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Frank Patrick's Focused Performance Business Blog
This Focused Performance Weblog started life as a "business management blog" containing links and commentary related primarily to organizational effectiveness with a "Theory of Constraints" perspective, but is in the process of evolving towards primary content on interactive and mobile marketing. Think of it as about Focusing marketing messages for enhanced Performance. If you are on an archive page, current postings are found here.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Questioning Six Sigma -- s.norrie points to (and quotes from substantially, without additional comment) this column in Quality Magazine that questions the way that Six Sigma is promoted and used...
"Quality trends du juor are part of American business culture. Quality circles, total quality management (TQM), ISO, QS, Baldrige and now Six Sigma, have all had their day as the quality solution. Employees are tired of this year's solution. When quality programs constantly change, it is difficult to develop a quality system that can show significant results -- and without significant results, management loses support from employees. This is the case with Six Sigma, as with all previous repackaged quality programs."
I've written several times about quality improvement systems like TQM and Six Sigma and the disappointment that often accompanies them. I've also written about how, with appropriate focus -- focus that can be provided by a straightforward awareness and management of constraints. The tools provided by these systems can be used to leverage improvement on a global, bottom-line scale rather than be limited to the usual "local" applications of them. I worry that project selection -- "what to change" -- is not sufficiently approached with due consideration before unleashing such efforts. The primary failure of these systems is their "marketing success" and the resultant roll-out of the approaches across the organizational value chain, where they are wasted on strengthening already strong links of those chains. Any bottom-line impact comes only from those efforts that address the weak links.

Quality-based systems like TQM and Six Sigma, are, by the nature of their source, data-driven, and the statisical tools that they bring to the table are powerful when applied to situations in which answers can be found in the numbers. However, most of the real issues holding back organizations are not found in the numbers that describe the outcome of their processes, but in the erroneous assumptions, paradigms, and metrics that drive undesirable or ineffective behaviors. That requires a different tool-set based in systems thinking, constraint management, and a willingness to really dig into why, why, why, why, why the real problem -- and the real potential for improvement -- in many organizations is not going to be found on the shop floor but in the executive suite. Unless and until top management practices and beliefs are addressed with the vigor that goes into little quality and cost-cutting exercises, the revolving door of "programs du jour" will continue.

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