Six Sigma experts agree on many of the critical factors for successfully implementing Six Sigma and the pitfalls that can lead to its failure:
Leadership: Initiatives such as Six Sigma require active and visible support from senior management. "As a leader, you have to put some of your skin in the game," says Hector Arcaya, director of the business process analytics team at consulting firm Point B. He says successful deployment requires resources and political capital, and that means support from the C-suite or from the head of a specific function who takes ownership of it.
Senior managers must communicate to employees that the purpose of the Six Sigma projects is to make the company more efficient and competitive not to reduce their numbers, says George Haley, a business professor at the University of New Haven.
Strategic Alignment: "We try to pick projects that will have the greatest impact on the business," notes Ellie Kemp, a Master Black Belt at machine tool manufacturer MAG G&L. No matter the size of a company, she points out, it needs to improve, and Six Sigma offers a proven process for continuous improvement. "If you follow the recipe and get the data, the data will tell you what to do."
The Right Personnel: "I tell Green Belts and Blacks Belts that as powerful as Six Sigma is, it doesn't improve anything," says Bob Rome, lean/Six Sigma manager for Miniature Precision Components (MPC), a molder and assembler of plastic components. "People make improvements." He says Black Belts and Green Belts need not only training in the Six Sigma methodology but also team leadership and communication skills so that they can shepherd these collaborative projects.
Measurement: "It is fair to expect business results from Six Sigma," says MPC's Rome. "Otherwise, there is no value being added." In developing projects, leaders state the business problem, outline project objectives, list the benefits and any associated hard savings and state how the savings will be calculated. "All of the savings we track are validated by our finance department," he adds.
In the end, say these experts, no one methodology such as Six Sigma holds the key to business success. "Six Sigma is just one of the tools that businesses should have in their portfolio for managing and executing their business," says Point B's Arcaya. "It is definitely a very useful tool if used appropriately but it is not a panacea."