10 Reasons Why Six Sigma is Fading

  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!


  • 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?

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