Why You Should Avoid Six Sigma – R.I.P. Six Sigma – Six Sigma is Dead
For only a sparse number of times have I seen industries come and go. Companies that had adopted a quality improvement culture, one that eventually focused on austere cost-cutting scenarios. Companies such as Kodak, Pontiac, To date, I’ve seen more companies that embraced for the cost-savings and more optimal product designs promised by Six Sigma, file for chapter 11. Kodak, Pontiac, Sears, Enron, Radio Shack, Block Buster, Pan Am, Polaroid. General Motors clawed its way back from the brink of bankruptcy. Radio Shack declared bankruptcy twice. Can these all be attributed to a Six Sigma failure?
There’s an old saying, “the dog won’t eat the food.” Customers have moved on. Nothing can save the company now. Not even Six Sigma. In fact, many a time, companies have failed because of the rigidity Six Sigma has become and how it has stifled innovation. I’ve written before about why Six Sigma projects fail.
Some of the technologies I’ve seen come and go include the fax, the CD player, floppy discs, MP3 players, pagers, and the digital camera, a niche industry of about 18.6 billion in 2017 according to researchandmarkets.com.
You would be forgiven if you thought for a moment that this is counterintuitive. Does Six Sigma not play a key role in ensuring long-term success for some if not most of these now defunct companies?
Like many things, Six Sigma had its heyday. I can recall throughout the mid-nineties, while ISO 9001 had much momentum in its own certification industry, that Six Sigma was the greatest thing since sliced bread. And well into the 2000s.
In the Beginning…
When Six Sigma was pioneered in the 1980s by Motorola the objective was clear as to what needed to be improved in the manufacturing process. In the fledging mobile device industry, profit margins were narrow for the few competitors vying to dominate the mobile space, referred to as the cellular market. The cellular space was, and still largely is, a low-margin industry. Companies have since evolved to focus on services and service bundles, thus developing the increasingly important “apps” market.
In the eighties, most of the device manufacturers were already holding onto whatever market share they already had. Little more could be done in terms of selling and marketing. Technology was its own bottle neck as software platforms were just not architecture-ready yet. Still today, much is going on now as technology explores new fronts such as ML/AI (Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence).
I have never met Bill Cooper nor did I witness how he envisioned how to use Six Sigma as a tool to identify opportunities to reduce, but I’d like to think that he a dream one night while he slept at
Why Software Development Continues to Lead Technology Trends
As hardware technology advanced more than exponentially since the sixties, software was needed to run the hardware. During the seventies and for a short time in the eighties, software was used to run operating systems. Very bare bones. There was no glamour in telling anybody you were a programmer. Computers were controlled and operated at the command prompt level.
As the PC became more mainstream and adopted by consumers, the recognition that there was a definite opportunity for pull-through revenue by offering accessories, but there was a cost associated. You would have to hold on inventory. Besides, end-users weren’t as technical as the geeks at the time. They didn’t want to have to write code to tell the time. Available at the time were the Commodore Vic 20 and the Commodore 64 and Tandy’s TRS-80, sold only in the then-at-the-time successful Radio Shack retail chain.
Today, consumers more often than not only evaluate the availability of apps but whether they are “sticky” (read, addictive).
Agile Development to Six Sigma
Agile is the nemesis of Six Sigma in the sense that there is no time to collect data nor is there any reason to do so. Agile would not work on a tier 1 manufacturing partner’s shop floor for perhaps the same reason Six Sigma doesn’t work in software development.
How Six Sigma Shaped the Manufacturing Landscape – Lean Manufacturing is Born
You wouldn’t alienate yourself at a cocktail party if you said the automotive industry wasn’t the first large scale manufacturing industry. For a hundred years, the automotive industry was the manufacturing behemoth it was. Today, when an automotive manufacturer issues a safety recall, it usually affects numbers in the tens of millions of vehicles. Sometimes, tens of millions in individual countries.
Using Six Sigma inevitably gave birth to Lean Manufacturing. Still today, in October 2018, there is much confusion between Six Sigma and Lean and usually melding them together. Six Sigma and Lean are distinct. Six Sigma is a fact-based approach to transforming practical problems into statistical problems, finding statistical solutions, then transforming those back in to practical solutions. Applying Six Sigma properly will produce irrefutable improvements which may be translated into lower product design costs, lower component costs, primed supply chains, NPI-successful manufacturing, and transparent, streamlined logistics. Isn’t this the optimal, near-perfect, final customer delivery?
Six Sigma Attracts Office Politics
In Six Sigma many of the data-collection projects require input from various people from various departments. Many of the tools used in the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control) approach are macro-enabled excel spreadsheets that conveniently where the project black belt simply changes.
Twenty years ago, when I first took notice and participated in year-long software development cycles, some of which produced excellent products. And some of them didn’t. Even those where the products were commercial failures or didn’t get released altogether, much of the software code.
Six Sigma Isn’t Agile
Agile is like organized chaos. More importantly, it doesn’t impose cookie-cutter type solutions. There’re no Ishikawa fish-bone diagrams in motivated software development teams. You won’t find any SIPOCs there either. Dev Ops can be even more frightening from the control phase of a Six Sigma project in that there is no documentation. Let’s just wing it.
Design for Six Sigma
Design for Six Sigma, or DFSS, is different than DMAIC. DMAIC will produce statistical results extrapolated from data sets obtained sometimes painstakingly over time. Often, these data sets don’t represent normal data, or data with a normal distribution (Anderson-Darling test for normality).
So we’ve seen that as simple script-based programming languages such as python and ruby-on-rails gain popularity, software programmers inundate the software development industry. They are becoming victims of their own success. They adopt a freelancer approach to their career and often take up several jobs at a time. This is what drives innovation. For the same reason Bill Cooper looked for that competitive edge when technology had only evolved incrementally by 1980s, software programmers today are looking to diversify their skills and become more business savvy.
What Six Sigma Has Become
Six Sigma has made it to India. There are many Six Sigma training offerings going on in India. While there is still notable Six Sigma activity in the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East, we don’t hear about it as much. Perhaps if an internationally accepted certification standard (something like the ASQ) things would be different, but until then, I can only bet that Six Sigma will continue to sustain its popularity in offering training and certification programs, not actually saving any company any money in the form of cost-reduction.