Today, business environments demand that solutions not only resolve specific problems but also that they be replicable in other scenarios and yield the same results. Developed by Bill Smith for Motorola in 1986 to reduce error margins in production, Six Sigma practices have been adopted by industries and professionals as a standard of excellence (Keller, 2004). Though the primary motivation for adopting Six Sigma is in the improving the efficiency of processes and cost reduction, Winkler (2007) points out that it can significantly improve the professional and technical effectiveness in an organization. However, Dusharme’s (2001) that there is also a need to evaluate managers’ Six Sigma experience. His survey indicates that Six Sigma practices have made the most significant impact on manufacturing and technical operations but did not have the same level of impact on improving on satisfaction ratings.
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As a manager in an electronics company, the realization that business solutions, however sound or proven they are, can not be simply accepted or expected to have the same results in every organization. Gale’s (2003) assessment of several application of Six Sigma as standards for projects and organizations indicates that the core of effective results is greatly dependent not so much as in applying the principles but adapting what aspects of it are used. The objective of this paper is to assess the significance of Six Sigma practices to my experience as a manager and how this experience can be evaluated with Six Sigma practices and results in other industries. In doing so, the study will support the identification of key factors to be considered in the development of Six Sigma frameworks, identification of projects were the principals can be applied and how to determine the rate of success of applying Six Sigma practices.
According to Harry and Schroeder (2002), one of the first introductions any manager gets about Six Sigma has been through the Motorola experience, thus, the positivist reactions to the practices. There is an assumption that Six Sigma practices will improve operations, particularly production, across the board, an almost simplistic view on the practices. In hindsight, my interest in Six Sigma was focused on the results that have been accomplished by Motorola Honeywell International and General Electric to name a few rather than to the results it will bring to my own organization. Though, there is no doubt that Six Sigma results are replicable, little did I understand that the degree of inpidualization of operations or Six Sigma applications needed to create the same results.
My involvement with Six Sigma process involved the definition of roles and responsibilities, project charters, project selection, DMAIC processes and the pareto selection method. My participation was part of my administrative functions in the company and involved primarily needs identification, definitions of frameworks and parameters and manpower education. To facilitate the implementation of Six Sigma practices, mandatory orientation and education programs were required of middle to upper management officers. At the same time, focus group discussions were organized to survey how Six Sigma can be adopted by the organization. I attended all of the mandatory orientations and participated in two of focus group discussions as liaison for quality standards.
The orientations lasted for six weeks which were then followed by focus group discussions that lasted for eight weeks. After four weeks, an operational and management plan was presented for evaluation and comments. The report was accomplished by a selected to team of the company’s managers working with an independent company of consultants. The initial phase focused on logistics and delivery and was slated for a two-week test run to follow an evaluation by managers. Upon determination of the requirements that will be needed for full implementation, the framework was then adopted by the manufacturing department.
One of the first I realized was that Six Sigma is not just about improving practices or accomplishing desired outcomes: it is also about admitting existing deficiencies in operations, practices and personnel that have been preventing the accomplishment of the goals. At the same time, I noticed that the definition of these factors differs from each inpidual which in turn challenges the development of collaborative perspectives about what has to be done. For example, if one is to focus on production, then yield is the ultimately goal but other perspectives are just as important. From a financial standpoint, cost is the primary concern while operations focus on production turnover. Regardless of the focus of the concerns, they all have an impact on the company and the effectiveness of Six Sigma processes.
Another observation that I made was that there is still a need to further knowledge regarding Six Sigma processes and methodologies. This entails not only educating one’s self on practices within one’s own industry but also the application of Six Sigma principles in other industries and fields of interest like health or services. When I implemented the Six Sigma frameworks to my department, I personally realized the need to create collaborative platforms to evaluate the impact of the frameworks amongst staff and managers. Consequently, I also was surprised at the level of insight that could be developed and it occurred to me that Six Sigma is not just about accomplishing production or operational goals. More importantly, I discovered that it had the potential of revolutionizing the organization as a whole as well as inpidually, professionally and personally.
My experience shows the tendency of people to want to adapt to trends without first understanding the requirements or implications of doing so. In the case of Six Sigma, there is no denying it its value as a management practice but there should also be realization that like any other strategy, it entails research and study before any application can be made effective (Kang et al, 2005). The core objective of the practice, reducing output and process variance, development of measurable business processes and sustaining improvement and development are not unique to Six Sigma. These objectives are common to all strategic management practices such total quality management (TQM) and lean production (Heuring, 2004). What ultimately Six Sigma does, I realized, is to bring down these objectives into a concise model, such as in the use of process capability studies, the organization’s operational and performance objectives.
Keller (2004) reasons that Six Sigma is not a management a “cure-all” but is a means of building the competencies to identify what needs “curing”, how it can be done and how the effectiveness of such efforts can be measured. Similarly, Dusharme (2001) advocates that there is a need for managers to continue their education regarding Six Sigma or to bring Six Sigma into the organization’s culture instead of simply using it on a case to case basis. To my understanding, this means that there is a need to translate the conceptual foundations of Six Sigma into all management practices: Six Sigma is not to be just management practice, but should be its philosophy.
At the same time, there should also be a realization of critiques and limitations to Six Sigma. Based on the survey done by Morris (2006) on companies using Six Sigma processes, Six Sigma principles allow limit the ability to respond with agility in changes to markets particularly in the entry of new product and substitutes. This king of weakness can prove to be fatal as most markets are aiming for liberalization or globalization. The realization is that as much as Six Sigma principles can improve effectiveness or capacity, it can not ensure competitiveness or profitability (Keller, 2004).
To validate management principles, one strategy is to use it outside the original settings that it has been developed. In the case of Six Sigma, this is to bring it outside of the electronics manufacturing industry. Another strategy I believe is to remove from the evaluation outcomes which it can not be used as a determinant. Based on these constraints, I have chosen to evaluate the effectivity of Six Sigma principles in clinical health testing such as in the case of picture archiving and communications system (PACS) used in radiology.
In the study, the main concern is the development of a cost-effective database of radiological images used for clinical studies. At the same time, the database system had to determine, catalogue the quality of images. The researchers developed a cause-effect diagram as basis of the Six Sigma framework to be implemented. Cataloguing the sigma level requirements with resources of each element of the PACS, the research was able to determine what elements were utilizing too much of the system’s resources. The research concluded that because of Six Sigma’s low tolerance for error, the elements that had to undergo retooling were identified effectively and has been instrumental in achieving a level of zero defects in PACS quality and to streamline the system resources and in turn, the cost and requirements of the database (Kang et al, 2005).
I believe that like all management philosophies, principles or assumptions, there is a need to qualify the effectiveness of Six Sigma. This is not to diminish its value but rather to appreciate its real value: it allows for the development of specific solutions to ensure productivity and effectivity of business processes and objectives. Critiques of it need not be confrontational and instead should be made to improve it. I came to see that as much as we accept the changes that evolve in business, markets and organizations, we should also be able to accept that strategies and practices have to evolve as well.
One particular incident has stayed with from the time I was still trying to educate myself about Six Sigma. As I was studying the implementation roles, an associated commented to me that the roles were based on martial arts ranks. It made recall a conversation I had with a karate enthusiast whom I asked about the significance of the belts in his sport. He told me that the belts was not to determine who was better than another but to determine the level of aptitude the student has in applying what he has learned in Karate.
It occurred to me that, many of the basic principles of Six Sigma are not new but rather forgotten or have been lost in the need to communicate strategies and objectives in a “professional” manner. Is it not basic to want our outputs to be of uniform standard and quality? Shouldn’t we have the capacity if what we are doing remains effective? Shouldn’t we have a continuing commitment to improve and develop our business or organization? I believe that one of the real values of Six Sigma is that it has brought us back to the fundamentals of successful management. In conclusion, the experience I had with Six Sigma allowed me to grow as a professional and appreciate the idea of something that was new and novel. And this I am sure is one of the competencies that I will need to stay competitive, sensitive and responsive as a manager and as an inpidual.
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