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Rip Stauffer

Six Sigma

Drop the Argument, Channel the Value Stream

Why we need to effect change in systems

Published: Friday, September 28, 2012 - 12:36

Editor’s note: In response to Kyle Toppazzini’s article, “Lean Without Six Sigma May Be a Failing Proposition,” published in the Sept. 27, 2012, issue of Quality Digest Daily, Rip Stauffer left the following observant comment.

I started my career in quality when the consulting world hadn’t yet split into specialist camps they called “Six Sigma” and “lean.” At that point in time, if people were doing anything programmatic, they were calling it something like total quality. People studied the seven tools, and the seven new tools, and the Toyota Production System, and statistical process control (SPC). We studied general systems theory and learned to do process research.

When I joined Process Management International, it was, philosophically, a Deming and Juran organization with strong ties to the Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers (JUSE). The company had sponsored U.S. seminars with Noriaki Kano, Genichi Taguchi, Taiichi Ohno, and other Japanese quality experts. In 2000, JUSE sent several people to study Six Sigma. They did an exhaustive study of the literature—such as it was at the time—and concluded that Six Sigma brought nothing new to the table in terms of tools or techniques, but it was useful as a “vehicle” or a way to bring quality to an organization, and useful as part of a portfolio of programs that could help. The conclusion was that Six Sigma’s role was for breakthrough. This presupposes an operational definition that positions Six Sigma as a project-based methodology for improvement—essentially, a problem-solving paradigm.

What this has always meant to me is that you most effectively use Six Sigma and the full define, measure, analyze, improve, control (DMAIC) or define, measure, analyze, design, verify (DMADV) project life cycles when you have problems with common cause variation, i.e., if your process is in control but you need to move the mean on target and/or reduce variation to meet some specification that’s not currently met. It should be part of an arsenal that includes all the basic tools, the new tools, lean concepts, SPC, systems thinking, the theory of constraints, diffusion of innovation, change management, and anything else that can help manage systems and processes and provide for continual improvement.

My own observation is that the opinions I most often see from people in forums like Quality Digest about lean and Six Sigma have a basis in what they were taught, and who taught them. What I have seen during the past 20 years was a rift that was driven by consulting groups, some of which were very good and taught a more systems-based, total-quality-based approach. Some, however, saw some narrow subset of tools when they were hatched and built their whole consulting practice around that narrow definition. Since just about any quality approach will have dramatic effects on the low-hanging fruit, their initial experiences—even using their narrow approach—were successful, and all too often they “learned” that their approach was all any company needs.

What really matters, though, is not the name—that’s just marketing. We have to be able to effect change in systems, to instill knowledge in leadership, to appreciate and understand that our systems comprise value streams, and that to channel these requires an understanding of flow through the system and a constant pursuit of “on target and continually reducing variation.” So do we need lean? Absolutely. Do we need Six Sigma DMAIC and DMADV projects? At least for the foreseeable future, I think they will be very useful in achieving breakthrough. In the book, Lean Transformation (Oaklea Press, 2010), Bruce Henderson included “Six Sigma levels of quality” as one of the necessary things to have in place for full lean implementation. Do we need statistical process control (SPC)? If you don’t have it, any lean or Six Sigma approach is going to be hollow and temporary. SPC is often neglected, though—even the American Society for Quality (ASQ) Six Sigma Body of Knowledge treats it as an afterthought; you do it in control.

My own view is that we’ll do much better as quality professionals when we stop the infighting about what we call things and start rendering unto lean those things that are lean’s and unto Six Sigma those things that are Six Sigma’s. Learn systems theory, statistical theory (at least as it applies to analytic studies), psychology and sociology as they apply to organizational change, and what Everett M. Rogers called “diffusion of innovation”—upon which he elaborated in five editions of Diffusion of Innovation (Free Press, 2003)—and pick up a useful iterative learning model to guide the approach and drive organizational learning and change. Learn which things are important to measure to actually drive improvement, then work to get things on target and constantly and forever reduce variation. Channel the value streams, optimize flow through those streams, and optimize the system.


About The Author

Rip Stauffer’s picture

Rip Stauffer

Rip Stauffer uses his extensive experience in total quality and Six Sigma to educate and counsel at all career levels with specific experience in government, manufacturing, medical devices, financial services, and healthcare organizations. Stauffer is Senior Consultant at MSI and CEO of Woodside Quality LLC. Stauffer is an ASQ senior member, an ASQ Statistics Division member, a certified quality engineer, a manager of quality and organizational excellence, and a Six Sigma Black Belt and Master Black Belt. He is an adjunct faculty member at Walden University, teaching graduate and undergraduate business statistics courses and international business courses. 


Rip gets it

Rip's comments are dead on the money. I don't want to use this opportunity to rehash old arguments but to simply point out that I believe we are better served when we start to focus on new and innovative ways to tackle quality management issues. This is not to dismiss the great innovations that we have seen over the last 100 + years in quality management but to suggest we steer the conversation into a new and forward looking direction.