Category Archives: Six sigma

George Box

I would most likely not exist if it were not for George Box. My father took a course from George while my father was a student at Princeton. George agreed to start the Statistics Department at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and my father followed him to Madison, to be the first PhD student. Dad graduated, and the next year was a professor there, where he and George remained for the rest of their careers.

George died today, he was born in 1919. He recently completed An Accidental Statistician: The Life and Memories of George E. P. Box which is an excellent book that captures his great ability to tell stories. It is a wonderful read for anyone interested in statistics and management improvement or just great stories of an interesting life.

photo of George EP Box

George Box by Brent Nicastro.

George Box was a fantastic statistician. I am not the person to judge, but from what I have read one of the handful of most important applied statisticians of the last 100 years. His contributions are enormous. Several well know statistical methods are known by his name, including:

George was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1979. He also served as president of the American Statistics Association in 1978. George is also an honorary member of ASQ.

George was a very kind, caring and fun person. He was a gifted storyteller and writer. He had the ability to present ideas so they were easy to comprehend and appreciate. While his writing was great, seeing him in person added so much more. Growing up I was able to enjoy his stories often, at our house or his. The last time I was in Madison, my brother and I visited with him and again listened to his marvelous stories about Carl Pearson, Ronald Fisher and so much more. He was one those special people that made you very happy whenever you were near him.

George Box, Stuart Hunter and Bill Hunter (my father) wrote what has become a classic text for experimenters in scientific and business circles, Statistics for Experimenters. I am biased but I think this is acknowledged as one of (if not the) most important books on design of experiments.

George also wrote other classic books: Time series analysis: Forecasting and control (1979, with Gwilym Jenkins) and Bayesian inference in statistical analysis. (1973, with George C. Tiao).

George Box and Bill Hunter co-founded the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1984. The Center develops, advances and communicates quality improvement methods and ideas.

The Box Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Industrial Statistics recognizes development and the application of statistical methods in European business and industry in his honor.

All models are wrong but some are useful” is likely his most famous quote. More quotes By George Box

A few selected articles and reports by George Box

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Software Process and Measurement Podcast With John Hunter

In my podcast with Tom Cagley, Software Process and Measurement Cast: John Hunter on Management Matters, as you might expect there was a bit of a focus on software development and agile software development as related to the ideas I expressed in Management Matters: Building Enterprise Capability.

photo of John Hunter at the Borobudur Temple

John Hunter at the Borobudur Buddhist Temple in Indonesia.


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Special Cause Signal Isn’t Proof A Special Cause Exists

One of my pet peeves is when people say that a point outside the control limits is a special cause. It is not. It is an indication that it likely a special cause exists, and that special cause thinking is the correct strategy to use to seek improvement. But that doesn’t mean there definitely was a special cause – it could be a false signal.

This post relies on an understand of control charts and common and special causes (review these links if you need some additional context).

Similarly, a result that doesn’t signal a special cause (inside the control limits without raising some other flag, say a run of continually increasing points) does not mean a special cause is not present.

The reason control charts are useful is to help us maximize our effectiveness. We are biased toward using special cause thinking when it is not the most effective approach. So the control chart is a good way to keep us focused on common cause thinking for improvement. It is also very useful in flagging when it is time to immediately start using special cause thinking (since timing is key to effective special cause thinking).

However, if there is result that is close to the control limit (but inside – so no special cause is indicated) and the person that works on the process everyday thinks, I noticed x (some special cause) earlier, they should not just ignore that. It very well could be a special cause that, because of other common cause variation, resulted in a data point that didn’t quite reach the special cause signal. Where the dot happened to land (just above or just below the control limit – does not determine if a special cause existed).

The signal is just to help us systemically make the best choice of common cause or special cause thinking. The signal does not define whether a special cause (an assignable cause) exists of not. The control chart tool helps guide us to use the correct type of improvement strategy (common cause or special cause). But it is just a signaling device, it isn’t some arbiter of whether a special cause actually exists.

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Management Improvement Blog Carnival #179

The Curious Cat Management Blog Carnival has been published since 2006. The carnival links to great management blog posts; it is published twice a month. I hope you find these post interesting and find some new blogs to start reading. Follow me online: Google+, Twitter and elsewhere.

  • Lean Versus Historical TPS by Art Smalley – “identify what are your impediments to improvement and work on those. In particular as what are barriers to higher equipment uptime, higher process capability, safer equipment, higher capital and labor productivity without adding cost, more highly trained personnel, and you will be on the right track. I call this building better process stability and it is an essential yet often ignored element of the historical Toyota Production System.”
  • 5 Critical Control Chart Characteristics You May Not Be Aware Of by Ron Pereira – “No matter if you call yourself a ‘lean practitioner’ or ‘six sigma practitioner’ or some combination of the two… one ‘tool’ you should have a deep understanding of is the control chart.”
  • photo of Mount Merapi in Indonesia

    Mount Merapi, Yogyakarta, Java, Indonesia by John Hunter.

  • Adaptability vs Evolutionary Change by David J. Anderson – “Organizations with evolutionary capability have resilience – they remain relevant despite changing circumstances and maintain high levels of effectiveness as the environment around them changes. Kanban is a means to install evolutionary capability and deliver on higher level agility. Evolutionary capability defines second generation Agile methods.”
  • Completion: Limiting WIP Post II by Jim Benson – “When we limit work-in-progress, we not only limit the number of projects we are working on, but also the number of tasks. This helps us complete tasks efficiently and effectively. When we are done, we understand what we did. While we are doing the tasks we are fully aware of how long they are taking.”
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Introductory Videos on Using Design of Experiments to Improve Results

The video shows Stu Hunter discussing design of experiments in 1966. It might be a bit slow going at first but the full set of videos really does give you a quick overview of the many important aspects of design of experiments including factorial designed experiments, fractional factorial design, blocking and response surface design. It really is quite good, if you find the start too slow for you skip down to the second video and watch it.

My guess is, for those unfamiliar with even the most cursory understanding of design of experiments, the discussion may start moving faster than you can absorb the information. One of the great things about video is you can just pause and give yourself a chance to catch up or repeat a part that you didn’t quite understand. You can also take a look at articles on design of experiments.

I believe design of experiments is an extremely powerful methodology of improvement that is greatly underutilized. Six sigma is the only management improvement program that emphasizes factorial designed experiments.

Related: One factor at a time (OFAT) Versus Factorial DesignsThe purpose of Factorial Designed Experiments

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Why Use Lean if So Many Fail To Do So Effectively

If less than 1% of companies are successful with Lean, why are we doing it?

Lots of us are not. I would say the efforts I see “fail” are because they don’t do it. They have something they call TQM, six sigma, lean management or whatever and try out 10-30% of it in some half-measures, with big doses of Dilbert’s pointy haired boss methods and then don’t get great results. Wow.

The biggest complaint (with some merit) I see is why is lean/Deming/six sigma… so hard to actually do. If companies constantly fail to do it at all (even when they use the name) isn’t that an issue. Isn’t that a weakness of the “solution.” My answer is: yes. The caveat is, until someone comes up with the management system that both gets the results using Deming’s management ideas can, and is super easy for organizations to actually fully adopt (and have the great success that doing so provides) I know of nothing better than trying to do these things.

Certainly I believe you are much better off attempting to use Deming, lean or six sigma than listen to someone that tells you they have management instant pudding that will give you great results with no effort.

My belief is that a partial success rate is much higher than 1%. While many organization never go beyond slapping a few good tools on a outdated management system those few tools actually have good results. Maybe 50% of the implementations are so lame they have almost no positive results (not even getting improvement worth the time and effort). They could be seen as “failures,” to me. Those that actually have a right to say they are practicing “lean” I would say is a pretty small number but still above 1%?

There is also an advantage to this stuff being hard to do. You really don’t have to invent anything new. If you just have persistence and keep continually improving along the path applying ideas proven over decades from Deming, Ohno, McGregor, Christensen, Drucker, Scholtes, Womack, Roger Hoerl (six sigma)… you have a great advantage over all those organizations that ignored the ideas or made a bit of effort and then gave up.

Related: Engage in Improving the Management SystemRethinking or Moving Beyond Deming Often Just Means Applying More of What Dr. Deming Actually SaidManagement Advice FailuresManagement Improvement FlavorsHas Six Sigma Been a Success?

2011 Management Blog Roundup: Stats Made Easy

The 4th Annual Management blog roundup is coming to a close soon. This is my 3rd and final review post looking back at 2001, the previous two posts looked at: Gemba Panta Rei and the Lean Six Sigma Blog.

I have special affinity for the use of statistics to understand and improve. I imaging it is both genetic and psychological. My father was a statistician and I have found memories of applying statistical thinking to understand a result or system. I also am comfortable with numbers, and like most people enjoy working with things I have an affinity for.

photo of Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson

Mark Anderson’s Stats Made Easy blog brings statistical thinking to managers. And this is not an easy thing to do, as one of his posts shows, we have an ability to ignore data we don’t want to know. Wrong more often than right but never in doubt: “Kahneman examined the illusion of skill in a group of investment advisors who competed for annual performance bonuses. He found zero correlation on year-to-year rankings, thus the firm was simply rewarding luck. What I find most interesting is his observation that even when confronted with irrefutable evidence of misplaced confidence in one’s own ability to prognosticate, most people just carry on with the same level of self-assurance.”

That actually practice of experimentation (PDSA…) needs improvement. Too often the iteration component is entirely missing (only one experiment is done). That is likely partially a result another big problem: the experiments are not nearly short enough. Mark offered very wise advice on the Strategy of experimentation: Break it into a series of smaller stages. “The rule-of-thumb I worked from as a process development engineer is not to put more than 25% of your budget into the first experiment, thus allowing the chance to adapt as you work through the project (or abandon it altogether).” And note that, abandon it altogether option. Don’t just proceed with a plan if what you learn makes that option unwise: too often we act based on expectations rather than evidence.

In Why coaches regress to be mean, Mark explained the problem with reacting to common cause variation and “learning” that it helped to do so. “A case in point is the flight instructor who lavishes praise on a training-pilot who makes a lucky landing. Naturally the next result is not so good. Later the pilot bounces in very badly — again purely by chance (a gust of wind). The instructor roars disapproval. That seems to do the trick — the next landing is much smoother.” When you ascribe special causation to common cause variation you often confirm your own biases.

Mark’s blog doesn’t mention six sigma by name in his 2011 posts but the statistical thinking expressed throughout the year make this a must for those working in six sigma programs.

Related: 2009 Curious Cat Management Blog Carnival2010 Management Blog Review: Software, Manufacturing and Leadership

2011 Management Blog Roundup: Lean Six Sigma Blog

For my contribution to the 4th annual management blog roundup I am taking a look at 3 management blogs. In this post I look back at the year that was at the Lean Six Sigma blog.

We are lucky to have so many great management blogs to read all year. They provide inspiration and great advice to managers. Though, one of my frustrations is how few good six sigma resources there are online. In this area we are unlucky. The disparity between the amazingly high number of very high quality lean blogs and agile software development blogs compared to almost nothing of similar quality for six sigma content is dramatic (and unfortunate).

photo of Ron Pereira

Ron Pereira

Ron Pereira is the managing partner of Lean Six Sigma Academy and the Gemba Academy which provide high quality online lean manufacturing training. One of the ways Ron stands out are his posts that make continuous improvement a family affair (which I appreciate given that I grew up in such an environment).

In Let’s Dance he looks at understanding psychology as it relates to working with groups/teams (in this case his daughters soccer team): “my coaching style and my assistant coach’s style had become a bit too intense and, as a result, the girls were playing tight and scared to make mistakes… We kept this ‘dancing’ theme alive for the rest of the season. During warm-ups before games I, and the girls, would dance like fools. The other teams watched us like we were nuts… but we didn’t care. We kept right on laughing and dancing.” Take a look at this post, it really packs in a ton of great thoughts for managers.

Another way Ron stands out is with his webcasts on discussion lean terms (the gemba glossary). In this webcast he looks at the topic of standardized work processes.

One of the great things about blogs is the focus on what people really deal with day in and day out. It is nice to read about a great management system in a book like the Leader’s Handbook by Peter Scholtes. But what do you do when you are in a much more common situation, where others don’t share your desire to reshape the management system into something new and better? Ron took a look at this in his post: 3 Things You Can Do When Your Manager Doesn’t Support Continuous Improvement: “The best way to combat this is to demonstrate the value without them asking you to. In other words, make something better and let them know about it. And when I say make it better I mean it. Do something to positively impact the business.”

Another wonderful family related post by Ron this year was Training Wheels – “Like most young people my boy was itching to take the training wheels off his bicycle… The best part of all is he’s learning to solve his own problems. He’s not waiting for people to hand him things on a platter… How many times do we continuous improvement practitioners moan and groan about the lack of management support when, in actuality, even though they may not care they won’t stop you from making things better?”

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One factor at a time (OFAT) Versus Factorial Designs

Guest post by Bradley Jones

Almost a hundred years ago R. A. Fisher‘s boss published an article espousing OFAT (one factor at a time). Fisher responded with an article of his own laying out his justification for factorial design. I admire the courage it took to contradict his boss in print!

Fisher’s argument was mainly about efficiency – that you could learn as much about many factors as you learned about one in the same number of trials. Saving money and effort is a powerful and positive motivator.

The most common argument I read against OFAT these days has to do with inability to detect interactions and the possibility of finding suboptimal factor settings at the end of the investigation. I admit to using these arguments myself in print.

I don’t think these arguments are as effective as Fisher’s original argument.

To play the devil’s advocate for a moment consider this thought experiment. You have to climb a hill that runs on a line going from southwest to northeast but you are only allowed to make steps that are due north or south or due east or west. Though you will have to make many zig zags you will eventually make it to the top. If you noted your altitude at each step, you would have enough data to fit a response surface.

Obviously this approach is very inefficient but it is not impossible. Don’t mistake my intent here. I am definitely not an advocate of OFAT. Rather I would like to find more convincing arguments to persuade experimenters to move to multi-factor design.

Related: The Purpose of Factorial Designed ExperimentsUsing Design of Experimentsarticles by R.A. Fisherarticles on using factorial design of experimentsDoes good experimental design require changing only one factor at a time (OFAT)?Statistics for Experimenters

Factorial Designed Experiment Aim

Multivariate experiments are a very powerful management tool to learn and improve performance. Experiments in general, and designed factorial experiments in particular, are dramatically underused by managers. A question on LinkedIn asks?

When doing a DOE we select factors with levels to induce purposely changes in the response variable. Do we want the response variable to move within the specs of the customers? Or it doesn’t matter since we are learning about the process?

The aim needs to consider what you are trying to learn, costs and potential rewards. Weighing the various factors will determine if you want to aim to keep results within specification or can try options that are likely to return results that are outside of specs.

If the effort was looking for breakthrough improvement and costs of running experiments that might produce results outside of spec were low then specs wouldn’t matter much. If the costs of running experiments are very high (compared with expectations of results) then you may well want to try designed experiment values that you anticipate will still produce results within specs.

There are various ways costs come into play. Here I am mainly looking at the costs as (costs – revenue). For example the case where if the results are withing spec and can be used the costs (net costs, including revenue) of the experiment run are substantially lower.
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Problems with Management and Business Books

We really need to change how we improve the practice of management. Far too often management strategies are just the latest fad from some new book that successfully marketed an idea. The marketing effectiveness of a book, or consultant, has very limited correlation to their ability to improve management, in my experience. It is often true that they make very good keynote speakers, however. So if you want an entertaining keynote speaker looking at the authors of the best selling business books may make sense. But if you want to improve management, I don’t see much value in doing so.

Year after year we have the same basic business books repackaged and marketed. They present a magic bullet to solve all your problems. Except their bullet is far from magic. Usually it does more harm than good.

They amazingly oversimplify things to make their bullet seem magic. This also fails miserably in practice. There are usually not good management options that are simple and easy. Usually the answers for what should be done is a lot of “it depends,” which people don’t seem to like.

Authors fail to place their book (or their trademarked strategy they hope turns into a movement/fad) in the appropriate context. Most books just take a few good ideas from decades old practices add a new name and leave off all references to the deep meaning that originally was there. I guess quite often the authors don’t even know enough about management history to know this is the case; I guess they really think their minor tweak to a portion of business process re-engineering is actually new. This also would make it hard for them to place their ideas within a management philosophy.

On a related note, I find it interesting how different the lean manufacturing and six sigma communities are online (and this has been going on for more than a decade). One of the problems with six sigma is there is so little open, building on the practices of six sigma. Everyone is so concerned with their marketing gimmick for six sigma that that don’t move forward a common body of work. This is a serious problem for six sigma. Lean manufacturing benefits hugely from the huge community of those building openly on the body of knowledge and practice of lean. You can find 10 great lean manufacturing blogs without trouble. You will have difficulty finding 3 good six sigma blogs (and even those spend most of the time on other areas – often lean thinking).
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Good Process Improvement Practices

Good process improvement practices include:

  • standardized improvement process (pdsa, or whatever)
  • Going to the gemba – improvement is done where the work is done. You must go to the where the action is. Sitting in meeting rooms, or offices, reading reports and making decisions is not the way to improve effectively.
  • evidence based decision making, data guides decision making rather than HiPPO
  • broad participation (those working on the process should be the ones working on improving it and everyone in the organization should be improving their processes)
  • measurable results that are used to measure effectiveness
  • pilot improvement on a small scale, after results are shown to be improvements deploy standardized solutions more broadly
  • visual management
  • Standardized work instructions are used for processes
  • one of the aims of the improvement process should be improving peoples ability to improve over the long term (one outcome of the process should be a better process another should be that people learned and can apply what they learned in future improvements)
  • quality tools should be used, people should be trained on such tools. The tools are essentially standardized methods that have been shown to be effective. And most organization just ignore them and struggle to reinvent methods to achieve results instead of just applying methods already shown to be very effective.
  • the improvements are sustained. Changes are made to the system and they are adopted: this seems obvious but far too often process improvements are really just band-aids that fall off a few weeks later and nothing is done to sustain it.
  • goals, bonuses and extrinsic motivation are not part of the process
  • The improvement process itself should be continually improved

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Management Improvement Internal Experts

Having a group of internal experts in Deming, lean thinking, six sigma, etc. can be an good way to help the organization transform but they must 1) practice respect for people and 2) focus on building organizational capacity. Having, for example a few experts that are very focused on lean thinking and can be tapped by others in the organization I think can be very useful.

That group might well also serve as “change agents” which can make some people get mad at them. They can help push the organization to change. While it might be nice to think you can just show the wonderfulness that is lean thinking and everyone will immediately drop all their old habits and embrace lean thinking that often doesn’t happen. You might well have to push middle mangers (and others) outside their comfort zone. And you might well have to push people to really try this stuff and they have become so disheartened over the years by promises of new, better, ways to work. They just see this as one more lame pointy haired boss attempt and they may well not want to play.

A big focus should be on making improvement in the performance of the organization, obviously, but also on making it clear that this new way of doing things is helpful and will make it a better place to work. The role of internal management improvements efforts is to build the capacity of the rest of the organization to improve. Six sigma efforts often instead put the emphasis on six sigma experts doing the improvement instead of coaching and providing assistance to those who best know the processes to improve, which I see as a mistake.

Response to The “Lean Group” Syndrome
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Six Sigma Interview with Jack Welch

The short video includes some interesting points by Jack Welch on six sigma. GE was a huge company and did plenty of things that could be criticized. But often those criticizing take it much to far and disregard the sensible things GE understood and was doing well.

Quotes by Jack Welch: “variation is evil” “Will six sigma companies get more valuation in the marketplace? Not unless they produce results. You can’t put up a slogan that says we are a six sigma company and think the pe is going to move.”

Related: 3M CEO on Six SigmaManagement Advice FailuresNew Rules for Management? No!Has Six Sigma been a failure?

Statistical Engineering Links Statistical Thinking, Methods and Tools

In Closing the Gap Roger W. Hoerl and Ronald D. Snee lay out a sensible case for focusing on statistical engineering.

We’re not suggesting that society no longer needs research in new statistical techniques for improvement; it does. The balance needed at this time, however, is perhaps 80% for statistics as an engineering discipline and 20% for statistics as a pure science.

True, though I would put the balance more like 95% engineering, 5% science.

There is a good discussion on LinkedIn:

Davis Balestracci: Unfortunately, we snubbed our noses at the Six Sigma movement…and got our lunch eaten. Ron Snee has been developing this message for the last 20 years (I developed it in four years’ worth of monthly columns for Quality Digest from 2005-2008). BUT…as long as people have a computer, color printer, and a package that does trend lines, academic arguments won’t “convert” anybody.

Recently, we’ve lost our way and evolved into developing “better jackhammers to drive tacks”…and pining for the “good ol’ days” when people listened to us (which they were forced to do because they didn’t have computers, and statistical packages were clunky). Folks, we’d better watch it…or we’re moribund

Was there really a good old days when business listened to statisticians? Of course occasionally they did, but “good old days”? Here is a report from 1986 the theme of which seems to me to be basically how to get statisticians listened to by the people that make the important decisions: The Next 25 Years in Statistics, by Bill Hunter and William Hill. Maybe I do the report a disservice with my understanding of the basic message, but it seems to me to be how to make sure the important contributions of applied statisticians actually get applied in organizations. And it discusses how statisticians need to take action to drive adoption of the ideas because currently (1986) they are too marginalized (not listened to when they should be contributing) in most organizations.
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Soren Bisgaard

photo of Soren Bisgaard

Soren Bisgaard died earlier this month of cancer. Soren was a student of my father’s who shared the commitment to making a difference in people’s lives by using applied statistics properly. I know this seem odd to many (I tried to describe this idea previously, also read his acceptance of the 2002 William G. Hunter award). Soren served as the director of the director of the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (founded by William Hunter and George Box) for several years.

Most recently Soren Bisgaard, Ph.D. was Professor of technology management at Eugene M. Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He was an ASQ Fellow; recipient of Shewart Medal, Hunter Award, George Box Medal, among many others awards.

I will remember the passion he brought to his work. He reminded me of my father in his desire to improve how things are done and allow people to have better lives. Those that bring passion to their work in management improvement are unsung heroes. It seems odd, to many, to see that you can bring improvement to people’s lives through work. But we spend huge amounts of our time at work. And by improving the systems we work in we can improve people’s lives. Soren will be missed, by those who knew him and those who didn’t (even if they never realize it).

Contributions in honor of Søren may be made to The International Mesothelioma Program or to the European Network for Business and Industrial Statistics. Read more articles by Søren Bisgaard.

The Future of Quality Technology: From a Manufacturing to a Knowledge Economy and From Defects to Innovations (pdf) by Soren Bisgaard

Related: The Work of Peter ScholtesManagement Improvement LeadersThe Scientific Context of Quality Improvement by George Box and Soren Bisgaard, 1987 – Obituary Søren Bisgaard at ENBISObituary: Soren Bisgaard, Isenberg Professor in Integrative Studies

Highlights from Recent George Box Speech

The JMP blog has posted some highlights from George Box’s presentation at Discovery 2009

Infusing his entire presentation with humor and fascinating tales of his memories, Box focused on sequential design of experiments. He attributed much of what he knows about DOE [design of experiments] to Ronald A. Fisher. Box explained that Fisher couldn’t find the things he was looking for in his data, “and he was right. Even if he had had the fastest available computer, he’d still be right,” said Box. Therefore, Fisher figured out how to study a number of factors at one time. And so, the beginnings of DOE.

Having worked and studied with many other famous statisticians and analytic thinkers, Box did not hesitate to share his characterizations of them. He told a story about Dr. Bill Hunter and how he required his students to run an experiment. Apparently a variety of subjects was studied [see 101 Ways to Design an Experiment, or Some Ideas About Teaching Design of Experiments]

According to Box, the difficulty of getting DOE to take root lies in the fact that these mathematicians “can’t really get the fact that it’s not about proving a theorem, it’s about being curious about things. There aren’t enough people who will apply [DOE] as a way of finding things out. But maybe with JMP, things will change that way.”

George Box is a great mind and great person who I have had the privilege of knowing my whole life. My father took his class at Princeton, then followed George to the University of Wisconsin-Madison (where Dr. Box founded the statistics department and Dad received the first PhD). They worked together building the UW statistics department, writing Statistics for Experimenters and founding the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement among many other things.

Statistics for Experimenters: Design, Innovation, and Discovery shows that the goal of design of experiments is to learn and refine your experiment based on the knowledge you gain and experiment again. It is a process of discovery. If done properly it is very similar to the PDSA cycle with the application of statistical tools to aid in determining the impact of various factors under study.

Related: Box on QualityGeorge Box Quotationsposts on design of experimentsUsing Design of Experiments

Finding Savings with Six Sigma

I don’t see any evidence six sigma is making a comeback but magazines like to talk about new ideas rather than just explore what continues. They like to discuss common cause variation as though it were special cause. Six Sigma Makes a Comeback

Unlike in the 1990s, when such executives as General Electric’s Jack Welch embraced Six Sigma with missionary zeal, consultants say today’s converts generally are looking for a fast way to save money.

How sad. Six sigma has always been hampered by a lack of core values (like respect for people, constancy of purpose) and a focus on cost cutting but the direct desire to pursue a deadly disease (short term focus) is sad indication of where some have taken what can be very useful tools.

Still, Six Sigma is finding new life, especially in retail. Target (TGT) claims more than $100 million in savings over the past six years from the program. Mike Fisher, Best Buy’s (BBY) senior director of Lean Six Sigma, says projects like streamlining appliance installation have helped the company save up to $20 million in some cases. “Without a doubt, it put us in a better position to muscle through the recession by getting all of those inefficiencies out,” says Fisher.

Six sigma and quality management other efforts can be very useful. But many of the efforts (as many of any management efforts) are executed poorly and do little good and much that is rightly ridiculed.

Related: Quality and InnovationSix Sigma Much More than Common SenseProcess Improvement and Innovation

Best Places to Work for Six Sigma Professionals

iSixSigma has created a list of the Best Places to Work for Six Sigma Professionals. To be eligible to participate, companies must have been actively engaged in using Six Sigma for at least two years and must employ a minimum of 30 full-time Six Sigma practitioners in either Black Belt, Master Black Belt or Deployment Leader roles.

Sixteen companies met all the entry requirements and completed a two-part online survey. The senior Six Sigma leader submitted answers to an employer survey, and the full-time Six Sigma personnel at each company submitted answers to an employee survey.

Companies were ranked 1 through 10 by totaling the scores from the two surveys. The greatest weight was given to the employee survey, which asked questions in five main categories: job satisfaction, culture, compensation/rewards and recognition, training and career development, and net promoter score (NPS). Of these categories, the most weight was given to job satisfaction, as that is what employees said was the most important factor to them when it comes to a working environment. The companies, in alphabetical order:

  • Chevron
  • EMC
  • Masco Builder Cabinet Group
  • McKesson
  • NewPage
  • Rio Tinto Alcan
  • Textron
  • Volt Information Sciences
  • Vought Aircraft Industries
  • Xerox

The rankings will be revealed later. The details are from from convincing to me that these are indeed the top 10 organization for six sigma professionals. However, it does seem a good list for someone looking for a new job working with six sigma to consult.

Related: Deming and Six SigmaSix Sigma SuccessAgility vs. Six Sigmaposts on management careersSeduce Them With Six Sigma Success

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”