Watching success spiral into failure! Why six sigma doesn’t yield long term results…

Recently in class we have been discussing various types of ways to improve processes and quality, within management operations systems, these include the Baldridge, Six Sigma, and ISO 9000 models. In class we have looked at the different ways that these models can improve quality and productivity, however the article I found talks about some of the downsides of these models, in this case, Six Sigma. The article from the Wall Street Journal specifically talks about an aerospace company that implemented Six sigma, but then what also happens after the new processes were put into place.

The comparison that was used to describe the Six Sigma process was compared to a spring, initially when the process is implemented employees stretch out to accommodate the new work processes and work load that has been implemented, this phase appropriately named the “stretching phrase” which is when data is collected on how best the process will be implemented and which departments issues are most critical to address. However the problem is that when you become so focused on the process improvement initiatives you often begin to relegate some of the normal responsibilities in each department.

The next phase described in the article is the “yielding phase” where the “spring” is still being stretched, and as described will become permanently deformed. Meaning that now management and improvement experts believe the issue has been resolved they more onto more pressing issues, the problem though is that these newly renovated departments now struggle to hold onto the gains in improvements they’ve made without any further direction from Six Sigma advisors. Without having the leadership that guided them on the initial improvements many departments begin going back to their old familiar ways resulting in a process that once again is not meeting its full potential.

The last stage described in the failure of Six Sigma is appropriately named the “failing stage” where essentially the “spring breaks apart” meaning without further direction the departments lose motivation to keep pursuing their earlier successes. A main reason for this is the success or failure of these is that the employees personal reviews have little or nothing to do with these projects so it really holds little for them to gain or lose, in turn causing no one to step forward as a leader to continue the improvements they had made early on.

With these three stages identified the articles also points out four key points that can be learned from the failure of a Six Sigma initiative. The first being that if success is to be permanent, a long term SixSigma advisor should be appointed. Second employee performance appraisals need to be tied to success or failure of initiative put into place. Third have small focused groups for initiatives so those involved knowing exactly what their goals are. Last Management should be directly involved in all aspects to know exactly what is taking place.

What else do you think should be done to improve upon these processes other than the four stated “lessons learned”? Can you think of different ways to improve the processes that were described in the article?

One thought on “Watching success spiral into failure! Why six sigma doesn’t yield long term results…

  1. I’m glad you brought the six sigma up because I was at a loss as to what and how six sigma came about. This article definitely breaks it down nicely and of course in class we discussed how Motorola started the whole concept. After the aerospace company implemented the six sigma strategy the article simplifies the steps and the “spring” is what I will now envision when the topic is brought up. Its a shame that the company had to go through the spring break only because the six sigma is a great strategy in my opinion and I really cannot think of a different way to improve the process. Maybe the employee personal reviews should be taken account of and be directed toward the projects and maybe then a leader can continue to make improvements they’ve already made. Other than that, I see no other way to improve but to completely take out the six sigma…sorry Motorola :/

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