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Six Sigma is Not Just for Projects

written by: Heidi Wiesenfelder • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 6/30/2011

When people think about Six Sigma, often the focus is upon using DMAIC for process improvement projects. However, there is more to it than just Six Sigma project management, the Six Sigma program incorporates a specific philosophy and mindset as well as a specific way of running a business.

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    An organization does not just decide to “do Six Sigma” by conducting one DMAIC project or using some of the tools here and there without the overarching framework to support it. Six Sigma is an entire methodology for managing business operations, and can only achieve its real potential when it is implemented in a comprehensive manner. Without the proper mindset and foundation, individual projects are unlikely to have real lasting results.

    Business Process Management: Six Sigma derives its name from its original goal of reducing process variation relative to customer specifications so that only a handful of defects occurs given a million opportunities. This focus on reducing variation, understanding customer requirements, and managing processes is key to the success of the program. Any company implementing Six Sigma needs to put substantial time and effort into establishing an overall strategy for measuring process performance, monitoring processes, and making improvements when needed.

    Data-Driven Decision Making: In a Six Sigma organization, decisions are made based on actual empirical evidence, not on management assumptions, anecdotal evidence, or other subjective means. Even the selections regarding which processes need improvement and how projects are prioritized are data based. Compensation is based largely on objective measures that are tied to organizational metrics,


    Image by user Cna110703 via stock.xchng Accountability & Compensation: Leaders of each operational area are held accountable for the performance of their processes, as measured by established metrics as part of the overall process management framework. Compensation for all employees is tied to balanced, objective performance measures, and managers are accountable for following Six Sigma methodologies and principles. In evaluating process performance, the assumption is that problems usually lie within the process, systems, and tools, and not in individual employees. Effective data analysis ensures that individuals are neither penalized nor rewarded for performance that differs from that of others due to random variation in the process rather than true performance differences. When issues do exist for specific individuals, action is taken based on data rather than subjective information.

    Process Improvement Projects: With all the other pieces in place, DMAIC projects for process improvement (and occasionally Design For Six Sigma projects for creating new processes) will naturally fit into the organizational culture and have a strong chance for success and substantial impact.