How is Six Sigma Implemented?

Many students begin their study of Six Sigma with the idea in mind that an organization must implement Six Sigma in an “all or nothing” fashion.  While that is one possible approach, it is certainly not the only one.

In their book What is Six Sigma? authors Pete Pande and Larry Holpp suggest three possible approaches to implementation.  They refer to the three approaches as business transformation, strategic improvement and problem solving.
Business transformation is a full scale, enterprise wide initiative and is most appropriate for those organizations that need a dramatic change.  The need for such a change may be driven by factors such as market conditions, the competition, large monetary losses, or obvious miss-management and waste.  Such an approach would typically include enterprise wide communication, extensive training, a focus on large and important business processes, and stretch goals that challenge employees and force them into new ways of thinking and operating.  It is the most ambitious and resource-intensive of the three approaches.
Strategic improvements are focused on one or two key areas of the business and/or on one or two critical business needs.  This approach is not as extensive as business transformation and could be viewed as the “middle of the road” approach.  A company with limited resources might choose the strategic improvement approach.  Or, an organization may wish to prove the use of Six Sigma in a pilot location or department before expanding its efforts.  Organizations that realize early successes by picking the right strategic areas to focus on will often move on to large scale business transformation.
Problem solving targets chronic problems that the organization has not been able to solve by other means – the “hardy perennials” that cause ongoing cost and customer satisfaction issues.  It is the most conservative of the three approaches and focuses mostly on the application of problem solving tools and methods.  An organization that lacks the resolve to tackle business transformation or strategic improvement may choose this approach by using relatively limited resources.  One benefit of the problem solving approach is the realization that using facts and data is a better approach than relying on hunches and emotion.
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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