Accomodating Ambition, Or: Six Sigma

by hulk

I now understand the frustration of people who say “Six Sigma is nothing but another fad”. It has become one, at my company. I hear people talk about older systems they used and they reminisce. The ones who actually understand Six Sigma reminisce. I also understand those who say Six Sigma is not a fad. It is a robust methodology full of useful tools. It is not magic. You are not permitted to turn off your brain and blindly follow the methodology. You should certainly not set up an entire department of bureacrats who compete with each other to set standards and rules for how one can be given a Six Sigma belt and which projects are considered Six Sigma and how people should be taught Six Sigma and just how they’re allowed to use Six Sigma.

Six Sigma is a toolbox. It comes with a helpful booklet in your toolbox that says, for building a proper project, use your pencil followed by your ruler followed by your screwdriver followed by your pencil followed by some spackel. It doesn’t always apply, but it usually applies. However, it was never meant to come with the following restrictions: You cannot move through a tollgate until you identify these six meaningless roles for your project and you fill out this type of tool and you then get approval to move to the next phase where you can only take a month – no more, no less, and you must fill out this tool followed by that tool followed by another tool, and when you’re all done, spend your time totaling up the savings to the company so I can tout it as my accomplishment when I talk to my boss. That’s right, I’m the one in charge, so your accomplishments count as mine. By the way, I’ll change all the rules next week.

Allow me to give some real life examples. I’m currently working on a belt. The rules for certification have changed three times in the past month; all major changes. All changes involve more paperwork. I’ve also been told to fill out useless tools after the fact (meaning the tool would only have potential use earlier in the project). At least twice I’ve been asked to fill out tools well past the point where they would have been useful. Why? The first time for a presentation, the second for certification. I should also mention that the program is being run by people who don’t even have full knowledge or grasp of the tools. The most important things to know with a Six Sigma tool are that these tools were around long before Six Sigma, and they require a lot of thought before being used.

Allow me to transfer back to the metaphor of the toolbox. Would it help if, while building a house, you ran around smacking the hammer into every piece of wood you saw? Then maybe you whacked some windows with the hammer for good measure? Obviously the example is ridiculous. Yet straight-faced people who earn much, much more than me have taught me that tools should simply be used without thought to their application or even questioning the reason for using it. I’ve taken training in Six Sigma and Design for Six Sigma and ironically at the end of both training sessions I was told only to use the appropriate tool when needed. Then why do you turn around and demand that these tools be used? Wouldn’t it make sense to leave it up to the discretion of the project team as to whether or not they use a tool? Granted, they need significant training in Six Sigma to understand that some of these tools can be very, very useful. However you should not demand that I perform a designed experiment as a part of my project!

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