What Six Sigma is Not

Most introductory courses in Six Sigma talk a lot about what Six Sigma is.  In our Green Belt course I also include a discussion about what Six Sigma is not.  I feel that this discussion is equally important when one is trying to understand the Six Sigma approach to problem solving and continuous improvement.
The tools and techniques in Six Sigma are not new, but rather have been evolving for over 100 years.  For example, Vilfredo Pareto developed the Pareto principle beginning in 1906.  Sir Ronald Fisher began developing what we now know as Design of Experiments in 1919.  Walter Shewhart set down the basic principles for control charts in 1924.  There were many other significant contributors to the quality movement throughout the 20th century including Dr. W. Edwards Deming (Theory of Management, System of Profound Knowledge), Dr. Joseph Juran (Quality Trilogy – Planning, Improvement, Control), Kaoru Ishikawa (cause and effect diagram, quality circles), Gen’ichi Taguchi (robust design), Phillip Crosby (cost of quality, zero defect mindset), Dorian Shainin (simple, cost effective problem solving methods), and numerous others.
Six Sigma is not trial and error, and decisions are not made based on opinions or emotion.  Rather, decisions are made based on facts and data.  This puts a premium on careful measurement and data collection to make sure that the facts and data are complete, accurate and reliable.
Six Sigma is not the only way to improve, and is not in conflict with other approaches such as lean, Theory of Constraints, the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence and the Shingo Prize Assessment Criteria.  There is often a great deal of synergy when Six Sigma is blended with other approaches, especially with lean.
Six Sigma is not a get rich quick scheme.  Organizations must embrace Six Sigma as a long term approach that will help them improve gradually over time.
Six Sigma is not just about tools and statistics.  It is equally important to build a supporting infrastructure of trained and experienced people who have the necessary leadership and change management skills to implement the use of the tools and statistics.  In my consulting experience it has often been 10% figuring out what an organization needs to do to improve and 90% getting people to do it.
Six Sigma is not just focused on improving quality.  It has a much broader business focus on improving customer satisfaction, reducing cost of operations, and improving profitability.  Quality improvement is a means to these ends.
Six Sigma is not just for manufacturing.  It has been widely applied to all types of organizations including health care, financial services, government, the military, retailing, sales and marketing, information systems and many others.
Six Sigma is not a theoretical approach – it is practical, pragmatic and action oriented.
Your comments or questions about this article are welcome, as are suggestions for future articles.  Feel free to contact me by email at oger@keyperformance.com.
About the author:  Mr. Roger C. Ellis is an industrial engineer by training and profession.  He is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt with over 45 years of business experience in a wide range of fields.  Mr. Ellis develops and instructs Six Sigma professional certification courses for Key Performance LLC.   For a more detailed biography, please refer to www.keyperformance.com.