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Gorur N. Sridhar

Six Sigma

Do You Want Six Sigma or Quality?

Improvement needs to grow from the grass roots

Published: Thursday, August 6, 2015 - 15:19

Quality and Six Sigma are often considered as links in a chain. For example, when quality is poor, many times the immediate response is, “Let’s improve it using Six Sigma.” But does Six Sigma, or any other program for that matter, really improve quality? Or, are they simply mirrors to let us know where we are, what we’re doing, and where we’re heading?

If these programs are simply mirrors, then how do we address the issue of doing the work that actually improves quality? Do we use a top-down approach, such as Six Sigma, TQM, TPM, or some other high-tech, jargon-rich program? Or do we use a bottom-up approach like quality circles, motivating the workers, and so forth, at the grass-roots level?

To begin to answer these question, let’s look at two scenarios.

Large corporate hospital

First, consider a quiet, popular, and posh hospital with all the modern amenities, such as a large lounge with a help desk; all the proper credentials, accreditations, and positive customer feedback; and the impressive growth figures that go with it. All of this, of course, is prominently displayed for customers and employees to see.

Now imagine that you are admitted for a surgical procedure on your right eye. After the surgery, you wake up to find out that the wrong eye was operated on. Are you consoled by the hospital superintendent saying that mistakes do happen but the percentage is just way too small to be quantified? This administrator might further add that the hospital is tracking all medical errors and initiating corrective and preventive actions (CAPA). He also points out that they’re following Six Sigma and that the number of defects is way below the permissible defects per million opportunities.

Let’s further assume that a few months later your child is admitted to the same hospital and given medications. The medicine was administered without the proper tests and/or protocols, which resulted in a severe allergic reaction in your child. Once again, this is a human error, and the ensuing analysis was similar to that done in the previous situation. Once again, the data demonstrated that the hospital was way below the permissible defect level.

Is this the facility that you will rely upon for your next medical procedure? Would you still put your faith in statistics, Six Sigma, and CAPA programs? Would you recommend this hospital to others? Is that hospital’s Six Sigma program a reassuring factor that would permit you to choose the same hospital again, or would you find it time to change without any hesitation?

In the hospital in this scenario, what is that one factor that differentiates between an error and a successful outcome? Perhaps it’s that extra caution and precaution that every individual has to exercise in the course of discharging his or her duties. It’s a willingness to correct oneself and learn from mistakes, otherwise known as quality care. This is a bottom-up approach, not a top-down program.

Large multinational manufacturer

Next, let’s look at a major multinational corporation manufacturing various consumer products. This organization has a worldwide presence with manufacturing locations in many countries, a good dealer and service network, a strong brand name, and a commitment to Six Sigma and TQM to continuously improve their manufacturing processes and quality management.

Let’s say that you purchase a product from this company at a very low price, and that it conks out within one week. A Black Belt might describe the concept of reliability, the bathtub curve, etc., but are you really consoled that the product in question was tested for a 95-percent confidence level? This failure (the failure in the product that you bought, of course) would have been part of the remaining 5 percent.

Now imagine that you buy a different product from the same company. This one malfunctions within a couple of months. You log a complaint, but you get attention only after a week of repeated follow ups. You try to stay calm considering they’re understaffed for such an eventuality, given that their products are highly reliable and meet Six Sigma metrics.

On the other hand, imagine a small company manufacturing only a couple of models, with only a handful of semi-skilled workers, which is not certified to any quality management systems standard and whose workers have never heard of Six Sigma. Even with all that going against them, this company’s products are all defect-free and delivered on time.

Given these scenarios, where would it appear that quality comes from? Does it come from a large brand name associated with a company that hangs certifications on the wall and has many Black Belts running around, or does it come from the struggle to establish itself as a brand and doing whatever it takes to make sure its products are perfect?

It’s the latter. Quality is a self-consciousness or self-awareness and passion to improve one’s work. That’s what sets people and organizations apart. Six Sigma and other programs are only a rear-view mirror to see how you have performed. Such tools are valuable but more as a means to generate process awareness among the work force and to take corrective actions when necessary.

Quality is within individuals and can neither be forced nor automated. Don’t ever judge quality by the number of certifications, Six Sigma projects, or trend charts displayed.

Quality needs to originate at the grass-roots level, i.e., from call center operators, nurses, doctors, machinists, assemblers, etc. It can move upward from there, at which time the graphs in the boardroom will start to reflect a positive move toward real quality. Quality can’t be driven by top management by usage of tools, because these only monitor the processes. The onus of implementation—and quality—still resides with individual workers.


About The Author

Gorur N. Sridhar’s picture

Gorur N. Sridhar

Gorur N. Sridhar is a mechanical engineer and a Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He has more than 24 years’ experience in manufacturing, quality, and design. His use of value engineering methods, process improvements, and failure analysis has been instrumental in obtaining substantial cost savings. Sridhar is an internal auditor for ISO 9001 and AS9100 quality systems, and has mentored more than one hundred Six Sigma and kaizen projects. He has worked on implementing and sustaining level-five Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) activities. Sridhar has contributed to environmental, health, and safety systems and community development programs where he resides in Bangalore, India.



As for me Six Sigma it is not Quality, Quality is somthing that need to in deep to achive Six Sigma it is just a tool and it is not necessary to implemented in your system.

Six Sigma or Quality

After many years in the quality field it still astonishes me how many people think high tech automatically means excellant quality. If the people who produce the product or service aren't made an intergral part of the actions, the actions will generally fail. So many times we overlook the obvious because we think technology will fix everything.