by Gary Cone
We just closed out an informal survey in an effort to check the mood of the Lean and Six Sigma community.
The genesis of the survey was several articles that have been recirculated either declaring that Six Sigma kills innovation or that companies need more than the “old ideas” of Six Sigma. We thought it would be interesting to see what type of responses we would get if we asked “Is Six Sigma Dead?”
At the end of this, we’ll provide a graphical summary of the responses.
The most unexpected response came off of the Linkedin iSixSigma Group’s discussion forum. My former Motorola colleague and former boss from 1994/95 at the Six Sigma Academy showed up to critique the survey design. Check it out it’s quite funny.
What do I think about the question “Is Six Sigma Dead?”
There are too many perspectives to include in one blog to thoroughly answer this question so let me address two distinctly different approaches to historical Six Sigma implementation.
The first approach – Companies that have adopted Six Sigma as part of a larger strategy are companies like Motorola1 and AlliedSignal. Is Six Sigma dead at these companies? Well, if not dead, Six Sigma is a shadow of its former self. At Motorola it started a slow death in about 1991. At AlliedSignal, it started when GE was taking over in 2000 and then did not. What was common at both? They were at the top of their game at the time and their charismatic CEO’s departed. Which is root cause? Who knows?
The second approach – GE is the most famous of the companies that adopted Six Sigma as the name of their overarching strategy. Is Six Sigma dead there? Again, if not dead, it’s a mere shadow of what it was. What happened? Jack Welch left.
So, yes, at many companies that were once touted as Six Sigma companies, Six Sigma is on life support, at best.
But there is evidence that companies are still adopting, or readopting, the methods with great success. Kraft Foods is the one I know best and the playbook hasn’t changed dramatically. The approach is still the same as used in AlliedSignal’s EMS and Automotive sectors in 1995.
What about the relevancy of tools and thought processes? – The resounding answer here is that Six Sigma is alive and may just be coming into it’s own. I can show you hundreds of projects and billions of dollars in the last few years and that is just from a handful of GPS customers.
Does Six Sigma stand alone? No, it never did and it never will. Great leadership, a participative honest culture, tools for driving responsiveness (Lean, Cycle Time, TPS, TPM, …pick your label), knowing how your market is evolving, and great business acumen are just part of the list of what is needed.
Two parting thoughts –
- Tools – usable and used. What this means to me is all tools can be considered whether or not they are from our sacred Six Sigma toolbox. They just have to be demonstrated to be useful. This is the way it’s always been.
- Operational Excellence is the label I prefer. What it means to us is – Everyone and every aspect of the business involved everyday with the objective of today being better than yesterday.
1 If you doubt the Motorola reference see – http://www.baldrige.nist.gov/Motorola_88.htm