Six Sigma Requires Changed Hearts, Minds

“Six Sigma is absolutely about changing a company’s culture,” declares Mark Sessumes, of the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (www.tmac.org), Fort Worth, Texas. “[And] that’s all the way from top leadership down to the workforce—to make decisions based on data, not intuition.”

For existing business processes or systems, “the methodology revolves around systematic use of the DMAIC—define, measure, analyze, improve and control—philosophy,” explains Jeff Fuchs, president of Baltimore-based Neovista Consulting LLC (www.neovistaconsulting.com). Sessumes calls DMAIC “the heart of a Six Sigma approach.”

Why use it? Reducing defects to 3.4 per million opportunities presented is Six Sigma’s goal. “We think any defect is a result of variation in process,” Sessumes says. Sources of variation could be information, material conversion, design, accounting processes, machines, people or most anything else, he suggests. “One more that is noteworthy that many people don’t think about is the measurement system.” Measurement is important, he says, because “based on data, the companies should understand where they could use the DMAIC methodology to drive
high-value impact.”

Six Sigma everywhere

For success, the business’ and customers’ voices must be heard, Sessumes stresses. “Feedback guides what key processes to focus on,” he states. “Make sure the goals are clearly aligned from both voices,” he adds. Once they’ve spoken, then use Six Sigma anywhere along the value stream, he counsels. “That would include all activities from concept of a product, through development, production, launch, logistics and even disposal.”

Six Sigma is clearly effective. “Properly led and deployed, it’s a powerful, proven way to improve business processes,” Fuchs asserts. “Case studies consistently show that it works in every industry, in every department and in every business process.” But remember the big key to this business-improvement process is its being data driven, Sessumes emphasizes, adding, “many companies are not using fact-based management.”

Not surprisingly, as with anything associated with change, especially a company’s culture, obstacles exist to transfomation. The biggest pitfall? “Chief is in thinking that a Six Sigma Black Belt and a fistful of Green Belts are all it takes to run a successful program,” Fuchs observes. Another pitfall comes from how companies incorrectly view their Black Belts, Sessumes notes. “They view these people as heros. They see them as wind-up dolls to send out and save the day.”

But Six Sigma must be lived by everyone—most of all, senior leadership, Fuch emphasizes. “It is not for the shop floor for a while—it is for everyone, forever.” Sessumes elaborates why. “What we find is that companies will make a decision to choose Six Sigma. Then they’ll choose someone to lead that,” he notes. “Typically it’s a responsibility in addition to what else (other responsibilities) the person has, rather than being the sole focus.” The predictable result? Companies ends up dabbling, Sessumes states, “and they scratch their heads and wonder why they don’t see the results that other companies get or ones they’ve read about.”

Obviously, that’s ineffective behavior. Because just about all process improvements require process change, that also requires a change in human behavior, Sessumes explains. “There’s got to be some motivation for the change.” That, he says, “is where the leadership brings in WIIFM (pronounced wiff-um): ‘What’s In It for Me?’ ” That means leadership must clarify the vision and communicate how Six Sigma affects everyone.

Six Sigma can deliver enormous benefit, Fuchs declares, but “like any sharp instrument, it can do harm if used improperly.” Used wisely, though, Six Sigma is potent and effective, he says. “It should be applied in a way that changes your culture and delivers results for your customers, business and people.”

C. Kenna Amos, ckamosjr@earthlink.net, is an Automation World Contributing Editor

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