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Critical Analysis of Six Sigma Implementation


The Six Sigma programme has recently gained popularity throughout the world. There are a number of claims of its successes as well as failures. Successful claims are mostly supported in the literature with the popular case studies of Motorola, GE, and some other American companies. Based on the popularity of these success stories, many companies started implementation of this programme. Some did it successfully while many failed to achieve the desired results. This paper explores and analyses the critical success and failure factors of implementing Six Sigma in organisations based on lessons drawn from real life practices and case studies, as well as available literature. The paper also draws useful conclusions and recommendations for strategists, CEO’s and quality managers on how to effectively implement Six Sigma.

Total Quality Management (TQM) is a sub-discipline of management science which aims to define, set, control and improve the effectiveness of an organisation within its constraints. It has been named and labelled by different nomenclatures in its evolution over the last 60 years or so, such as quality control (QC), quality assurance (QA), total quality control (TQC), company-wide quality control (CWQC), TQM, or quality management systems (QMS). Since then, a paradigm shift in the core concept has occurred in the field of TQM by expanding the process of measurement, control and improvement from the testing/inspection departments to all departments in all types of firms, which may be manufacturing or service. Having implemented TQM, it means that the organisation is essentially using the philosophy of standardisation, customer satisfaction and continual improvement. For this purpose, this field uses many tools, methods, standards or programmes continuously being evolved by top class practicing companies, practitioners, or academicians. Six Sigma is the latest entry in this field.

Six Sigma is an improvement methodology in the field of Total Quality Management (TQM). It is defined as ‘a methodology for pursuing continuous improvement in customer satisfaction and profit that goes beyond defect reduction and emphasizes business process improvement in general’ (Breyfogle III, 2003). It aims for an error free business environment (Pyzdek, 2003). It was originally introduced in the US by Motorola in the late 1980s and became popular elsewhere in early 1990s. The case studies of Motorola, followed by GE and Allied Signals, generated an interest in Six Sigma (Breyfogle III, 2003). This tool became the focus of attention for CEOs and quality managers in the late 1990s, at a time when stagnancy and criticism of ISO 9000 was rising about its effectiveness with respect to making improvements in organisations.

Research methodology

Research methodology
This paper is a critical review of the subject of Six Sigma from an academic, as well as an application, point of view. It is the result of extensive literature study as well as many real life Six Sigma implementation processes and observations. Like usual research outputs, case studies are not part of this paper, rather an exhaustive review of Six Sigma application phenomenon was carried out in order to identify key factors involved in it. It mainly identifies some important practical phenomena which are usually neglected by academicians in their usual research. These will help other researchers to plan their researches.

Implementation models
Many professionals, including TQM practitioners sometimes erroneously confuse two things with each other, that is: (1) TQM assessment models; (2) TQM implementation models (Moosa, 2007b). The TQM assessment models are commonly known as Quality Award Criteria, Business Excellence Models, Six Sigma or even ISO 9001 QMS, and provide the contents of what may be considered TQM. Whether it is the DMAIC Methodology of Six Sigma (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improvement, and Control), PDCA model of ISO 9000 (Management Responsibility, Resource Management, Product Realisation, and Measurement, Analysis and Improvement) or the Business Excellence Model of European Quality Award, they all provide a checklist of activities or requirements and what is 746 K. Moosa and A. Sajid required from a firm or an organisation. These models are prepared from the point of view of assessors who assess whether these organisations fulfill these requirements. 

Relationship between Six Sigma and ISO 9001 QMS
The second revision of ISO 9001:2000 also emphasised improvement. It introduced the ‘process approach’ as one of the key ingredients of a Quality Management System (QMS). This was based on the world-popular Deming Cycle (PDCA). The emphasis was on ‘Quality Improvement’, rather than just assuring quality. However, no tool or methodology is prescribed in this standard. As a result, even knowing the requirements and process of improvement actions, most quality managers, auditors and consultants are neither focused nor skilled in the tools of quality improvement. Without understanding and implementing effective tools of quality improvement, for example Six Sigma, the revised standard has in fact not made any significant impact in organisations. As a result, while some companies claim benefits from this standard, most do not. It is, therefore, also important for companies already implementing ISO 9001:2000 to carefully
integrate their QMS with Six Sigma in order to achieve its full benefits. At the same time, Six Sigma has also not been sustainable in an environment where there is a weak QMS or a QA programme being implemented. It is therefore important for companies to first identify what their current weaknesses are in their existing QMS and then strengthen it by integrating it properly with the Six Sigma methodologies to ensure the success of both.

Implementation models

Six Sigma – an approach, methodology, metric, or programme?
This is a common confusing point for laymen. In fact, all the terminologies are commonly used and practiced. As an approach, it means that management of a firm agrees to adopt a databased problem solving approach when solving business and quality related problems. It includes all the business processes. As a methodology, it means that these problems are solved by management teams with a sequence of steps called DMAIC. These steps are known as a scientific method to problem solving (also taught in universities to researchers as a research methodology). Problems are identified as projects and then solved in steps
where a number of statistical and analytical tools are defined at each step. As a metric, it uses the measure of sigma, DPMO (defect per million opportunities) and RTY (rolled throughput yield), instead of commonly used DPU (defect per unit) measures, as explained in the next section. When the word Six Sigma programme is used it implies a Six Sigma management system which encompasses both the Six Sigma metric and Six Sigma methodology. It is when Six Sigma is implemented as a management system that organisations see the greatest impact (McCarty, 2005). The Six Sigma teams are always sufficiently trained to ensure appropriate competence in the use of various necessary tools and techniques (commonly known as green and black belts). If such teams stop to function, the
Six Sigma programme stops.

A social taboo
One of the biggest differences between an underdeveloped and a developed country is the use of systematic approach in everything that they do or not do. The concept of ‘systems’ is practically very weak in most of the underdeveloped countries. Application of systems approach in a country is what makes her a developed country. We commonly observe violation of systems as a way of life in underdeveloped or developing countries. This difference usually strikes people from underdeveloped countries when they visit developed countries, where usually ‘systems’ are a way of life. Systems are mainly the routines being followed by people in general; where reminders are not required and the honesty of commitment is never questioned.

Problem solving – often oversimplified
The use of word ‘problem solving’ is very common in our daily life and thus does not catch much attention when talked in the context of quality management. Even a child knows how to solve problems. So what is the big deal with Six Sigma?

Delays, rejections, errors, mistakes, losses, and inefficiencies are all problems of not just an organisation as a whole but are found in every department or section of an organisation. When problems are created regularly by one department, they become a regular feature of others’ processes. Say for example, regular delays by a Purchase Department in purchasing is not just a problem but a cause of many problems of other departments:
planning errors, production delays and long stoppages, maintenance delays and long shut-downs, broken promises by the Sales department, customer complaints, employees irritation and dissatisfaction, for example. In return, all of these problems further aggravate and create more problems: such as customers’ dissatisfaction and disloyalty, vendors dissatisfaction and disloyalty, employees dissatisfaction and lower retention rates.

How much statistics?
Quality is only as good as the information and data behind it. Solving quality problems requires that large amounts of data are collected, analysed, deciphered, and acted upon. Product and service quality is only as good as the quality of the process information and data generated (for example customer feedback reports, inspection reports). Data and information therefore must be accessible and understandable to management, quality improvement teams, and all employees. Statistics can be used to make data and information understandable for quality decision-making.

Example 1: The DPU was 10% while DPO was 5%. DPO means defect rate in every part, that is five defects in 100 parts or 50,000 defective parts in a million parts.
Example 2: The DPU was still 10% while DPO was 2.5%. This means 2.5 defects in 100 component or 25,000 defective parts in a million parts.
Example 3: The DPU was 100% while DPO was 25%. This means one defective part in every four parts. Although 100% of pens are defective but when we consider at the level of parts, it is 25% only, that is 250,000 defective parts in a million.

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