A SIX SIGMA PRIMER
Coincidentally, only after picking What Is Six Sigma did it occur to me that the book is related to another one I recently put down. In fact, What Is Six Sigma was mentioned and cited in What Is Six Sigma Process Management? By Rowland Hayler and Michael Nichols, which I put down in December. The fact that the books have the same publisher and similar cover designs should have given it away, but either the clues did not register or the power of subconscious is greater than believed!
The book at hand is really for all levels, which appeals to the beginner in me. The material spans from introductory and nuts and bolts to advanced. Most readers would be able to benefit from the contents if not utilize it as a starting point. At less than one-hundred pages, the book is short and does not contain a glossary or index.
“Six Sigma puts the customer first and uses facts and data to drive better solutions,” states page two, while beginning page fourteen the authors – whose credential are both academically and in practice impressive – assert the six themes of Six Sigma to include 1- a genuine focus on the customer, 2- data and fact-driven management, 3- processes are where the action is, 4- proactive management, 5- boundaryless collaboration and 6-drive for perfection; tolerate failure. This last theme insists that companies need to be ready to handle problems and willing to take risks. Theme number five is often promoted outside Six Sigma circles, but rarely given air. Perhaps this formal process could be its saviour? This chapter also insists that while some of the aforelisted might already be on your company’s agenda, this system brings them all together.
From there, the book gets considerably more technical in its mid-section delving into processes, techniques, statistics and analysis. These tools, skills and processes aim to deliver 99.99966% accuracy into the company’s near future. As the book admits, Six Sigma isn’t about incrementalism, yet the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve & Control) cycle is best suited for projects that are “meaningful and manageable” the authors counsel.
The end chapters have advice for members of the Six Sigma working groups, non-members, senior executives (champions and sponsors) and provide the reader with a somewhat limited and cursory set of real-life examples. At one point, the authors get into advocating for Six Sigma beyond describing and defining the system. The promotion takes the form of unconcealed advertising. Given that – that is if the authors choose to go into this space – a more balanced take would have been beneficial. Insisting that anyone disagreeing with Six Sigma is an obstructionist or defensive or that folks involved with Six Sigma are holding a ticket to promotion, while others might be making a career-limiting move (p.75: “Doing so is potentially risky to your long-term employment…”) is dubious and unhelpful at best. These pages take earlier assertions (p.22: “Black Belt-hood as a springboard to … promotions and bonuses.”) to a new level. If the authors have chosen to wade beyond description and definition of the process and into advocacy then a balanced approach is called for. After all, many companies and individuals never get involved in Six Sigma and have turned out well. Nevertheless, What Is Six Sigma is both interesting and beneficial and a good, quick and concise read for those interested in the topic.