10 Reasons Why Six Sigma is Fading

Article Revised: March 27, 2019

  1. It isn’t. Six Sigma is still going strong. Under new names. As part of the way things are normally done. Six Sigma has become fully integrated into the organization. Why call what you do all day by a special name?
  2. Charlatans and hacks. I once saw an interesting question in a Six Sigma forum. I subscribed and followed the discussion for two or three weeks. The right answer was in there all right, in the middle of a very long list of irrelevance and flat out bad advice. I’ve listened to and read enough to know that there are plenty of pretenders out there. But it’s hard for the non-expert to sort the wheat from the chaff.
  3. Baggage from previous failures. As leaders move from places where it was poorly done. When I mentioned Six Sigma to a new CEO he exclaimed “We used it at the last company I worked at. It was nothing but DPMOs for everything. Worthless!” Yeah, DPMOs everywhere is worthless alright. Too bad he had this experience, but it doomed the efforts at his new company.
  4. Saturation of the base. Most manufacturing organizations of any size are already doing it. Other areas are more resistant. Six Sigma doesn’t always translate easily into industries like healthcare. It works alright, but it’s not obvious to the healthcare expert at first glance.
  5. Cost cutting. In the economic downturn programs of this type are easiest to cut. The benefits are not always immediate, and in a downturn some managers insist on immediate payback.
  6. Mobility of management. One of Deming’s deadly diseases. Owner- and Board-driven Process Excellence (PE) seems to last longer. If leaders come and go, Six Sigma won’t last long either.
  7. Victory has been declared. Many businesses, especially in America and Europe, only did Six Sigma to deal with some crisis. Once the crisis is past, Six Sigma is abandoned.
  8. Displaced by Lean. Lean can get you a fast, big improvement using simple tools. Why bother with the complexity of Lean Six Sigma or Six Sigma? The trouble is, Lean has its place and so does Six Sigma. It’s not a case of “or”, it’s a case of “and.”
  9. Not the latest-and-greatest thing. Many organizations did Six Sigma because it was the big thing at the moment. Six Sigma has been around for a while. The glamor is no longer there compared to other fads. True, there’s nothing better around. But to the glamour seeker that’s no reason to stay the course.
  10. Death by accounting. Six Sigma and Activity Based Costing or Resource Consumption Accounting don’t mix well. These are still the dominant accounting systems used by business. Until they go away, leaders who improve using Six Sigma will continue to suffer as the accounting systems mistakenly report poor performance. Until an item made for sale is valued differently than an item made for inventory, Six Sigma is doomed.

The only acceptable reason for not using Six Sigma to improve operations is one that I don’t think is true, at least not yet: A better way to achieve process excellence has been discovered. If there is a better approach to achieving operational excellence, I don’t know what it might be. If you have any ideas, please let me know. I’m all for copying a good thing when I see it!

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Comments

  • mannionp October 7, 2009 at 2:01 pm Reply

    In our organization (IT within Financial Services), SS seems to continuously lose ground. While we push hard and gain some momentum, Lean and Kaizen techniques seem to displace classic DMAIC in a continuous cycle.

    In the rest of the firm, we see the opposite – DMAIC has a stringer hold than Lean. Maybe that’s because the accountants and financial wizards appreciate the math and statistical perspective; the IT side seems to not want to get that far into details. Ironic?

  • Dean Weller January 29, 2019 at 6:09 am Reply

    Probably spot on but for other reasons. 6 sigma was originally created and derived from time management/TQM . The model was only to be used in a manufacturing environment. It was Jack Welch that tried to implement it wherever he went. Others tired to follow but fell short. 3M fell into a creativity problem and Sears implemented it from the top down in all aspects of their business model. They really “tried to change” but eventually fell into bankruptcy late 2018. 6 sigma simply couldn’t account for the human factor in the business environments because it wasn’t created with those environments in mind. To put it bluntly people are not machines.
    If you were looking for creativity then you should stray far away from 6 Sigma. You need to focus on people who can help create the environment Adam Smith spoke about that fosters creativity by making work as fun as play.

    Find someone that advocates how to make work suck less like I/O Psychologist Adam Grant.

    Adam makes quite a few fair points on what makes the teams and environments that foster creativity in his pod cast on TED entitled: “The problem with All Stars”

    I suggest starting there.

    If Bill Smith and Dr. Mikel Harry from Motorola were still alive they would probably say something along the lines that 6 Sigma was created with a manufacturing environment in mind but may be applicable to similar work environments. This does not meant in the office where the human factor becomes a problem. They are referring to warehousing and certain parts of supply chain management that closely mirror the manufacturing processes 6 sigma was designed to improve. I suppose with their deaths 6 sigma will die to some degree as well. I would also like to go further and say there are plenty of fake practitioners claiming they can teach 6 sigma in such a way that it can be implemented by anyone. Without support from an accreditation body I’d expect certifications to fall on deaf ears in the near future. We’ll go back to degree required programs where statisticians and data scientists rule the 6 sigma scene and with good reason. I suppose part of the problem with the implementation is that there are too many certified-BB and MBB’s that really do not fully understand its the scope, its purpose, and how best to implement it.

    As always…

    Best Regards,
    Dean

    • Thomas Pyzdek January 29, 2019 at 9:04 pm Reply

      The model was only to be used in a manufacturing environment. It was Jack Welch that tried to implement it wherever he went.

      Not true. Manufacturing is at least 75% non-production work. Motorola applied 6-sigma to all areas of the company, including administrative services, sales and other areas. Jack Welch applied it — successfully — to whole non-manufacturing companies.

      6 sigma simply couldn’t account for the human factor in the business environments

      Really? I’ve seen 6 -sigma successfully applied to HR projects to address employee satisfaction issues. It’s an approach for identifying and correcting the root causes of stakeholder problems. Including employee problems.

      To put it bluntly people are not machines.

      Nobody is saying that they are. But people can be unmotivated, dissatisfied, fatigued, bored, and any number of things that can be identified and improved. 6-sigma helps do this. Your state “Find someone that advocates how to make work suck less like I/O Psychologist Adam Grant.” 6-sigma can help determine how to “make work suck less”.

      If Bill Smith and Dr. Mikel Harry from Motorola were still alive they would probably say something along the lines that 6 Sigma was created with a manufacturing environment in mind but may be applicable to similar work environments.

      I didn’t know Bill Smith, but Mikel Harry was a friend. I can tell you that Mikel was well aware that 6 sigma could be applied in non-manufacturing environments and frequently helped his employers, clients and students to do so. Your statement that it does not include “in the office where the human factor becomes a problem” is simply incorrect.

      Not to be rude, but this post demonstrates that you don’t understand 6-sigma at all. I don’t know where you got the idea that 6-sigma is something only applicable to manufacturing is simply wrong.

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