Monday, March 05, 2007

The Folly of Over-Zealousness

We know Six Sigma has wide applications – and great successes – in the service sector. Six Sigma is no fad; it is a comprehensive collection of tools and techniques that have evolved over many years to comprise the best known way to reduce variation from processes and products, and, as a result, drive customer satisfaction.

But have you seen the Six Sigma Body of Knowledge? My own Six Sigma training involved 40 hours in the classroom over 12 weeks, 125 hours of online training and more than 100 hours of self-directed study and project work. How many of us have that extra 265+ hours to become certified? It took many weeknights and weekends as I immersed myself in ANOVA and Design of Experiments, Statistical Process Control, Quality Function Deployment, Failure Mode Effects Analysis, probability theory and hypothesis testing. By the time the exam came around I was a basket case, dreaming of Goodness-of-Fit tests and fractional factorials. There is an intense commitment required for any single person to undertake the level of study required to embrace the entirety of the Six Sigma BOK. Multiply that singular effort by a department full of staff, and you get controlled chaos at best, anarchy at worst.

In reality we’ll most likely use just a part of the BOK in our daily work. As a management consultant working exclusively in the insurance industry, I find little use for the repeatability and reproducibility studies used to determine the precision and accuracy of gauges. Nor are the Mohs hardness scale, optical comparators or eddy current testing likely to find their way into my consultant’s bag of tricks. The point? A better approach to teaching process improvement skills is to start small, with a few big-picture ideas, and then drill down into ever-more complex techniques until the desired results are attainable. Throwing everything at staff all at once, in some sort of one-size-fits-all approach to skills development is bad form. Further, by doing so you’ll see many pairs of eyes rolling as a once-familiar grade school mantra begins to resurface: “When are we ever going to use this...?”

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