Why Six Sigma is Annoying

Posted on October 12th, 2007 by Pete | Edit

Ok…I am all for quality improvement and a systematic approach to in. So in a way, I am actually a fan of Six Sigma…but sometimes it just gets annoying.

1. For one thing, they get all the cool projects. Before there was Six Sigma, you could identify a way to improve things, figure out the cost/benefit to the company, and do the project. (In fact, Human Performance Technology was based on this approach and predates Six Sigma…it just didn’t get the visibility…) But now, with Six Sigma, in many companies if your business case is any good, your idea may end up being turned into a Six Sigma project. So some blackbelt gets all the glory and you go back to the same old same old.

2. Based on personal experience as well as comments from others, there are a lot of Six Sigma practitioners who really don’t know what they are doing. Clearly, many are quite competent. But just having the certification does not mean that you necessarily have the capability. Once, while doing a performance analysis meeting, a Six Sigma person observing from the back came up and said that he could see at least ten projects after observing just one day of our meeting. No kidding…we identified them!!! (Well, technically, the meeting participants, the master performers from the client organization, identified the opportunities…we just facilitated and documented their thinking.)
3. Companies may use Six Sigma as a way to avoid really paying attention to the details of the business operation. Instead, they designate people as Six Sigma experts and then figure process improvement is “handled” and they can “check it off.”
4. Fixation with process instead of results. A standard process only provides a logical template for actions. But, if you think it through, you may just as well come up with a sound process without having to add the extra structure and formality that Six Sigma may entail. Sometimes that structure helps. But sometimes it just creates needless bureaucracy.
Remember when process mapping came out and suddenly everybody had to map every process? Teams were running around mapping processes all over the place…instead of getting work done!! Six Sigma, like anything that becomes a fad or trend, is in danger of the same thing, as is lean manufacturing. Instead of improving the business, the risk is that you just add another layer of work processes and more overhead.
5. In most cases, Six Sigma teams find cost reductions. When used for innovation, there is less success. (Some would argue that targeting innovation is an inappropriate application for Six Sigma…but it happens.)
6. Of course the worst problem with Six Sigma is the same as happened with Y2K and many SAP initiatives–it drains budget and attention that could be used for other important consulting…like human performance improvement, curriculum design, training development!!

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