LawsonGuru Blog

Thought-Provoking Commentary for the Lawson Software Community

Counting to Six (Sigma,that is)


In the coming months, Microsoft will be releasing some tools for implementing Six Sigma methodologies in your workgroups and enterprise.  There are some niche Six Sigma software offerings, but with Microsoft targeting it, you had better believe that Six Sigma will “go mainstream”.  They’ve done it before, with OLAP, and chances are that Microsoft will do it again with Six Sigma.

The Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma utilizes the power of various Microsoft products including Office, Project Visio 2002, etc., as well as third-party products, services and deployment partners. This offering creates a platform for enterprise performance management that delivers the tools, guidance and support that Six Sigma professionals need to succeed.

What is Six Sigma, you ask? Well, it’s a set of quality methodologies and techniques developed by Joseph Juran, trademarked by Motorola, and most recently popularized by GE. In essence, you define the “perfect” approach to each process, realizing that “zero defects” is probably unattainable, but that “near zero” (Six Sigma) is the target.  Sigma is the Greek letter used in mathematics to denote a standard deviation, or the amount a process deviates from the mean. As the level of Sigmas increases, the level of deviation decreases.  In a Three Sigma organization, there are 66,807 defects per million, while in a Six Sigma organization there are but 3.4 defects per million. That’s 99.99966% perfection!

How do you get there? You assemble various teams, and train the members. After the initial training, members achieve a “green belt” status, and as they work their way up, they become “black belts” or even “master black belts”, and train the next batch of “green belts”. Some organizations also have “money belt” designation for their financial team members.  The teams set to work identifying which processes are ripe for improvement, and how to improve them. The goal is a “perfect process” with no errors. For example, a delivery company might target delivery of all parcels by noon the following day, with no missed or erroneous deliveries.

For Six Sigma to thrive, it requires total management commitment. It also must be tied in some way to everyone’s compensation. The “black belts” and “master black belts” MUST have Six Sigma as their SOLE project responsibility. It won’t succeed if they’re only doing it part time!

Getting to Six Sigma isn’t easy. It’s a constant cycle of five steps: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. You are constantly striving to reduce the possibility of errors until you have achieved perfection.  Six Sigma is usually implemented throughout an entire enterprise, although you can implement it in individual organizations and departments that require higher quality.

And, Six Sigma doesn’t just apply to product companies, or factories. You can use to perfect the processes in your services and corporate functions as well:

  • HR: Hiring processes
  • MIS: Help Desk Management
  • Finance: Monthly closing

Many large companies, like GE, Honeywell and Allied Signal, have successfully implemented Six Sigma, and have grown substantially because of it.  If you’re not such a large company, can you still benefit from Six Sigma? Of course! Does Six Sigma really work for everyone? I don’t think so. I’ve consulted with Six Sigma companies that I felt were no better managed than if they’d never heard of it.  Does that mean it’s not a good idea? Of course not.

If the concept of Six Sigma sounds threatening, remember that it’s utterly simple. We all want to perfect our processes, and not make errors. Don’t we? It’s just the discipline of getting there that’s hard.

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