What I have realized, whether talking about Six Sigma or lean (“Got Six Sigma on the Brain?,” Dirk Dusharme, November 2004 issue), is that management at all levels has little understanding of the commitment required to make either tool work. The expectations are driven not by what the programs offer but by the expectation that one can drop a CD into a computer and the company is somehow automatically “leaned” or “Six Sigma-ed.” Many “experts” have fueled the fires of quick expectations with little building of the foundational tools to make lean or Six Sigma work.
I work for a medium-sized company made up of many small divisions of approximately 100 employees each. Some divisions excel in the (Six Sigma) program, and some do not. Those that do excel have four things in common: (1) top management support, (2) all the ingredients for the recipe are used, (3) the lean Six Sigma methodology is followed and (4) projects are tied to a company objective.
Lean kaizens alone work, but opportunities are often missed or the real problem is left unsolved. Six Sigma alone can be too slow and may not always be necessary to get to the root cause. Things happen faster when the approach combines the two. Based on the comments published in the sidebar “When the Honeymoon Is Over,” I think that Six Sigma is not fully understood by those who are charged with leading their companies.
I agree with one of the readers who said, “Six Sigma is nothing more than a new name for the old yet excellent process improvement methodology based on Dr. Deming’s PDCA.” In 1988, I participated in a seminar sponsored by the Colombo-Japanese Friendship Society in Bogotá, Colombia. The speakers from the Japanese Engineers Council were describing the same tools now considered part of Six Sigma, and how in Japan the focus was on the process, while in the United States it was on results.
In my own North American experience, I have found two difficulties in implementing the continuous improvement approach (PDCA), particularly in small organizations: First, upper management wants to see immediate results. Second, people stick to their own job descriptions or the attitude that “I’m just doing my job.” I suppose that is why North American companies have to have their own dedicated staff of Black Belts to apply these tools.
The main contribution of the Motorola approach was not some new tools because they were already there. Instead, it was in opening up people’s minds to the concept of continuous improvement in a way that could be understood, especially at a time when most people were happy with a 95-percent confidence range and would see 99 percent, not to mention 99.9999966 percent, as impossible.
One of the most impressive examples of a government entity becoming registered to ISO 9001:2000 (“Quality + Environment = Better Government,” Laura Smith, November 2004 issue) is found in the city of Eunice, Louisiana, where Mayor Lynn LeJeune was the driving force in getting the city to conform to the requirements of the standard. The city has saved thousands of dollars in operating expenses as a result of the disciplines imposed by conforming to the standard. As the city’s fire department was also included in the process, the city’s fire insurance risk rating was lowered, resulting in a drop in homeowners’ policy costs.
Cities and local governing authorities that are strapped by budget difficulties would be well-advised to look at registration to ISO 9001 as a way of reigning in costs, rather than raising taxes.
—Francis M. Crawford
Your article, “Enterprisewide Quality Management Solutions” (Mike Richman, November 2004 issue), gives advice for the new quality assurance manager of a really big company. What about a startup where most current quality assurance documentation is just on paper? We’ve reached a size where we need to switch to an electronic and more integrated system. It would be very helpful to “get it right” so that as the company grows—possibly very rapidly—the QA system can be expanded without tremendous growing pains. The cost of most packaged software forces us into a “do-it-yourself” mode. I’d appreciate your thoughts on how to do this and where to look for guidance and for inexpensive software.
I expected some information about options for solutions, not just telling me that I need such a solution—I know that already!
The editors respond: Our article on enterprisewide quality management solutions was intended as an overview of the market for these valuable solutions. While we’re reluctant to recommend any companies in particular, perusing our 2004 Six Sigma Software Directory should give you a good starting point for your search. It contains almost 100 organizations that offer QA software solutions.