Question Details

(solution) Quality Engineering, 22:299-305, 2010 Copyright # Taylor &

Read the article: Goh, T. N. (2010). Six Triumphs and Six Tragedies of Six Sigma. Quality Engineering, 22(4), 299-305. doi:10.1080/08982112.2010.495102. (attached)
Respond to the discussion questions:

Which ?triumph? would have the greatest impact for a successful Six Sigma implementation to improve supply chain management processes? Explain your position.
Which ?tragedy? taught you something new and valuable?
Which ?tragedy? have you seen before in other business scenarios?

Quality Engineering, 22:299?305, 2010


Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC


ISSN: 0898-2112 print=1532-4222 online


DOI: 10.1080/08982112.2010.495102 Six Triumphs and Six Tragedies


of Six Sigma


T. N. Goh


Industrial and Systems


Engineering Department,


National University of Singapore,


Singapore ABSTRACT Six Sigma as a quality improvement framework has enjoyed an


unprecedented long period of popularity. This article brings out factors


that contribute to the uniqueness of Six Sigma, with its extensions and


derivatives such as Design for Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma. Those features


that have brought about an impetus for quality improvement are regarded as


??triumphs?? of Six Sigma, whereas some worrying trends in the practice of


Six Sigma are labeled as ??tragedies.?? Clearly, industry should leverage on


the strengths of Six Sigma and be careful not to become unwitting victims


of the weaknesses. A realistic and balanced view is certainly called for at this


juncture, and the advantages and pitfalls associated with Six Sigma should


be fully recognized if Six Sigma is to continue its ??winning streak?? of the past


quarter of a century.


KEYWORDS Design for Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, quality engineering, quality


management, Six Sigma, statistical thinking INTRODUCTION Address correspondence to T. N. Goh,


Industrial and Systems Engineering


Department, National University of


Singapore, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent,


Singapore, 119260. E-mail:


[email protected] Some 20 years ago, at the height of popularity and controversy of the


so-called Taguchi methods?exemplified by Taguchi (1986)?an article


by Pignatellio and Ramberg (1991) appeared in Quality Engineering pointing out the positive and negative aspects of the Taguchi version of quality


engineering and experimental design, with the euphoria in industry at that


time as a backdrop. Today, Taguchi is no longer on the lips of quality


engineers and managers?at least, it is not deemed fashionable anymore


to talk about it. In fact, ??consultants?? can no longer make easy money


by repeating the NBC mantra ??If Japan can, why can?t you??? With the


recent great Toyota automobile recalls, from now on even the ??Toyota


Method?? of production probably will have to be put on the back burner


at least for some time. This article addresses a subject that is all American,


something that has replaced Taguchi method as the most talked-about


quality improvement approach for almost two decades. This is, of course,


Six Sigma, on which there has been such an abundance of literature that


elaboration on its contents would be unnecessary?see, for example,


Harry and Schroder (1999), Hahn et al. (2000), Goh (2002), and Brady


and Allen (2006).


299 Six Sigma, in the course of its development, has


generated a number of derivatives and extensions,


such as Design for Six Sigma?e.g., Tennant


(2002)?and Lean Six Sigma?e.g., George (2002).


In this article, the term Six Sigma covers all these


variants collectively because they share basically


the same analytical foundations, with similar modes


of application. Regardless of the variant, Six Sigma


has commanded wide attention in industry and,


much like the Taguchi phenomenon in the 1980s,


success stories abound in many publications; detractors inevitably also have their say from time to time;


for example, Lee (2001), Schrage (2001), Morris


(2006), and Mika (2006). However, arguments


against Six Sigma such as these are not usually


made on rigorous grounds; likewise, promoters of


Six Sigma tend to offer casual promises such as


??Savings can hit $300 K per project, so a single Black


Belt can potentially bring a company $1.2 million to


the good annually?? (Harry and Crawford 2005).


Thus, some realistic assessment of ??all things Six


Sigma?? at this juncture would not be out of place,


in view of the surge of interests in Six Sigma in industry on one hand and the considerable investments


made by companies in manpower development


and external expertise on the other. Only with better


understanding of the subject could an organization


leverage on Six Sigma?s strengths and overcome its


weaknesses and be able to answer this question with


confidence: ??To Six Sigma, or not to Six Sigma??? WHAT QUALIFIES TO BE MENTIONED


Just as Pignatellio and Ramberg (1991) effectively


used the ??triumphs?? and ??tragedies?? categorization


to highlight the notable aspects of Taguchi methods,


a similar approach is taken here with respect to Six


Sigma. Discussions of features of Six Sigma abound


in the literature, such as Hahn (2005), but presented


here will be the most important facts that an individual or company ought to know about Six Sigma.


For this reason, only six of each category are brought


up, though the lists could be readily extended.


Some explanation of these categories is in order.


What constitutes a triumph? Basically, a triumph


exists when in the field of quality engineering there


has not been a similarly meritorious approach or


methodology before; the item in question must be


able to lead to a significant impact or paradigm shift,


T. N. Goh with results that are of practical value; that is, not just


a theoretically elegant scenario. What, on the other


hand, qualifies as a tragedy? The answer is any


feature that, if unchecked, could negate a triumph,


create misguided or misled actions, or even destroy


what originally has been useful. The selection of


six items in each category is by no means definitive


or unique and has been made largely based on the


author?s personal experience in training, consulting,


and research in Six Sigma over many years. Because


the relative significance of each item is a matter of


personal opinion, there is no particular order in


which the items are presented in the following




Triumph No. 1


Use of a common, realistic metric for quality


assessment and improvement: The use of critical-toquality (CTQ) and defects per million opportunities


(dpmo) as performance indices is a trademark of


Six Sigma. Deliberations on the choice and definition


of CTQ would help focus on the meaningful and


avoid the inconsequential. As a yardstick for measure


of performance, dpmo allows ready comparisons of


performance such as one process versus another,


before versus after, as well as cross-process comparative studies. This is also associated with an


equivalent yardstick, namely, sigma level that can


be used for purposes such as benchmarking and


project target setting. It may be noted, though, that


not all outcomes are binary (??defective?? or ??nondefective??), and in some cases even a binary classification can be arbitrary (e.g., the time it takes to


respond to a certain category of customer request).


The important point is that, for the first time, ??zero


defect?? is no longer an often-spoken-of but elusive


goal (or worse, a lip service); instead, one is supposed to face the realistic challenges of non-zero


defect situations squarely. This is an important paradigm shift, with which the nebulous promise of zero


defect is abandoned, though serious efforts are made


(with effective infrastructure and tools, as detailed in


the descriptions of other ??triumphs?? later on) to inch


toward that goal. Furthermore, with Six Sigma, there


are now generic metrics for marking progress; the


defect measurements in the hands of the quality


300 practitioner transcend processes and industries of


different nature. Generally, concepts expressed in


terms of dpmo and sigma levels can be more readily


explained and accepted by management than more


formal mathematical jargons. Triumph No. 2


Clear assignment of roles and responsibilities in


performance improvement efforts: Another important


paradigm shift that comes with Six Sigma is ditching


of the refrain ??Quality is Everybody?s Business.?? The


intent of this statement may be good and valid, but in


the real world this could be taken to imply diffused


responsibilities, especially whenever there are problems, with the assumption that everybody is equally


capable of handling quality issues. It is well known


that in many situations, ??Everybody?s Business?? in


the end could degenerate into ??Nobody?s Business.??


Not so in Six Sigma; personnel with various


degrees of training and experience are designated


clearly, and there are now individuals recognized


to know more tools than others when it comes to


performance improvement or problem solving.


Thus, there is a commonly acknowledged hierarchy


of people: Champions?Master Black Belts?Black


Belts?Green Belts?Yellow Belts that have different


professional responsibilities in an organization. In


addition, the success of Six Sigma depends largely


on top management leadership rather than the previous ??bottom-up?? concepts: quality control circles,


for example, may still have their place in handling


specific local problems, but they cannot be the staple


diet for fundamental organizational performance


enhancement and customer satisfaction. Triumph No. 3


Logical alignment of statistical tools: The concept


that ??the whole is larger than the sum of the parts??


cannot be truer when it comes to the deployment


of statistical tools in Six Sigma. Many an academic


has pronounced that there is ??nothing new?? in Six


Sigma. This is true when Six Sigma methodologies


are taken apart; for example, distribution functions


describing variability have been described in detail


in many books before, process capability analysis is


a known and used concept, analysis of variance


is recognized by every student of statistics, gage


301 repeatability and reproducibility study is an


established procedure, design of experiments is not


a fresh concept, control charts have been applied


for decades . . . and indeed there are already plenty


of well-established college courses or on-the-job


training programs on these subjects. So, what?s new?


What is new, as offered by Six Sigma, is the alignment and integration of statistical tools?heretofore


taught and learned in a disjointed manner?into a


logical, purposeful sequence for CTQ improvement


and business competitiveness. Specifically, the


tools are built into a Define?Measure?Analyze?


Improvement?Control (or DMAIC) framework that


suggests, for example, that a process be optimized


via statistical design of experiments in the Improve


phrase before being sustained by control chart applications in the Control phrase?instead of drawing


up a control chart for something that is not even


known to be optimal or otherwise. In fact, in pre-Six


Sigma days, the more effective the control chart, the


longer the continuation of some nonoptimized process. In other words, Six Sigma makes statistics work


harder (by seeking the optimal) and smarter (by


focusing on the best) in the hands of nonstatisticians. Triumph No. 4


Recognition of the time effects on processes: Talking about the use of statistics by nonstatisticians?


in the past, for understandable reasons, practically


only time-invariant models are used by the rank-andfile. Six Sigma does not provide the full answer to the


consequences of time-dependent natural changes,


but it does bring up the concept of short-term


versus long-term variation; that is, the ??1.5 sigma


shift?? in the assessment of dpmo and sigma levels.


Although the rationale for such a shift is an unresolved issue (see, for example, ASQ Discussion


Boards [2005]), the fact remains that Six Sigma is


the only quality improvement approach that prominently recognizes and fully takes into account what


any experienced quality practitioner must have


faced: the relentless realization of the second law


of thermodynamics, meaning ??Things left to themselves will deteriorate.?? No procedures, formulated


by textbooks or otherwise, prior to the advent of


Six Sigma required practitioners to express this real


and important phenomenon explicitly up front.


Regardless of the exact nature of a process one


Six Triumphs and Six Tragedies of Six Sigma is handling, this is an insightful defensive and


preemptive move. Triumph No. 5


Unprecedented synergy with modern information


technology: Six Sigma attained its popularity among


practitioners because it arrived at the right time.


Should Six Sigma have appeared on the scene, say,


20 years earlier than the mid-1980s, it would not take


off because it is statistics based?the shear amount of


data crunching would mean that only dedicated


personnel hired to crank big and noisy mechanical


calculators would want to have anything to do with


it. Many have lamented the nonuse of statistics in


industry, for example, Penzias (1989), but few have


admitted the real and perceived obstacles, namely,


the efforts it would take to gather, store, transform,


and analyze data in industrial settings.


By the 1990s, with the appearance and swift


prevalence of both hardware and software brought


about by the age of information technology, that is,


personal computers, notebook computers, with


user-friendly versions of the likes of MINITAB and


JMP, application of Six Sigma no longer demands


deep knowledge of statistical theory or superior data


processing capabilities. The credit may not entirely


lie in the contents of DMAIC, but winning over


hesitant onlookers and converting industry people


into aficionados of statistical tools is an undeniable


triumph of Six Sigma. Triumph No. 6


Capabilities to grow for larger roles for business


competitiveness: Unlike many other quality tools or


certification systems that remain essentially the same


throughout their useful life, Six Sigma is organic. Six


Sigma as applied in industry today can be a far cry


from the Six Sigma of the 1980s. Through the years,


Six Sigma has been augmented, extended, and


transformed into even more comprehensive frameworks that are applicable all the way from design


to manufacture (of products) or implementation (of


service systems).


Design for Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma, in a variety of roadmaps in different organizations, are major


examples of the upshot of the ??classic Six Sigma??


formula from Motorola. The former reflects the belief


T. N. Goh that ??Prevention is better than cure,?? and the latter


recognizes that waste elimination should go hand


in hand with variation reduction. There is no apparent limit to what Six Sigma might be morphed into in


the years to come: mass customization, for example


(Piller and Tseng 2010), is one possible direction


for development. In recent years, serious attempts


to introduce Six Sigma into service sectors?government, education, health care, transportation, tourism,


etc.?actually reflect the vitality of Six Sigma and


constitute a veritable triumph over any narrowly


defined and applied procedures for quality. SIX SIGMA TRAGEDIES


Not all things associated with Six Sigma are flawless, however. Some of the unsatisfactory aspects of


Six Sigma are not inherent in Six Sigma itself but in


the way in which Six Sigma is learned or deployed.


Left unchecked, such weaknesses could lead to the


undoing of Six Sigma in the long run. Opinions could


differ, but the accounts given below are based on


what has been observed in industry. Tragedy No. 1


The belief that Six Sigma (as typical Black Belts


know it) is universally applicable: This is related to


the growing extension of Six Sigma applications,


especially to nonmanufacturing systems. Unfortunately, this is where the Achilles? heel of the common


Six Sigma ??body of knowledge?? exhibits itself?even


though the training of Six Sigma workers has been a


frequent subject of discussion; see Hoerl (2001), for


example. Many run-of-the-mill Black Belts are ignorant of, for example, queuing theory, methods for


discrete observations, as well as the nature of ordinal


scales or correlated observations commonly found in


service systems. Many of them would take on service


quality projects with the idea that they have already


been well prepared by the standard Black Belt


training program.


In principle, it is commendable for a quality professional to try to push the boundaries of Six Sigma


applications. However, Black Belts using conventional Six Sigma procedures on service systems could


end up with results that could not stand up to serious


scrutiny of a good statistician. The problem could


be compounded in some situations where


302 recommendations cannot be tested or demonstrated


because the system in question has already changed


in characteristics or boundaries over the project


duration. The tragedy is doubled if the Black Belts


are not even aware of their own inadequacy or


limitations and, instead, brandish to management


or customers the outcomes of half-baked studies. Tragedy No. 2


Obsession with personal attainments: As in many


other situations, the means could gradually and


unwittingly become the end. Witness the myriad


of overprized (or, interestingly in some cases,


discounted) commercial Black Belt or Green Belt


training programs that promise ??certification?? at the


end. It seems forgotten that customers? benefits,


and ultimately an organization?s business interests,


were the very motivation for Six Sigma originally.


This is where some CTQ ought to be defined: is Six


Sigma meant to benefit an organization?s customers


or a certification project owner?


Because Six Sigma calls for a hierarchy of professionals with a differentiation in levels of expertise


and responsibilities, designation by different colors


of ??belts?? is useful. However, most advertisements


today for Six Sigma training and many potential


takers seem to treat certification to a belt of a certain


color to be the sole objective; the brutal fact is that


classes are nowadays offered with individuals?


improved re´sume´s as the unabashed motivation,


rather than any customer?s improved satisfaction or


any organization?s improved bottom line. A practice


has already been observed that presents ??BB?? or


??MBB?? in a re´sume´ as it were a professional degree,


rather than a role within Six Sigma implementation. Tragedy No. 3


The idea that professional statisticians are no


longer needed: The main feature that contributes to


the triumphs of Six Sigma could become an inhibitor


of further successes. Many Six Sigma workers, particularly freshly minted Black Belts, tend to have the


idea, albeit an implicit one, that the tools entailed


in DMAIC are both necessary and sufficient for problem solving in the real world. (Tragedy No. 1 thus


comes to mind again). The certification process, if


anything, helps foster this misconception because it


303 implies that an individual is now ??fit?? to handle Six


Sigma implementation; in reality, all it means is that


the person has satisfied certain requirements prescribed by anything from an established organization


such as ASQ to a fee-grabbing consulting outfit with


unknown track record.


Admittedly, some enlightened trainers and their


learners are aware of the ocean of knowledge and


tools left untouched during the standard Six Sigma


training: a well-designed training program would


use the Pareto principle to emphasize to the trainees


that what is covered, the vital 20%, is actually not


always needed, whereas the rest, 80% of other tools


not in the DMAIC syllabus, are not really all ??trivial??


and occasionally have to be called for?for that, help


from professional statisticians would certainly be


needed. For a fuller discussion, see, for example,


Hahn and Hoerl (1998). Tragedy No. 4


Irresponsible hype of Six Sigma: Many, especially


managers, are attracted by easy benefits casually promised by Six Sigma promoters, many of whom nowadays could be entirely commercially motivated. For


example, it remains to be proven whether seductive


statements such as this are scientifically supported:


??As much as $175,000=project and $1 million=yr=


Black Belt?? (Harry 1998; interestingly, one may note


the inconsistency between this promise and the


statement quoted in the Introduction section of


this article). It is real, though, that exorbitant


amounts tend to be quoted by many commercial


training-cum-certification offerings. Other ??motivators?? include descriptions, accompanied by data


and graphs, of enviable rises in stock prices that only


??Six Sigma companies?? would enjoy, though the fact


was that during the early 1990s, there was a general


rise in stock prices in the United States, and practically all prices dipped toward the end of 2008,


Six Sigma or no Six Sigma! There actually was a


formal study on this subject some time ago (Goh


et al. 2003).


Because the likes of General Electric are invariably


held up as models for Six Sigma implementation, for


example, Snee and Hoerl (2003), the practice begs


the question as to whether only organizations with


the scale and operations of General Electric would


benefit from Six Sigma deployment. The upshot is


Six Triumphs and Six Tragedies of Six Sigma likely to be either (a) smaller organizations believe


that Six Sigma is not appropriate for them, therefore


ignoring it; or (b) such organizations are disillusioned when the fancied extraordinary profits turned


out to be ??too good to be true?? and do not materialize?after hefty fees have been paid out and no one


is answerable for the ??failure?? of Six Sigma. If this is


not a tragedy, one wonders what is. A bigoted ??In Data We Trust?? mentality: Precisely


because Six Sigma is data driven, sometimes a practitioner could go overboard with ??statistical evidence.?? Thus, arguments could be advanced in


favor of a course of action on the strength of some


p-value generated by some computer software,


rather than considered opinions based on the experience or insights of business leaders. This is particularly seen in projects presented for certification


purposes: one could get the impression that the


world is ruled by outputs from MINITAB (or such


like), because once some p-value falls within a certain range and the residual checks look passable,


all would seem to live happily ever after. This is


not to say, of course, that different attitudes cannot


be found; a good Six Sigma training program would


produce professionals who are masters, rather than


slaves, of statistical tools and software packages.


In fact, the ??slave?? mentality in Six Sigma is exemplified by a practitioner?s confidence and ability in


handling merely quantitative information. Some


would make a mountain out of a molehill, using data


of dubious quality or data from some poorly constructed or responded survey. Not a few would be


at a loss when encountered with a CTQ that is obviously non-numeric. A quote would suffice to


describe the syndrome and its consequence: ??To


many it will always seem better to have measurable


progress toward the wrong goals than unmeasurable


progress toward the right ones?? (Galbraith 1978).


Apparently the tragedy is not confined to the world


of economists. those wearing ??Belts?? of whatever color in Six Sigma


are expected to conform to the DMAIC straitjacket.


??Quick results?? and ??tangible savings?? are sometimes


engineered to reflect the success of a project?


especially by those associated with the unguaranteed


profit promises, as pointed out previously. This is not


necessarily consistent with customer satisfaction or


business competitiveness, because suboptimization


and short-term benefits could be mistaken as fundamental improvements. Even adherence to, say, the


3.4 dpmo benchmark is not always logical; it could


actually go against customer satisfaction, as pointed


out elsewhere (Conti et al. 2003). A parable on suboptimization can be drawn from a scene in the movie


Titanic, in which one could certainly applaud the


exquisite music performed with seamless teamwork


by the quartet, oblivious of the fact that the ship


was slowly sinking! (In the same vein, one could


ask: would it make sense to throw in Six Sigma manpower to improve the productivity of a mechanical


typewriter assembly line?)


There is one further point that is no less important.


One expectation of Six Sigma is the development of


Black Belts into business leaders of the future. Leaving aside the rigidity of DMAIC (during the


certification-based training anyway), it is clear that


nothing in Six Sigma prepares a Black Belt for technology changes or breakthroughs, technology substitution, lifestyle evolution, or cultural differences.


Furthermore, human attributes that relate to successes are hardly ingredients found in DMAIC:


imagination, vision, passion, insight, judgment, creativity, curiosity, perseverance, just to name a few?


though this is not to imply that none of these has


been seen in actual Six Sigma endeavors. The spirit


of innovation, synergy, breakthrough, and entrepreneurship, for example, could prove to be the prime


mover of an organization, not the behavior of many


a Six Sigma certification seeker. So the point is, it


would be tragic indeed if carefully chosen and


nurtured Black Blacks fail to realize their potential


precisely because of what is lacking in Six Sigma


itself. Tragedy No. 6 CONCLUDING REMARKS Ignorance or neglect of what is important beyond


DMAIC: Six Sigma as commonly practiced is


technology-blind and...


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