Deming and Six Sigma

My message in response to messages on Six Sigma [broken link has been removed] on the Deming Electronic Network:

I think the DEN members criticizing the problems with Six Sigma make valid points. However, I personally think they often go too far. That is my opinion, and each of us have our own views.

While some (probably even many) of the Six Sigma exhortations for Six Sigma quality would properly be seen as a slogan or a target without a method I don’t think it is fair to say they all are. Six Sigma includes a method to improve.

I think we may have gone to far, when we get to the point where: Deming said some things against Six Sigma, therefore Six Sigma is bad. Deming questioned what TQM meant, therefore TQM is bad. I agree aspects of Six Sigma are bad. I also think some aspects of Six Sigma are good. And I think the same things about TQM.

Many of us look for companies that operate using Deming’s ideas. It is very rare to find one that doesn’t violate more than one of the 14 points (even when they commit to Deming’s ideas). I think this is perfectly reasonable. I think it is reasonable for a journey to begin with a portion of what we would like to see. As the organization improves they can take on more. I don’t think it is reasonable to look for a conflict with Deming’s ideas and then dismiss a management methodology as unworthy.

JUSE uses TQM to define companies deserving the Deming Prize. I think JUSE has pretty good standing to speak as one view of what Deming’s ideas mean. I agree with Dr. Deming’s questioning of TQM. But that does not mean that true Deming followers should criticize it any time they see that acronym. He did have a good point and if appropriate raising that point makes sense.

“The Deming Prize is one of the highest awards on TQM (Total Quality Management) in the world. It was established in 1951 in commemoration of the late Dr. William Edwards Deming who contributed greatly to Japan’s proliferation of statistical quality control after the World War II.(from the JUSE web site Aug 2005)

I must admit I find it somewhat amusing that I am becoming a defender of Six Sigma. It is not that I have a much better opinion of Six Sigma than I did before. Instead I just think our (the DEN’s) opposition to Six Sigma is too absolute. I guess this might be a blind spot on my part.

I just think we Deming folks could learn from Six Sigma efforts and advocates and I wish we would do that instead of just saying, it is just bad, next question. I shared my thoughts on Six Sigma and Deming in a message to the DEN in 1999.

And I really don’t understand how people could read stuff by Roger Hoerl, Ron Snee… and think these people don’t offer valuable insight.

Anyway, my guess is that the popularity of Six Sigma is declining and will be overtaken by “Lean,” if it hasn’t already. It is odd, I think, that “lean” is getting so much play now as it has been slowing building for years (actually decades). I also think “lean” offers some valuable stuff for us. I think it is more compatible with DEN ideals, but it is far from perfect Deming. And just what “lean” means varies from one instance to another – this seems to be a pattern.

John Hunter

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