Six Sigma Outdated? No.

Here is another of those articles that promotes the idea that oversimplifies six sigma and then declares that mindset is outdated because innovation is needed nowadays – Six Sigma: So Yesterday?.

The discipline was developed as a systematic way to improve quality, but the reason it caught fire was its effectiveness in cutting costs and improving profitability. That makes it a powerful tool—if those are a company’s goals. But as innovation becomes the cause du jour, companies are increasingly confronting the side effects of a Six Sigma culture.

Previously I have addressed this mindset in New Rules for Management? No!, Has Six Sigma been a failure?, Managing Innovation and Fast Company Interview: Jeff Immelt:

I don’t see any reason why managers in the past shouldn’t have had the qualities he seems to be saying are needed now. And I don’t see any reason why the qualities needed now were not needed in the past. This sure seems like a bunch of words saying nothing to me: perhaps I just don’t see the wonderful cloths the emperor has on.

My guess would be that what leads to this quote is not a lack of understanding that managers need the same qualities today they needed 10 years ago but the compulsion to feed the media frenzy for some incredible new insight. It just isn’t sexy to say “we need the same leadership qualities we needed in the past.” Deming stressed the importance of these “new” qualities he states more than 50 years ago

Yes execution of six sigma often focused too much on cost reduction, optimizing short term projects (which resulted in sub-optimizing the entire system), ranking and rating employees… But innovation is not harmed by a good six sigma program – in fact a good six sigma effort a decade ago understood the importance of innovation perfectly well.

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