Following the success of corporations such as GE and Motorola, companies across the globe rushed to implement Six Sigma in their organizations. Unfortunately, in the rush to implement the process, many organizations executed improvements poorly or failed to gain an adequate understanding of statistical process control before moving forward with improvements. Although Six Sigma methods have been used by organizations to gain millions—even billions—in savings and efficiencies, some companies walked away with a bad taste for the process. That bad taste has resulted in the following misconceptions and myths that are still prevalent today in many industries:
Six Sigma is solely concerned with metrics and ignores common sense. The opposite is actually true: Six Sigma often starts with traditional common sense ideas, often arrived at through brainstorming, and validates those assumptions with data. The reason for this myth is twofold. First, managers and others who are used to making calls without being questioned are suddenly questioned in a Six Sigma environment. Not only are they questioned, but hard data sometimes proves them wrong. Second, in some cases data is improperly used to support conclusions that are against common sense or tradition. When those conclusions turn out to be faulty, it’s easy to blame the process of Six Sigma there is a lack of adequate understanding of the statistical theories involved.
Six Sigma is too expensive. While enterprise-wide adoption of Six Sigma can be costly at first, due in part to training needs, slowly integrating the concepts into a company often costs very little in the long run. Organizations have to balance how they adopt Six Sigma with budgetary concerns—but when implemented correctly, Six Sigma generally leads to savings that more than cover its initial investment.
Six Sigma can fix anything. Opposite the nay-sayers are Six Sigma cheerleaders who believe they can apply the method like a salve to any problem. While Six Sigma can be applied to any problem of process, it’s not always relevant to problems of culture or people. If morale or other human resource problems are at the root of an issue, statistics can’t help. However, if morale is low because a process is difficult to work with or is performing poorly, Six Sigma can be used to improve the process, thereby improving morale.
Six Sigma is applied via a controlled project selection and management process. Once areas of concern are identified, leaders usually turn to analysts, Six Sigma experts, and subject-matter-experts for cost- benefit analyses. Six Sigma teams attempt to quantify how broken a process is (by calculating sigma level, costs of defects, downtime, and other metrics) and how much it might cost to address the problem. Problems are then prioritized according to severity as well as an organization’s ability to address the issue. Teams begin working through the priority list, returning to the analysis from time to time to ensure the list has not changed. The majority of this book covers the methods by which teams identify and address problems using Six Sigma.