The Yin and Yang of Six Sigma

To many organizations, Six Sigma is just another means to improve quality that’s often put under the umbrella of continuous improvement. From this viewpoint, Six Sigma can be described as a highly disciplined, data-driven approach for eliminating defects.

In reality, Six Sigma is a lot more than a quality program. Six Sigma is actually a business improvement process that allows companies to drastically benefit their bottom line while better serving their customers and shareholders. This mission is accomplished by designing and monitoring everyday business activities in ways that minimize waste and resources while concurrently increasing customer satisfaction and stakeholder value.

While most quality control programs focus on detecting, analyzing and correcting defects, Six Sigma takes a broader view of how to create beneficial improvements in product and service quality. Simply stated, Six Sigma is about making breakthrough improvements in the core processes of a business.

To this aim, Six Sigma relies on time-proven methods to re-create the process so that defects and errors never arise in the first place. As one might surmise, this means preventing defects, not detecting and fixing them.

In the world of Six Sigma, data is sacred; culture is methodology; decisions are numbers; and customer satisfaction is a performance metric. Six Sigma is a high precision way of confidently grasping the control function of a business. In other words, Six Sigma is about discovering the right knobs to turn in the core processes of an enterprise. Once these knobs are known and optimized, the needle of business is favorably moved.

Expressed differently, Six Sigma is a reliable way to connect what happens at the bottom of the organization to the top (and vice versa), where all such connections can be directly tied to the fundamental economics of the organization. Thus, Six Sigma is concerned with the Quality of Business, not the Business of Quality. This is what separates Six Sigma from more traditional quality initiatives, like Total Quality Management.

So what is a Sigma and why Six? Well, a Sigma is a measure of the goodness in something – the more Sigma’s the better. It’s interesting to note that an average company’s products and services typically benchmarks in the range of 3.5 to 4.0 Sigma. In contrast, Best-in-Class companies reach to about 4.5 Sigma while World-Class companies strive for 5.0 to 6.0 Sigma.

For example, consider the airline industry. Airline baggage handling is about 4.0 Sigma, but the flight fatality rate is slightly more than 6.0 Sigma. This means that the next time you get on a commercial flight to go somewhere, you are about 1,800 times more likely to get there than your bags. A huge difference indeed.

Being an average company (4.0 Sigma) also means you have to frequently “take your eye off the ball” to fix all the things gone wrong. However, a Six Sigma company always has their eye on the ball simply because there are so few things to fix. Consequently, a Six Sigma organization has far more “quality time” for running the business in an effective and efficient manner. Unlike a Four Sigma organization, a Six Sigma company has much more time to create additional value for its customers and shareholders.

Obviously, if one aspires to Six Sigma, the need for change is a certainty. We must remember that change is not the occasional clash of symbols, it’s the melody. This means that the entire company will need to continually change its DNA to effectually evolve how it operates. It takes a new way of thinking to make a 1,800 times improvement in the quality of something.

As you might reason, common-sense thinking is not likely to produce a 1,800 times improvement in something. This level of improvement requires uncommon sense, or what many would call “extraordinary sense.” Six Sigma provides an extraordinary way of thinking and set of supporting tools that allow people to reach out and achieve extraordinary things.

Think about it. Very few things in this world were ever achieved using common sense. If so, they would have been realized long before their actual creation. Thus, Six Sigma thinking has been proven far superior to Four Sigma thinking.

To better understand the true import of Six Sigma, let’s consider an example. Suppose a process consists of 500 activities and that each activity is 4.0 Sigma. Given these facts, the likelihood of successfully executing all 500 activities is about 4.4%. However, if each activity was 6.0 Sigma, the likelihood of successfully executing all 500 activities would be about 99.9%. Surely, nothing more need be said – the data speaks for itself.

So what’s next in the world of Six Sigma? Well, Dr Harry explains that classical Six Sigma can only be deployed into about 2-5 percent of an organization’s workforce. But what about the other 95% of the population? Is there not some way they too can meaningfully participate in a Six Sigma initiative?

Well, simply watering down the classical form of Six Sigma has not worked out very well. So, to address this issue, Dr. Harry broke the classical form of Six Sigma down into “Big Ideas” that he calls the “10 Supreme Laws of Breakthrough.”

The 10 Supreme Laws were discerned by Dr. Harry after a couple of years of closely examining nearly 30 years worth of Six Sigma related case studies, training content, correspondence, interviews and so on. The goal was to identify the cognitive road-map that underpins the successful practice of Six Sigma and then reduce it to a series of fill-in-the-blank templates.

In this way, virtually anyone (especially work teams) can practice Six Sigma; and do so without the math. Born from the DNA of Six Sigma, The Great Discovery represents the Six Sigma Way of Thinking.


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