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Jay Arthur—The KnowWare Man

Six Sigma

Why Six Sigma Isn’t Sticky

We need to make it less scary

Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 12:17

I went into my local Barnes & Noble looking for a book and decided to check if they carried my book, Lean Six Sigma Demystified. There were four rows of business books on management, leadership, sales, and so on. The “quality” section, consisting of about 15 titles, was on the bottom shelf of the last row of books.

You would think that if there was a methodology that would help most companies cut costs by a third, double profits, and boost productivity that it would get more play in bookstores. It doesn’t.

Six Sigma just isn’t sticky

Whenever I mention Six Sigma to anyone there are two reactions:
• If they’ve never heard of it, they say: “That sounds complex. Are you an engineer?”
• If they have heard of it, they grimace and say: “Isn’t that just for manufacturing?”

Why Six Sigma isn’t sticky

Six Sigma enjoyed a certain celebrity glow when Jack Welch still ran General Electric and embraced the methodology. Since then, Six Sigma’s star has been on the wane.

Here’s some reasons why Six Sigma isn’t sticky:
• The phrase Six Sigma sounds complex, mathematical, or statistical, which turns most people off.
• The two-to-four week trainings required to become a Green Belt or Black Belt has created too high a bar to even get started.
• The obsession with statistical perfection espoused in these trainings makes the average person cringe.

What would make Six Sigma more sticky?

I often tell people that the essential methods and tools of Six Sigma aren’t that complex and don’t take more than a day to learn; it’s people and cultures that are hard to change.

There’s more than 50 years of research in how to make an idea stick in a culture. Check out The Diffusion of Innovations, by Everett Rogers (Free Press, 2003). For a more popular version of these ideas, read Ideavirus by Seth Godin (Hyperion, 2001). Download it for free online.

To make Six Sigma sticky it first it has to be desirable (relative advantage). It surprises me that leaders don’t seem to realize that Six Sigma will save them a third of total costs, double productivity, boost profits, and so on.

Then, it has to fit in with the culture and practices (compatibility). Innovation cultures are naturally resistant to improvement cultures and vice versa. Almost every business has Microsoft Excel, so Six Sigma tools that work in Excel will be easier to deploy and use.

Then make it easy to take a test drive (simplicity and trialability). Currently, Green Belt and Black Belt trainings make it hard to try Six Sigma. That’s why I put a free, self-paced “Money Belt” training up on YouTube (www.lssmb.com). It’s essentially Yellow Belt training, but it’s focused on getting results with Six Sigma, not certifications. Students can also download a free 30-day trial of the QI Macros for Excel to do their “dojo” course exercises.

Then, make it easy for others to see your successes (observability). The fastest and stickiest way for an idea to travel through a culture is by word of mouth or word of mouse. The Internet makes it easy for people to share ideas, but we seem to keep our successes under wraps. The American Society for Quality (ASQ) recently announced that it had 100 case studies on the website, but you can only access them if you’re a member. No wonder membership is declining.

To accelerate Six Sigma, we need lots of case studies in various formats widely available on YouTube, SlideShare.net, iTunes, etc. If you’ve got a case study, take a few minutes and post it.

Finally, I think we may have to rename Six Sigma to something more exciting like “process innovation” or something similar. Total quality management was too scholarly. Six Sigma is too complex and statistical. We need a name that doesn’t invoke fear or dread. We may have to get rid of DMAIC and DMADV and opt for something simple and direct. I use FISH—focus, improve, sustain, and honor.

In our obsession with numbers and statistics we’ve overlooked the human element that is essential to Six Sigma’s success. We need to lower the bar of entry into the world of Six Sigma. We need a staircase that will make it easy for people to ascend to Green Belt and Black Belt levels of knowledge, not in one big vertical jump, but a series of simple steps.

And I think we need to take our focus off of “belts” and instead focus on results. The more we share our results and successes, the easier it will be for others to observe the results and want to join in.

It’s up to you. Do you want to make Six Sigma more edible and more desirable by the masses? Or are you going to insist that it remain a secret society of specialists?

Based on my local Barnes & Noble, Six Sigma has become passé. Time to rethink our approach. It isn’t working.


About The Author

Jay Arthur—The KnowWare Man’s picture

Jay Arthur—The KnowWare Man

Jay Arthur, speaker, trainer, founder of KnowWare International Inc., and developer of QI Macros for Excel, understands how to pinpoint areas for improvement in processes, people, and technology. He uses data to pinpoint broken processes and helps teams understand their communication styles and restore broken connections. Arthur is the author of Lean Six Sigma for Hospitals (McGraw-Hill, 2011), and Lean Six Sigma Demystified (McGraw-Hill, 2010), and QI Macros SPC Software for Excel. He has 30 years experience developing software. Located in Denver, KnowWare International helps service and manufacturing businesses use lean Six Sigma tools to drive dramatic performance improvements.


Six Sigma Stickiness

Your article was very well written and touched on issues that most of us in this industry face. What I would like to add to your analysis is that while the 'belt' concept makes Six Sigma harder to make main stream, it is also that very same concept that makes it attractive to those that actually like Statistical methods for process improvement. I am sure this very same 'belt' concept must have seemed attractive to you when you took up Six Sigma yourself. Afterall, if you are going to put in a lot of effort to learn a great deal of Statistics and process improvement methods, one might as well have something to show for it too....

Great article!





enjoyed your article

Hi JayI read and enjoyed your article today

We get a lot of people who stop by our booth each year that don't understand why collecting data could be advantageous. Clearly the job shop that makes one piece of any one part does not need to analyze but the rest sure do... but so many just don't know it. We also want to reach those people with your message of “process innovation” and we are still thinking the best ways to do it... and maybe we add something like "for improvements that count".



Making everything "simple"

I agree with the previous comments.  My take is, if everything is simplified and watered down so "everyone" can do it--- we don't really learn how to deal with the many complex problems that exist.  Just about every Six Sigma program I've seen is mostly about learning a few basics and covering 200 topics with zero depth.  Most black belts I have met are clueless about fundamental aspects of SPC, DOE, Reliability, est. but...they know how to produce mountains of binders and apply qualitative tools.

Applying statistical methods correctly requires significant education with enough depth --- not to be statistically perfect, but to know which tools to apply when, and what assumptions ARE important.  Bottom line is getting to solutions quickly...

Just like engineers study many years to learn important aspects of enginering, serious quality and reliability professionals ought to learn quality and statistical methods in enough depth so that they can deal with complex issues efficiently and represent our profession with passion, knowledge, and integrity.  

Six Sigma Statistical Nonsense

How much more of the Six Sigma rubbish do we have to tolerate ?  When will people wake up to the fact that Six Sigma is a scam ?

"The phrase Six Sigma sounds complex, mathematical, or statistical, which turns most people off."  The phrase "Six Sigma" should have been enough to turn anyone with an ounce of intelligence off.  How on earth could any rational person consider broadening the spec limits, as suggested by Six Sigma's hero Mr Bill Smith, be a way to improve quality ?

Why haven't people questioned Six Sigma's utter nonsense of the 1.5 sigma drifting, floating mean that leads to the ridiculous 3.4 dpmo ?   If this really did happen, no process could ever be in control !   Investigate the source of this scam.  Here it, is laid out simply for you:  http://www.qualitydigest.com/inside/six-sigma-article/six-sigma-lessons-...


Now read what quality is meant to be about, in the works of Wheeler, Shewhart and Deming.

Read my lips ... Six Sigma is a SCAM !


Thanks for providing the two links. I had read them when they were published, but had fotgotten them. Great references!

Thoughts On Six Sigma

I like your term "obsession with statistical perfection" - this turns people off in a big way. Besides, it could be termed "obsession with statistical sophistry", i.e., Six Sigma's OCD love affair with the normal distribution. The DMAIC process itself is rigid and also turns people off. Six Sigma Gage R&R studies are another example of "statistical sophistry"....and the list goes on. We need to solve problems, not get bogged down in a rigid set of steps. I would also submit that many Six Sigma "Black Belts" don't know what they are talking about! They had the training and use the language, but don't truly understand. I once asked a Black Belt what the p-Value meant in an ANOVA. She said she didn't know exactly, but it needs to be less than 0.05! Another Black Belt asked me to show him how to do a Capability Study! Are you kidding me?!?! Other Black Belts get so anal retentive about the tools that projects take months longer than necessary. The list of such stories goes on. I believe Dr. Deming referred to such pretenders as "hacks". Ultimately, it is about solving problems quickly and with the simplest analytical tools that get results. The Six Sigma process itself creates a mysticism around itself, so management gets the idea that it takes mathematical geniuses to use the tools and that miracles will happen when the tools are used.