Competing – The Dark Side of Six Sigma


Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. ALL GOOD STUFF. It uses a set of quality management methods, including statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization (“Champions”, “Black Belts”, “Green Belts”, “Yellow Belts”, etc.) who are experts in the methods.

How can such a robust tool ruin culture?

Here is the edge of Six Sigma’s dark side, “a special infrastructure of people within the organizations………a few people using complicated systems to solve problems…Exclusivity, a long-term killer of participation and culture.

Black Belts, please relax, I know that Six Sigma is a very powerful tool for improvement with many well-earned successes.  I have high regard for the process, when used appropriately and for most Six Sigma Practitioners.  But it can be an ego based destroyer of culture.

Ryuji Fukuda in Managerial Engineering introduced his “Principles of Managerial Engineering” and the Continuous Improvement Cycle: 1. Search for Reliable Methods 2. Create a Favorable Environment 3. Practicing Together

Fukuda’s concept was one of inclusion, where everybody, everyday is working to improve.  My experience informs me that inclusion, though difficult, is very effective means of identifying and solving problems, while exclusion creates resistance at best, enemies at worst.  My concept is supported in “Getting the Right Things Done” where Pascal Dennis compares a complicated problem solving system exclusive to experts vs. a simple problem solving methods used by everyone.

I have seen it too often………Six Sigma Champions saving the day while everyone else waits.  Does this system miss opportunities for improvement?  Six Sigma projects typically focus on major problems.

What about all those small problems?  They may turn into major problems if no one notices.  Who would notice? Bruce Hamilton would tell us that everyone will notice every day, that is how we change behavior, that is how leadership supports the creation of an environment favorable for continuous improvement.  That is a respectful system, a system that people will make successful.  Fixing small problems as they occur is the best way to rapid improvement.

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