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Six Sigma: Is It Just A Fad?

Aug 17, 2007
Fads have inevitably entered the business scene, but have vanished into oblivion even before they could make their mark. Some of them, even while having materialistic approaches and huge initial support, could survive no longer than a year. The list may be endless, but the recent ones and those that still linger on include: sensitivity training, quality circles, e-business, self-managed teams and a host of others. But is there a relevance of this debate regarding Six Sigma? Does it mean that the time for Six Sigma's exit from the scene is near? Experts and those who are thoroughly trained are not blinking an eye in support of Six Sigma, but there is always another side to the story.

This article attempts to provide a pragmatic account of the relevance of Six Sigma to business processes today.

Arguments Against Six Sigma

Editor Scott M. Paton of Quality Digest, talks about Six Sigma when writing on ISO 9001:2000. He writes in agreement that Six Sigma is a fad, "Six Sigma. The latest management fad has so captivated corporate America that there's little time to devote to lowly standards compliance." He suggests that it may not live much longer, citing its grandiose and lofty ideals. He alleges that 'it is not serious enough to get the real work done.'

Another detractor, an author and COO at Spectra Logic Corporation in Boulder, Colorado, Scott Dalgeish, is more vocal in his disagreement of Six Sigma. His argument is that Six Sigma is a repackaged quality tool like many that have come and gone. He believes firmly and expresses openly that he believes that Six Sigma has been detrimental to businesses including his profession.

The main arguments given in support that Six Sigma is a fad are two:

1. The relationship which ASQ is entered into was with a single consultant, when they launched Six Sigma

2. Some terminologies are owned and trademarked by certain companies.

It needs to be said that these types of criticisms of Six Sigma are mostly made by those people and companies that are more resistant to change of any kind. More realistically, the quality improvements that are made and that have been documented through the use of Six Sigma statistical tools cannot be refuted.

Arguments In Favor Of Six Sigma

The foundation of this more practical side of the argument lies on the premise that the principles of economy have not died but carried through even when much is made out of the "new economy". The notion that with every change one needs to learn everything afresh and shift priorities to suit the new principles grossly damages productivity and resources. One must keep in mind the huge investments made in technology in the 1990s, and the 'snail paced' recovery of the stock market and business overall.

Quality lives in the hands of people who are empathetic of the advantages of Six Sigma and not with those whose attitudes compel them to decry Six Sigma just because it shares commonality with earlier statistical quality tools. Six Sigma invigorated quality by transforming bottom lines positively, company after company. Some of the cynical views against Six Sigma appear to have been triggered by companies that have looked at quality in theory, and not based on results.

Companies are talking of quality, more and more, because Six Sigma, whose tools were created and perfected over nearly a century, has electrified the business environment and customers, which are the ultimate benefactors of its results.
About the Author
Tony Jacowski is a quality analyst for The MBA Journal. Aveta Solution's Six Sigma Online offers online six sigma training and certification classes for lean six sigma, black belts, green belts, and yellow belts.
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