Six Sigma is widely known as a process improvement methodology that originated in the manufacturing sector. Its goals include reducing process variation and continually managing and improving processes.
Before an organization can successfully implement a Six Sigma initiative, leaders must understand and commit to the philosophy that underlies the program. Six Sigma is more than just a set of tools and techniques; it is a way of doing business based on a specific mindset. All the training in the world cannot produce an effective Six Sigma program if leaders do not share the values that the methodology is based upon.
Data-Driven Decision Making
Central to the Six Sigma methodology is the acknowledgment that even individuals very familiar with business operations or a specific process may not truly understand what customers value, how a process works, or what problems are the most prevalent. Assumptions are often proven false once data is obtained and analyzed, and what leaders “know” to be true turns out to be incorrect.
At all levels of Six Sigma, data is required to confirm anecdotal evidence, gut instincts, and long-standing assumptions. Information about what customers want and how they view existing processes, services and products is obtained directly from them. Rigorous data collection and analysis procedures are part of every decision regarding which processes to improve and how to do so. Even employee performance assessments require use and proper interpretation of appropriate measurements.
Managers often conclude when something is not working properly that the problem is the people involved. Six Sigma starts with the assumption that most people will do their job well provided they have appropriate systems, processes and tools. In efforts to understand problems in a specific process, the focus is on uncovering obstacles inherent in the process, not on placing blame or seeking weaknesses in individuals. In some cases issues with specific individuals are uncovered, but the expectation should be that the process itself is what needs improving, and any conclusions about the role of specific people must be backed up with valid data analysis.
Perhaps the key aspect of Six Sigma philosophy is the notion that all processes and operations could and should undergo continuous improvement. It is always possible to improve profitability, improve efficiency, reduce defects, improve customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction, and create more value. A business culture that values ongoing improvement based on objective assessment of the current situation is a vital prerequisite for successfully rolling out Six Sigma.
Addressing Root Causes With Effective Sustainable Improvements
Six Sigma techniques are typically not the fastest means of addressing problems in the organization, and for that reason they can be viewed unpopularly. But leaders who are committed to Six Sigma understand that it takes time to properly identify problems, uncover the true causes of those problems, and implement improvements that truly resolve the issue in a lasting way. They resist the temptation to jump to conclusions and apply bandaids, maintaining their commitment to do what is best for the long term rather than what is most expedient in the short term.
This post is part of the series: Six Sigma 101
Learn the basics of Six Sigma project improvement methodology, from the underlying philosophy to the tools and techniques and the challenges that may arise.