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Three Ways to Prevent Six Sigma Mistakes


By University Alliance
Three Ways to Prevent Six Sigma Mistakes

Six Sigma, the business-management methodology that improves performance by minimizing variation in tasks, can be an incredibly useful tool for today’s business managers. When used correctly, Six Sigma can reduce the potential for worker error by providing workers with a consistent system of procedures.

So why is it that, in practice, nearly 60% of companies that have attempted to use Six Sigma have been unsuccessful? In 2005, for example, Home Depot’s rigid adherence to Six Sigma led to a drop in stock prices and a decrease in employee morale. Similarly, 3M also saw a drop in prices, along with the belief that Six Sigma played a part in reducing employee creativity.

While these cases may cause managers to shy away from using Six Sigma, it is important to remember that when implementing and using Six Sigma correctly, consequences like these can be avoided.

Consider your Six Sigma Deployment Strategy

Six Sigma can be implemented in one of the four ways, depending on the current state of the company. Each of the four implementation models has pros and cons that suit different groups of workers, different departments or organization goals. Since there is no specific model that can be applied in all cases, it is crucial to use the model that best fits the company’s current situation.

  • The Enterprise-Wide Model – The traditional, top-down model that rapidly produces a major cultural and procedural change for the entire organization.

    This model tends to suit large organizations with strong, structured leadership from management. While this model has the potential to change the entire organization, special attention must be paid to provide consistent leadership and management during the initial deployment and throughout the transition.
  • The Department/Business Model – Scales down the enterprise model to a particular department or group of workers.

    The department can then serve as a “pilot” for managers, allowing them the opportunity to see how Six Sigma works in practice without the challenges of rapid enterprise-level change. The department/business model typically creates a greater potential for outside consulting and training. It enables tweaking of the Six Sigma implementation to the point where it can eventually be integrated into the entire business.
  • The Targeted Model – Further scales down implementation to the point of specific business problems or tasks.

    This model can be tailored to suit businesses of all sizes, making it an attractive option for smaller organizations. While it may not produce overall change, as with the two models discussed above, its focus on particular issues produces results quickly and with minimized risk. 
  • The Grassroots Model – The largest contrast to the enterprise-wide model.

    This model favors bottom-up implementation, typically carried out by a group of motivated workers. Here, workers can organize Six Sigma deployment to suit their needs. As this model is not directed by a management team, it may not be received by other employees as well as the other methods and may not produce long-term change.

Convince Leadership to Buy-In to Six Sigma

Regardless of the deployment strategy that suits your organization, executive-level support needs to be quickly secured if lasting change is expected. While Six Sigma initiatives may not always require a management-level team, they do require executive-level support.

It is crucial that these leaders be visible, informed and enthusiastic about the benefits of the Six Sigma methodology. Leaders should also be assured that clear goals are set and that consistent communication on progress is maintained.

Appealing to executives may require a clear articulation of the potential for savings and positive return on investment (ROI). Before approaching executives, take the time to research and document success stories of other departments and organizations and calculate a reasonable expectation for savings over several years. These tend to be “hard” numbers, but you may also find it useful to present “soft” benefits such as an improvement in worker productivity.

Allow Enough Time to Complete the Project

Successfully implementing Six Sigma is going to take time, particularly since it requires an additional set of responsibility from employees who may already have full workloads. It is important to ensure that deadlines are set with employee workloads in mind. If managers expect rapid change in addition to normal employee duties, they will likely find interest and enthusiasm in Six Sigma diminish quickly and considerably.

As an alternative, consider redirecting the responsibilities of a small group of workers solely to Six Sigma deployment and implementation. The other duties that these team members would typically perform can be set aside or delegated until Six Sigma is in place and functioning correctly.

While managers may worry that reassigning responsibility might lower productivity in some departments, any short-term issues will be remedied with long-term gains. By resisting the urge to make Six Sigma a side project, you can help ensure that it is done correctly and completely, giving it the strength necessary to enact lasting change.

Category: Six Sigma