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Scott Paton

The Next Big Thing

Is Six Sigma dead? If so, what's next?


I've been with Quality Digest for 17 years. During those 17 years, I've seen a lot of quality initiatives come and go; some even come, go and come again. It's one of the challenges of reporting on a profession constantly in flux.

 Quality Digest began its life in November 1981 as Quality Circle Digest. Back then, it focused exclusively on Quality Circles, now better known as employee involvement teams. Much of the magazine's focus was on the so-called "human side of quality"; we tended to write about improving team meetings, handling problems with team members, management commitment and the like.

 In 1988, we changed the magazine's name to Quality Digest and began focusing on the entire quality spectrum, although much of our coverage continued to focus on the human side of quality, particularly total quality management and ISO 9000. We have since broadened our coverage even more to include metrology. We now write about all facets of quality that we believe those responsible for an organization's quality processes would be interested in, from management initiatives to international standards to inspection and testing equipment.

 Trying to adequately cover all things quality is a challenge made all the more difficult by the fast-changing quality world: Quality fads tend to come and go faster than dotcoms. For example, according to the letters and comments we receive, many of our readers believe that the Six Sigma craze has peaked, while lean manufacturing seems to have found new life.

 The quality-fad cycle tends to work like this: A new quality fad evolves through the efforts of an individual or an organization. (Six Sigma, for example, was born at Motorola and championed by Mikel Harry.) That individual then usually writes a book or establishes a consulting company to promote the concept. (In Six Sigma's case, Mikel Harry did both --and formed an alliance with the American Society for Quality.) The next phase occurs when others attempt to profit from the fad by writing their own books, offering their own consulting and training services, developing their own software and creating their own videos. Unfortunately for the latecomers, the fad often ends just as they are launching their products. This phenomenon held particularly true with the reengineering movement and may be the case with Six Sigma.

 While visiting with exhibitors at ASQ's Annual Quality Congress last month, I heard a lot of talk about Six Sigma. Some complained that too much attention was being paid to Six Sigma and that it had already peaked. Others said that we've just scratched the surface of Six Sigma, as it hasn't yet filtered down to small and mid-sized businesses.

 Because many of you are on the cutting edge of new quality trends, techniques and initiatives, we'd like to ask you what you think about some of the quality initiatives of the last few years, whether Six Sigma has peaked and what you believe the next big quality "thing" will be. We've set up a special section on our InsideQuality Web site for you to do just that. Simply visit "The Next Big Thing" section at  to participate. You'll need to be a member of InsideQuality to give us your feedback, but membership is free and it takes just a few minutes to join.

 Your feedback will help us continue to provide coverage of those quality initiatives that are of interest to you. We'll publish the results of the survey and share as much feedback as possible in future issues.

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