Six Sigma NOT a Silver Bullet

Shout if from the rooftops! Six Sigma is NOT a Silver Bullet! And now you have research from business advisory firm The Hackett Group to back it up. According to Hackett Senior Business Advisor Penny Weller (who is a Motorola Certified Black Belt), as quoted in a Supply & Demand Chain Executive article, Six Sigma is great, particularly for companies seeking to streamline operations and eliminate variation in processes, but, like any tool, it can be used properly or improperly, to varying results. The goal is to create a continuous improvement mindset that is embraced at all levels of the organization.

I’m not trying to put down Six Sigma, as I’ve been known to promote it on occasion, but simply the stigma that goes with the sigma – that it is the silver bullet, the ultimate solution for all of your business problems. Not only is there no silver bullet for all of your business problems, there is no silver bullet for even one of your business problems. There is no 100% solution. There are solutions that work the vast majority of the time, maybe even more than 99% of the time, but the unpredictable, sometimes chaotic, nature of business indicates that there is no perfect solution, and the only true way to be a market leader is to identify when a solution will and will not work, and where it will not work, identify an alternate solution and keep building toward that perfect solution, knowing that you’ll never truly get there.

The second paragraph of the Supply & Demand Chain Executive article makes a great point. Many executives use Six Sigma or other continuous improvement programs to drive enhancements in finance, information technology (IT), procurement, human resources (HR) and other selling, general and administrative (SG&A) functions. But according to Hackett research, many executives fail to realize the benefits of these initiatives because Six Sigma is, by definition, an incremental process improvement methodology and is not appropriate for situations that require significant transformational change.

If you don’t have the right process to begin with, no amount of improvement will make it right. It all comes down to understanding the problem, identifying the right solution, implementing that solution, and continually striving to make it better. Six Sigma is just one methodology you can use to make it better, there are others.