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Six Sigma is about More Than Just Number Crunching

Top executives who know only that Six Sigma is famous and popular have called for the implementation of Six Sigma programs, and, of course, want to see numbers. They may become very enamored with the copious numbers that Six Sigma produces. Unfortunately, they may not want to see more than just a series of reports and may not understand that Six Sigma is about so much more than crunching numbers and generating reports.

Certainly, Six Sigma is about number crunching. In Six Sigma, first you define your problem and your project, and then you measure your process from start to finish. Six Sigma produces a flood of data about your process. These measurements are critical to your success. If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Through those measurements and all of that data, you begin to understand your process and develop methodologies to identify and implement the right solutions to improve your process. Six Sigma’s clear strength is a data-driven analysis and decision-making process—not someone’s opinion or gut feeling.

However, those who know Six Sigma have learned enough to be wary of excessive “number crunching” that does not lead to performance improvement. It is not the measurements or the reports that create solutions; it is the Six Sigma team itself. Once a problem’s root causes are determined in the analysis phase of a Six Sigma project, the team works together to find creative new improvement solutions. The data is used and relied upon—it is the measurements of the realities you face! Yet it is smart measurement and smart analysis of the data—and above all the smart creation of new improvement solutions and their implementation—that create real change.

Six Sigma is more than a data-capturing, number-crunching process. It is a philosophy and a methodology; it is a way of looking at business and a way of doing business processes. Six Sigma provides a structured data-driven methodology with tools and techniques by application of which companies can measure the baseline performance of their processes and determine the root causes of variations, as well as improve their processes to meet and exceed the desired performance levels. Six Sigma is a technique to introduce controlled thinking into a continuous change management method. It is a desire to constantly improve a product or service offered.

The value of statistical analysis cannot be underestimated. How can an organization improve if it does not have an established baseline? How can an organization determine if it has made progress if there is no data to indicate improvement? Measurement of activity (lead times, cycle times, failure rates, downtimes, etc.) is very important. Using these measurements to understand the variability in your processes is substantially better than the ad hoc it-doesn’t-feel-right approach. However, without thorough knowledge and skills of how to use statistics in a business environment, all of the number crunching in the world won’t create real change. Ultimately, business process improvement is achieved through the acquisition of knowledge. Since knowledge is a commodity that people acquire, organizations must recognize their people as their most valued assets. Well-trained people gather the knowledge that leads to quality improvement. Through the effective deployment of Six Sigma, the utilization of people can improve process performance, affect product and service quality, positively influence customer satisfaction, and ensure long-term business success.

Yes, you do have to know statistics well, but you also need to know the business needs of your organization to make Six Sigma a success. Six Sigma is a big job that encompasses the entire organization; it isn’t just a set of mathematical tools or a separate function done by bean counters. Properly envisioned as a philosophy of quality improvement, Six Sigma helps everyone in the organization become more efficient and productive.

Author: Peter Peterka Google

Published 09/1/2008

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