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November 26, 2007

Six Sigma and the Workplace

I am an active participant on LinkedIn and particularly LinkedIn Answers. One of the most frustrating topics I see come up again and again are various company managers asking if Six Sigma is right for their particular issue. Almost as soon as the question is posed there will be five or six responses from either Six Sigma Black Belts or
others who work in a Six Sigma environment that say of course it will work for you and by the way...would you like any help implementing it? Usually I am the only person who steps in to ask what the reasons behind looking at Six Sigma are and that there are other options beyond Six Sigma (and its many, many offshoots).

Six Sigma is a set of practices that is used to eliminate defects within a process. It was originally intended to improve manufacturing processes but has since been adapted to improve any system or set of processes. The latest trend is using Six Sigma as a way of improving office functions or specifically the operations within a given department. To implement Six Sigma you first have to define the process that is going to be improved and then measure the on-going metrics. Herein lies the biggest problem with Six Sigma.

There is an inherent assumption made within a Six Sigma process that the baseline process is an effective starting point to improve against. Many times it is the existence of bad process and procedures that drives a business to implement Six Sigma in the first place. Companies with the worst base processes are the ones looking at improvement strategies and often find Six Sigma. These companies will see almost no significant help.

Most companies somehow make it along without the help of Six Sigma. For some reason they don't need a bunch of Black Belts evaluating their processes to recommend changes and fixes to stay successful. If you are looking into a process improvement methodology, first look internally to see if it is simply bad processes that are driving the issues. If you feel the issues go beyond what you are capable of diagnosing and repairing on your own then bring in an outside consultant to help. Their job is to identify problems and help you fix them.

I'd love to give more information on this and probably will at some point, but I want to really emphasize that most issues are internal and not something that can be fixed through a Six Sigma program.

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