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Is Six Sigma still relevant?

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As this blog reports, Steve Towers, co-founder of the BP Group, likened the Six Sigma approach to weight-loss programs, saying they typically start off well, generating excitement and great progress, "but all too often fail to have a lasting impact." So what do you think?  Is Six Sigma still relevant?

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  • Read the comments on the blog, Voice of the Customer is what is being touted as the new salve just under a different moniker, a rose by any other name...

    The problem with Six Sigma is that it's become an elitist methodology which breeds a closed mind. Sigma hasn't changed it's methods in decades and yet the world of business continually shifts so how can any rigid means of continuous improvement be effective ?

    Pragmatic and adaptive approaches to process improvement and BPM to help guide efforts work better than being religiously tied to single methods, even cherry picking pieces from the overall Six Sigma armoury works wonders over following it verbatim.

    Outside-In is nothing new.
    Six Sigma will never renew.
    Do what works best FOR YOU and stop listening to the crackpots.

  • Most enterprise endeavours and projects have a high failure rate. Six Sigma is not an exception. This is not a reason the throw Six Sigma away.
    The inside-out method has to be applied together with the outside-in approach.
    The inside-out would make sure that you deliver properly what the the outside-in demands.

  • At least not in the processes I have to cope with most of the time. Those are not processes that produce the same products for a million of times a year.

    Probably there are still those processes in production area that might benefit from the ideas.

    I already saw some black belts on ebay....

  • Yes, I think so. I rather like the comparison on the Hammer and Co. blog (http://blog.hammerandco.com/redesign-vs-six-sigma/). It gets to the heart of how Six Sigma and process improvement are different and complementary.

    If I want to drive out variation in my production environment, Six Sigma can help me do that. If I want to look at my processes from an efficiency and customer perspective, process redesign can help me achieve that.

  • Six Sigma is a method to carefully measure and continually improve on measured values. It is about making work patterns precisely repeatable.

    Such an approach will work only when the activity you are improving is itself repeatable and reproducible. Six Sigma will continue to be useful for routine processes which are predictable and repeatable. However, complex unpredictable work, such as innovation, exploration, problem solving, and disaster response, will never see the benefit of Six Sigma because they inherently are not styles of work that can be perfected in that manner.

    If you are seeing dissatisfaction with Six Sigma, I think it is because people are trying to apply it to complex work where it can't work. That is not a problem with the method, it is a problem with the people applying the method.

    http://social-biz.org/2011/09/23/untamed-processes-at-bpm-forum-2011/

  • In general, how would a focus on quality, effectiveness and the voice of your customers not be relevant?

    I think Keith hit on one aspect regarding relevancy: does the six sigma methodology even fit the domain? Adrian also picked up on a good point: there is no quick fix to the problems six sigma aims to solve.

    I'd extend the following to the entirety of BPM: business managers want a simple recipe (e.g. like a project such as a BPMS deployment), but six sigma (and BPM) is a way of thinking, a drastic change in the way we manage processes. It does not happen overnight. That is why six sigma (or BPM) "fails" - when you get in a bind, you want to go back and just do what you did in the past.

    • I find myself violently agreeing with John on this one. Look, statistics and math have been largely the same for decades (in some cases centuries). Age doesn't invalidate an approach - but circumstances and context might.

      This doesn't mean that you should adopt the Six Sigma religion, just that you should be aware of the tools and how to use them - and most importantly, when to use them.

      Some of the tools have nothing to do with the old stereotypes of routine or volume processes. There are additional tools to help design processes.

      But as John points out, quality, effectiveness and voice of customer seem pretty relevant... :)

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