If Dr. Deming were alive today, would he embrace being a certified Six Sigma Black Belt (or in his case a Master Black Belt)? The answer to this question is impossible to know for certain. However, there are several clues in his teachings that could help shape opinions on what the answer might be.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming was first and foremost a statistician. His degree was in electrical engineering and he eventually became a professor of statistics at NYU. He used his understanding of mathematics to develop sampling techniques that allow for accurate predictions of a whole based on the results of a few. In the late 1940s, he was asked by the U.S. government to help out with a census of the Japanese population. While there, he introduced the Japanese industrial executives to various quality improvement tools (such as statistical process control) and leadership techniques (His 14 Principles of Management and 7 Deadly Diseases). This, of course, led to the successful turnaround of many Japanese companies.

Why Dr. Deming might not have supported being a Six Sigma Black Belt

From Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s 7 Deadly Diseases of Management:  Emphasis on short-term profits: short-term thinking fed by fear of unfriendly takeovers and pushed from bankers and owners for dividends.

When one hears the term “Black Belt,” images of expert martial artists comes to mind; an elite group of people who have worked hard to master their craft. One of the mistakes many in upper management make when it comes to Six Sigma is that they send a handful of their best employees out to get their Black Belts and then think that they have done their part without bothering to try and learn themselves. Once their employees achieve certification, the company executives usually want a quick return on their investment. This can have devastating results as illustrated in the following example (based on an actual project).

Doug silently closed the door to his office, sat down behind his desk and reexamined the chart on his computer screen. “What have I done?!?” he thought as he closed his eyes to try and figure out what to do next.

Three months earlier, Doug was elated when he received his Six Sigma Black Belt certification. He had gone to several training sessions and completed a simple, yet impactful project in order to achieve this career goal.

“Congratulations Doug,” his manager told him when he returned. “Now, we need to put your new knowledge to work so you can help us achieve our objectives. I want you to take a look at our order entry process. One of our leading customer complaints is that it takes an excessive amount of time to place an order over the phone.”

Doug set out to demonstrate to his boss that the tools and methodology he learned would prove to be beneficial. He formed a team of several order entry operators and began using the DMAIC methodology to help figure out what was causing the excessive order entry times. Once some data were collected, he put together the following chart showing the amount of time it took to enter an order.

 “Wow!” said Doug at one of their meetings. “It looks like our customers spend an average of 14 minutes on the phone to get an order placed. But look at the range. It could take as little as four minutes but could take as long as 24 minutes. This seems excessive.”

“That does not surprise me,” said one of the order takers. “Our computer systems are extremely slow, especially when we are dealing with a high volume of calls.”

“Yeah,” said another. “It gets so bad sometimes that I find it easier to look up the part numbers in our catalogues. This can take quite a long time, especially on complex orders. We tried a while back to add more operators, but that just slowed the system down even more.”

After several weeks of meetings and analysis, the team exhausted all avenues with the exception of the most obvious solution: upgrading the computer systems to speed up the processing times.

Doug presented all of the data, analytical work and recommendation to the company leaders.