Is Six Sigma going the way of TQM?

Completely non-Enterprise 2.0, except for the fact that I heard this at lunch today from someone who works for a large financial services organization: 3M may ditch their Six Sigma program because they find that it stifles creativity. To quote Charles O’Reilly, a Stanford Graduate School of Business management professor, “If you take over a company that’s been living on innovation, clearly you can squeeze costs out. The question is, what’s the long-term damage to the company?” If this trend continues, Six Sigma training might join a list like this.

10 thoughts on “Is Six Sigma going the way of TQM?

  1. Hi Sandy,

    O’Reilly’s wrong… the issue isn’t with Six Sigma per se, it’s with any _change_ program that moves into the mainstream and into the “second generation” of practitioners. Six Sigma was successful in no small part simply because, at the time, it was revolutionary (or at least facilitated and encouraged revolutionary thinking).

    Lately I’ve been preaching is that what the most advanced BPM cultures should be inculcating is a culture of _change_, not a culture of, say, “process.” BPM is a revolutionary concept because it embraces continuous change – not because it offers (for example) some new process language or metamodel.

    The bottom line is that in reality Six Sigma has been ditched de facto by darn near every company who embraced it… “ditched” in the sense that it is now a checkbox on everyone’s CV, instead of a badge of honor and distinction. Six Sigma may be dead, but the revolution of change is just beginning.

    Hope you’re well,
    Phil

  2. I agree that BPM is all about introducing a culture of constant change: I talk about that in every presentation that I make, it seems. Six Sigma has served its purposes to improve quality in many organizations in the past, but given the agility offered by today’s tools, it just can’t keep up.

  3. John, a big part of the problem is, as you state, bad implementations. However, as quality programs become more complex, they seem to somehow attract those who prefer to substitute blind application of a complex set of rules to much actual thinking.

  4. I would agree management programs often attract people that substitute blind application for thinking. That is one of the problems – people want to do things the same way they always have and to get different results. It doesn’t work often. Sometimes you can continue to think the same way and apply some great technology and get improvement without having to learn or grow or think but those cases are rare. I don’t think you can have good management systems where you just follow the instruction, like “paint by the numbers.” Those give pretty lame results which may work fine as long as your competitors don’t actually think systemically and manage the organization effectively, but once they do you might be in trouble.

  5. John, I think that Phil’s earlier comment identifies part of the problem: we’re into the second generation of practitioners, and they likely don’t feel that burning drive of innovation that the first generation had. For many, this isn’t a new and exciting way to think about improving their processes, it’s a program handed down from management to be followed. The trick is to inspire people to think differently based on Six Sigma, or Lean, or any of the quality management programs, not just to apply it because their company says that they have to use it.

  6. Sandy, are you even trained on Six Sigma ? You are making very simplistic statements that lead me to believe you have little training and/or understanding of Six Sigma or Lean for that matter. Also, your logic is faulty to say the least on several of your conclusions. You take one example, from a College professor that 3M “may ditch” Six Sigma and then you write this HASTY GENERALIZATION that, hey, “If this trend continues, Six Sigma training might join a list like this.” Sandy, you have got to be kidding !

    Then you state in response to a comment above the following: “Six Sigma has served its purposes to improve quality in many organizations in the past, but given the agility offered by today’s tools, it just can’t keep up.”

    Oh yeah, please explain how Six Sigma can’t keep up ! Give concrete examples.

    I’ve read your postings in the past and some of your articles are fine and others are just plain silly and bad. In my humble opinion, you are losing crediblity !

    Jason BPM Specialist/Black Built Six Sigma

  7. Jason, this isn’t just my opinion and that of the Business Week author; take a look at Phil Gilbert’s comment earlier in this thread. Also, not sure what you mean by “your logic is faulty…on several of your conclusions”, since I don’t actually make any conclusions in this post: I link to the Business Week article, and to a (currently unavailable) post about methodologies that have fallen out of favour, with a suggestion that Six Sigma could also be falling out of favour.

  8. Sandy, you are ignoring my points (I am not surprised). You took 1 example from a BW author regarding the situation that 3M ” may” toss Six Sigma out of the company and then YOU stated it might be a ‘trend’. Those were your fatuous comments, period. That is called a “conclusion” Sandy. You have no empirical facts but take one statement to draw your conclusion.

    You also totally ignored my question to you regarding your my question below:

    Then you state in response to a comment above the following: “Six Sigma has served its purposes to improve quality in many organizations in the past, but given the agility offered by today’s tools, it just can’t keep up.”

    Oh yeah, please explain how Six Sigma can’t keep up ! Give concrete examples.

    I am waiting for some concrete examples from you!

    I and others have been reading your blogs for a while and you make damning and fruitless statements about BPM vendors, trends, etc, but usually offer nothing but your ‘opinion’ without facts.

    Still waiting for your intelligent response instead of ignoring me with the evidence to support your statements.

  9. Jason, I appreciate the passion that you bring to the subject, but writing insulting comments is very unlikely to elicit much of a response.

    This blog *is* my opinion, and that’s all it’s intended to be. If you’re not interested in my opinions, then you may wish to look for other reading material.

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