understanding the value and importance of time management is key, but the fact of the matter is that Lean Six Sigma’s intention is to optimize how time is spent, so that there is absolutely no waste. Once time has been wasted, there’s no going back. So despite what some companies may think, quite on the contrary Lean Six Sigma will open the doors to more efficiency.


Money_david kiger_six sigma_business
Image courtesy of Tax Credits at Flickr.com

Another big concern is costs with phrases like “We can’t afford the costs of implementing a program like this”. Who says you need a significant capital to run a Lean Six Sigma program? Some have been able to implement it with just one day of training, although if seen in the right light any expense made is in reality an investment. And if done correctly will most definitely yield a return. The excuses will continue with another one like “We’re too small” or “We’re not a manufacturing company”. In both cases the situation is the same, independent of the size and the type of company the principles can be used to improve procedures, get yourself out of a rut, enhance end results and effective talent management.  One of the most common excuses is their “fear old unknown or failure”. Some companies, afraid of what will come if they implement a strategy like this, will most likely avoid it and not even give it a try. Unfortunately, that will at the same time not allow them to see the possible benefits it could have.

When everything’s said and done, some companies will determine that it is not for them for many reasons. One of these is that it might stifle an extremely creative company. This fear has many CEOs deciding that for their company Lean Six Sigma is not for them. One of the clear signs in companies like 3M, the creators of the Post-it and the 3rd most innovative company after Google and Apple, is that they were requested to make a five-year plan. As such an innovative and creative company they say their short-lived program with Six Sigma was that one of a learning experience, from which they took away that it was definitely not for them. Instead they have opted to apply a “15 percent time” strategy, where every employee can use 15 percent of their time to work on other projects where they can pursue alternative research, which has now even become a welcomed culture by all employees.


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