Six Sigma v. Common Sense

Response to LinkedIn question: “Whether Six Sigma as a quality tool really delivers the benefits ? How does it makes difference from a common sense approach ? (Where the process wastes and the required solution is known / can be easily identified just by applying common sense)”

Six sigma (or another management improvement method) can help in several ways. First, lots of things that are sensible are not done. A method to assure that more sensible things are done is useful.

Second, many things are sensible, but are not sensible when looked at in isolation (sub-optimization). Six sigma can (not does, can – sometime this won’t happen) assist those in the organization to evaluate from a larger context than they normally do. So instead of say the IT department forcing everyone to use some poorly designed software because it is the cheapest thing for the IT department to support the added costs to the rest of the organization are more fully considered.

Third, many things that are sensible are not evaluated based on their sense but instead based on internal politics… A standard methodology can help focus people on the merits of a proposal instead of who said it (again six sigma can do this, often it fails as the organization continues to cling to old patterns of power over sense).

Fourth, many of the tools, go beyond what sensible people alone see (design of experiments, understanding variation, PDSA, systems thinking, root cause analysis). Using the tools can often lead to valuable discoveries that were not obvious without using the tools.

If the solutions were obvious why were they not done last year? It is true that there are often plenty of simple improvements waiting to be adopted because management has done such a poor job that obvious improvement are left undone. But once sensible management is in place, eventually those obvious improvement will be done and a more structured approach to finding improvement is valuable. Even simple concepts like letting those that work on the process improve the process are often ignored by organizations (even those saying they are doing six sigma, unfortunately). So I see a strong value in adopting management improvement principles and tools.

Related: Management Advice FailuresImprovement Tools and Improving ManagementSix Sigma PitfallsWhy Isn’t Work Standard?European Blackout: Not “Human Error”

One thought on “Six Sigma v. Common Sense

  1. I read this post with interest. I’ve only been touched slightly by six sigma but my colleagues have gone through this process several times with different companies in their past lives. They tell me that when a company tries to implement six sigma, this is the strongest indication that they are going under, which has happened every time. The most recent example is Nortel declaring bankruptcy, soon after it instituted six sigma. The context is that all these companies are large high tech corporations — perhaps six sigma is their hail mary pass at salvaging what’s no longer salvageable.


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