Six sigma: what it is and what it’s for

six sigma method

Not everyone is familiar with the Six Sigma method and especially what it is for. We will try to break it down in this article.

Digital transformation has become the buzzword of this decade.

New technologies and tools are supporting the transformation path of large and small organizations that are competing for a larger share of the market in an extremely competitive environment.

Although digital transformation quickly follows the growth of an organization, it must be equally supported by management methods of quality control and business transformation.

Focusing on emerging markets and processes, the American company Motorola developed a new concept of quality management process in 1986.

Over the years, this process has been refined into a defined process aimed at corporate transformation.

This method is called Six Sigma.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a set of management tools and techniques designed to improve the business by reducing the odds of error.

It is a data-based approach that uses a statistical methodology to eliminate defects.

The etymology is based on the Greek symbol “sigma” precisely – σ – a statistical term that measures the deviation of the process from the average or target of the process.

Six Sigma” is taken from the bell curve used in statistics, where a sigma symbolizes a single standard deviation from the mean.

If the process has six Sigma, three above and three below average, the defect rate is classified as “extremely low”.

The 5 Six Sigma key principles

The Six Sigma concept has a simple objective: delivering near-perfect products and services considering business transformation with the aim of optimal customer satisfaction.

Six Sigma has its foundations in five key principles:

1. Customer Focus

The primary objective is to offer the ultimate benefit to the customer. For this, an organization must understand its customers, their needs and what drives sales and retention. This requires the definition of quality standards defined by what the customer or the market require.

2. Measuring the value flow and identifying the problem

Mapping the phases in a given process to determine the areas of waste and collect data to discover the specific area of the problem to be addressed.

3. Removal of defects

Once the problem has been identified, adjustments must be made to the process to eliminate activities that do not add value, thus removing defects.

4. Engaging and training stakeholders

Engage all stakeholders and adopt a structured process in which the team contributes and cooperates in problem solving. Six Sigma processes can impact an organization in general, so the team must be competent in the principles and methodologies used. Therefore, training and specialist knowledge are needed to reduce the risk of errors and ensure that the process works optimally.

5. Guaranteeing a flexible and reactive framework

The essence of Six Sigma is business transformation and change. When a defective or inefficient process is resolved, a change in work practice and/or employee approach is required. A corporate culture of flexibility and responsiveness to changes in procedures can therefore offer an advantage. The people and departments involved should be capable of adapting to changes with ease.

the six sigma method

Six Sigma in project management

The Six Sigma methodology is generally implemented for project management and includes the following steps:

  • Define the objectives and scope of the project. Relevant process and client information is collected at this stage.
  • Measure: data on the current situation and process metrics are collected.
  • Analyze: collected data is analyzed to identify the root causes of the problem.
  • Improve: solutions to the problem are developed and implemented.
  • Check: the implemented solutions are evaluated and, if the outcome is positive, the mechanisms are introduced and standardized in the process.

Six Sigma Criticisms

The Six Sigma method certainly shows several advantages but, like all methods, there are also critical remarks about it. This is why:

  • Scope: the implementation of Six Sigma in the management of the project scope would require a clear definition of requirements and strict management of changes. The risk could be that this application could inhibit innovation.
  • Time: the application of Six Sigma in time management. It would require a better planning, set deadlines, close monitoring of progress, immobile risk management and the application of better resource management. The risk could be that this application could encourage further planning freeze and increase buffers.
  • Cost: The application of Six Sigma in cost management would imply absolute budgets, the imposition of accurate cost audits and effective forecasting. The risk could be that this implementation could require an “untouchable” budget.
  • Quality: the implementation of Six Sigma in project management could set strong quality objectives and a rigorous selection of standards. The risk could be that this application could cause hidden problems and blame others for defects.

Some believe that Six Sigma promotes a process of incremental improvements, hindering and disregarding radical improvements, such as a major technological innovation.

Therefore, it would seem not to fit well in the case of projects or organizations geared towards the search for new innovative methods and processes.

Moreover, in project management, the person in charge is the project manager. For Six Sigma, it is generally the so-called “Black Belt” person.

When it comes to executing projects, these two types of leaders may have a different focus.

Project managers use project management methodology tools that focus on executing a project on time and on budget, aligning it with overall business objectives.

Black belts, on the other hand, are generally more focused on solving a specific problem and finding a solution as quickly and efficiently as possible.

In general, neither approach is the perfect answer in every scenario and a lot depends on the people involved, the type of project and the type of organization.

“Traditional” project management and Six Sigma focus on different aspects, but this does not mean that they cannot perform well together when used in the right way.

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