Six Sigma, gone Bad.


“What do weight-loss plans and process-improvement programs such as Six Sigma and “lean manufacturing” have in common?” They article starts off with this quote, referring that diet plans and six sigma plans do indeed fail at one point or another. The companies that use Six Sigma normally start of with huge goals and aspirations of putting these plans into operation, but just like a failing diet these companies tend to go back to their old ways. Many companies around the world embrace this business management such as Six Sigma; however, a recent study shows “that nearly 60% of all corporate Six Sigma initiatives fail to yield the desired results.”  This is where we begin to ask ourselves if it’s actually worth investing in a plan if 60% of the companies who do it aren’t coming up with the results that they wanted. The articles diagnosis this problem into three stages, “stretching, yielding, and failing.”

So let’s start off by talking about what they call the “stretching phase.” The process can be defined similarly to a metal spring analogy. “When a metal spring is pulled initially, the material stretches to accommodate the increase in pressure.” They compare these metal spring to people in a business process. Initially people at any process in the business will bend and stretch to make things happen. I also agree with this because when you are new to a job or trying a new process you are initially willing to do whatever it takes to try and make it work. Most teams in any business are generally excited and willing to learn the new process, such as Six Sigma. Normally at this stage in the process managers will implement a “to-do” list will let employees know what is exactly expected out of them. When the employees reached all of their goals on the “to-do” list they were rewarded and the project is normally ruled a success. I believe this is where we can see one downfall. Rewarding employees can be successful, but if you keep doing it over and over and don’t increase the expectations or continue to manage you teams, I believe failure is inevitable.

The second phase the article is called the “yielding phase.” The phase can be defined as, “If a metal spring continues to be pulled, there will come a point when the material yields as it struggles to support the increase in pressure. Though still intact, the spring becomes permanently deformed, stretched out.” They compare this to management at a company switching from one project to another. When management switches to another project more times than none the team that lost the management from the Six Sigma managers slowly begins to lose site of their goals and begin to slip back into their old ways. At this point in the phase teams begin to loose sight of the end goal and being to focus to much on their individuals efforts. The teams that lost the Six Sigma management slowly began to crack under the pressure.

The third and final phase in this article is the failing stage. Using the metal example this stage is defined as, “Over time, pulling will cause the material in one area of the metal spring to narrow, creating a neck that becomes smaller and smaller until it is unable to sustain any pressure at all. At this point breaks into pieces.” When the Six Sigma management team leaves, employees at company’s becomes discouraged and eventually begin performing poorly and than fail returning into their own ways.

After reading this article, I begin to wonder if the Six Sigma program is actually worth it? What do you think?

Should a company invest money into this program, if 60% of the companies end up returning to normal ways?

How could companies prevent this program from failing?

3 thoughts on “Six Sigma, gone Bad.

  1. To respond to your question regarding Six Sigma, I think you make a good analogy with a diet plan. My previous employer was hoping to use cost-cutting initiatives to reach specific profit goals, but they weren’t willing to change their culture to embrace the cost-cutting initiatives. Ideas by newcomers to the organization were always viewed with the mindset “that will never work here.” As a result, the business was starting to fail at employee retention. People were disgruntled and projects stalled just like you describe above.

    However, I started a new job five months ago at a worldwide leading food manufacturer. The company has completely changed its culture to center around the Six Sigma/TPM/Continuous Improvement culture. The company has put together a program that is impeccable at working to challenge new people in the business. Since starting five months ago, I have personally handled four minor projects aimed at reducing cost, improving quality and improving safety and am starting my first major Six Sigma project focused at reducing waste. Because I have bought into the program, I am being rewarded with more challenging projects. For a company to be successful at implementing Six Sigma, they have to have a long-term strategy for continuing to use those in their organization that embrace six sigma as a culture change and center their entire company around it.

    To sum it up, both of the firms I worked at were major Fortune 100 companies. The only difference was that one company was rolling out Six Sigma as something complementary to its business, and the other centered its business around Six Sigma. I believe the latter is obviously more effective, but also the most sustainable.

  2. I think this is such a great comparison and analogy. Going along with the analogy, companies won’t benefit from six sigma if they just make drastic or quick changes. They need to focus on changes that can be sustained long-term, just like someone should do who wants to change their diet. It needs to be something you ( the company) needs to be fully committed too and the changes need to be feasible or something the company is capable of doing.

    Like a diet, there is no one diet or quick fix that will guarantee weight-loss, but if a company finds a way to fit six sigma correctly into their processess they will be able to benefit and sustain their corrective actions.

  3. Very nice analogy with this article. Like a diet, the hardest part is at the beginning of your process. It can be hard to turn down the McDonald’s and Wendy’s for some carrots and salmon. In the same way, it is hard for companies to identify and rid themselves of waste that they have created.

    I have been in distribution sales and have worked with many manufacturers for the past 7 years and I have seen a lot of places where six sigma has been very successful and places where it has crippled the company and almost put them out of business. I think many companies miss the boat by preaching that there must be “buy in” from the co-workers.
    I believe that if you can achieve “be in” from the workers, your implementation will be much more successful.

    “Be in” refers to having the six sigma team come in and start to teach the practice of six sigma, but getting small victories in the plant and in the office to show the people the benefits of what this process entails. People then start to become excited for the opportunities ahead, instead of feeling like they have to “buy in” because their boss told them they needed to abide. These small victories must happen very shortly into the process and people need to see measurable results very quickly as well. Much like a person deciding to put down the burger for a piece of fish, if they can see some results quickly (lost weight), they will be much more likely to stay the course.

    If your company can get the “be in” from your workers, you have a much better likely hood that you will be one of the 4 in 10 companies that have a successful launch of six sigma.

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