Think Six Sigma is dead? We’ve got proof that it’s alive and well.
Have you heard the rumor? Six Sigma is apparently dead: consigned to the annals of history as a tired and irrelevant quality methodology.
First developed in 1986 by American Engineer Bill Smith while working at Motorola, Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process and operational improvement. It was brought to the fore by Jack Welch and Dr. Mikel J. Harry made it a core tenet of their operational system at General Electric in 1995.
Despite how long Six Sigma has been around, don’t believe everything you hear. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated. Six Sigma – and its sister discipline Lean Six Sigma – are very much alive and contributing to business transformation projects around the world.
Today, Six Sigma practices are adopted by thousands of organizations as diverse as the U.S. Army, PepsiCo, Heritage Group, Johnson Controls and more.
What is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a methodology that improves the quality of processes through a series of techniques and continuous improvement software.
The ISO standard for Six Sigma describes it as a methodology for business improvement comprising of five phases: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (DMAIC).
The standard says:
“The purpose of Six Sigma is to bring about improved business and quality performance and to deliver improved profit by addressing serious business issues… The driving force behind the approach is for organizations to be competitive and to eliminate errors and waste.”
That purpose is still as relevant today as it was when Six Sigma first hit the headlines in the management press.
The Six Sigma ‘fad’
As far back as 2003, talk of the end of Six Sigma started to emerge. Quality Magazine published an article titled, “Six Sigma? No Thanks” that claimed Six Sigma was part of a list of ever-failing quality trends. He insisted that, “Despite good intentions, Six Sigma can be a harmful fad. Quality trends “du jour” are part of American business culture. Quality circles, total quality management (TQM), ISO, QS, Baldrige and now Six Sigma, have all had their day as the quality solution. Employees are tired of this year’s solution.”
Despite what articles such as this would lead you to believe, a quick search on LinkedIn returns over 4 million people who list Six Sigma in their titles or interests.
Death of Six Sigma survey results
A few years back, Global Productivity Solutions carried out a survey to address the question, “Is six sigma dead?” While that title makes for great headlines, the results showed only 5% of respondents discontinued Six Sigma in favor of an alternative method for business process improvement, whereas over half of survey respondents said they continued their commitment to Six Sigma to help lead business transformation initiatives.
Nearly three quarters (73%) stated that their Six Sigma deployment was a success, allowing them to measure and demonstrate savings. If the Six Sigma deployment did fail, the most cited reasons for failure included a lack of proper leadership support. Without executive-level commitment, Six Sigma teams often find themselves lost among a long list of other priorities.
Process improvement is changing
Process improvement approaches are changing, and that’s hardly surprising given that they are built on the very foundation of continuous iteration. It seems reasonable that processes and tools designed to help you build organizational efficiency through analysis and improvement should themselves evolve over time. The past few years have demonstrated Six Sigma evolution in the following ways:
- The language is changing: organizational efficiency and process improvement is labelled Operational Excellence, Business Transformation or a variation on these two themes
- The team is changing: whereas the process and methodology is now seen as the responsibility of the project management office (PMO) but continuous improvement is everyone’s job
- The tools are changing: Digital tools help teams identify, and track initiatives through project portfolio management software: Bain & Company report that using PPM software will enhance Lean Six Sigma projects by providing a single source of truth to track and find value, and they can generate upwards of 30%, or more, in cost savings, while decreasing time-to-value
- Leadership remains essential: Six Sigma – and continuous improvement more generally – is a way of thinking as well as a way of working. The success (or lack thereof) of Six Sigma often depends upon having strong leadership to drive it.
Six Sigma remains strong
As a community, Six Sigma leaders and practitioners continue to engage in process methodology and best practices discussions about Six Sigma on a daily basis. Search Google and you’ll find a vast number of articles on this topic:
- 127M+ Google results for “Six Sigma Training”
- 4.3 people on LinkedIn with titles or interests in Six Sigma
- 291K LinkedIn titles with “Black Belt” included
- 461K LinkedIn titles with “Green Belt” included
- 1,100 Lean Six Sigma groups on LinkedIn (biggest group has around 723,000 members)
Clearly, the community continues to search for strategies and best practices to help them identify areas for process improvement and transformation, and tools that will help demonstrate value streams they bring to the business. With a heightened emphasis on business transformation, Six Sigma is robust, demonstrated a topic that remains relevant in today’s market.
The ongoing need for process improvement
Organizations must continuously evolve, and to do so, they must identify, improve and measure. Continuous improvement leaders head up this work, cutting waste, sharing and replicating success and demonstrating the value of these changes.
Continuous improvement software underpins these process changes. From ideation and prioritization to delivery and cost management, it is a single source of truth to centralize all of
your initiatives. It provides the tools and processes to help you select, track and complete projects that reduce waste, cut expenses, and streamline the way work gets done.
PPM-native reports and analytics with drill down capability help Black Belts and process managers demonstrate the impact they are making by showing how improvements are aligned to strategic objectives.
Don’t let clickbait headlines and water cooler talk fool you. While Six Sigma may be changing and transforming, it’s not dead. And today, it’s easier than ever to take advantage of project portfolio management to prioritize and align programs that improve productivity across the organization.
Ready to chat with an expert? Contact us to request a demo and learn how continuous improvement software will give you a single source of truth for process improvement initiatives giving you the tools you need to prioritize initiatives, eliminate waste, and demonstrate savings
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