The Dilution and Pollution of Six Sigma

Dillution of Six Sigma

These days, there are not many high-rollers when it comes to the full-scale deployment of Six Sigma.  While this trend will likely continue for large-scale companies, mid-sized organizations will probably pick up some of the slack.  However, it is doubtful that most small businesses ($100M and less) will ante up to the more classical forms of Six Sigma.

This is especially true for the mountain of “mom-and-pop shops” in the world.  The resource base of small organizations would simply be crushed by the astounding weight of classical Sigma.  Hence, the recent industry-wide trend to whittle Six Sigma into a few toothpicks and then couch that selection of tools under the umbrella of “Continuous Improvement.”

Unfortunately, attempts to down-scale, dilute or otherwise shrink the classical form of Six Sigma has met with very limited success, where success is defined as a significant and verifiable movement in the needle of business.  Perhaps such efforts continue because so many of the younger, less experienced Six Sigma consultancies lack the leadership backbone to tell their prospective clients what they really need, often because whats needed is not in their showcase of standard offerings.

Most likely, they are afraid of losing a potential client, so they adopt a “sell them whatever they want and we’ll make it happen” kind of business philosophy.  As one might expect, virtually every prospective client wants to realize big benefits at a greatly reduced cost; and delivered in a fraction of the time.

Sadly, such programs are often hyped as innovative interpretations of the original recipe, but in reality, are nothing more than a restricted collection of simple tools, only loosely connected by the DMAIC methodology.  While these programs are long on appeal, they are often woefully short on power.  As a consequence the ROI of Six Sigma projects has diminished over time.  In many cases, the aggregation of cost-avoidance benefits coupled with an array of estimated soft savings defines the client’s idea of what it means to make a business improvement.

Much like a miracle diet, prospective clients are led to believe the consultancy’s reduced-fat brand of Six Sigma will somehow taste better and have greater nutritional value while concurrently delivering quantum improvements.  To make things even worse, the client is encouraged to inject cost-avoidance projects and include soft savings in the tally of total benefits. that are deemed worthy of Black Belt attention by the consultant.

In far too many cases, the diluted training agenda is not revealed in a public forum (like a website).  Access to the agenda can only be gained through a conference call, webinar, or on-site presentation.  Generally speaking, such tactics are employed to mask the true sub-standard nature of their intellectual property, not safeguard the value of its originality, completeness, uniqueness or economic worth.

Other’s simply justify their diluted Six Sigma program on the grounds that it’s less stressful on the client’s organization, faster to implement and easier on the pocketbook when compared to traditional deployments.  Some even insist their weakened programs will produce the same if not better results.  In some instances, such well-intentioned consultants actually come to believe their own promotions.

Essentially, far too many Six Sigma consultancies tell their respective clients what they want to hear, not what they need to know.  For the client, this unscrupulous but survival oriented consulting strategy sometimes translates to the purchase of a poor curriculum that’s linked to a low-grade online learning system.  Even worse, the deception is sometimes driven by emotion-centric advertising such as “Get Your Black Belt Certification in Just 10 Days by Enrolling in Our Six Sigma Email Correspondence Course – 100% Pass Rate for just $99 – Money Back Guarantee – Corporate Licensing Available.”

Perhaps these so called consultancies are better described as “paper mills” that operate on the periphery of industry’s radar screen.  They fly low and fast and often fail to grasp the defining differences between a good capitalist and an opportunist predator.  Usually, their sales practices are built around the Darwinist philosophy of ensuring short-term subsistence, which often entails publishing false and misleading sales collateral, as well as the public bashing of branded, well respected Six Sigma consultants and businesses.  In their mind, the means justifies the end in an economic climate of eat or be eaten.

Essentially, they are much like intellectual prostitutes roaming the Six Sigma marketplace looking for their next customer. Their boardwalk enticements quickly fade once the transaction has been consummated.  They prospect for naïve individuals and unwitting organizations that are attracted to glitzy promotions touting quick fixes and simple solutions using short-cycle low cost training.

Thus, they are able to leverage an organization’s blinding drive for short-term profits. They are not looking to develop a long-term relationship that breeds mutual success, only a short-term arrangement with no commitments.  Worse yet, they know there is no “vice squad” to move them off the street.  So, they take the mindset that: “We have the same right to be here as you.  You can say what you believe and so can we.”

The well established and proven Six Sigma consultants know that many of the newcomers to Six Sigma are vulnerable to such tactics, especially during the period of self-directed due diligence.  Sadly, too many of the newer consultancies rely on deception to gain a foothold in the marketplace.  They knowingly and cleverly provide fabricated, tainted or distorted information.  Their brand of the truth is often created by the omission and commission of information.

Straight up, their goal is to lull a prospective client into a false sense of security by omitting or reshaping key pieces of decision-centric information and data.  Historically, this has been the exception and not the rule; however, in recent times, such professional transgressions seem to be on the upswing, especially as Lean Six Sigma practices becomes melded into other disciplines.  As one might suspect, a sluggish economy is likely to be the motivating force behind the increased usage of such practices.

The faithful promises of shady Six Sigma consultancies are many and their fruits are few.  Thus, individuals and organizations are misguided into a business relationship they often latter regret.  This is not unique to the field of Six Sigma; however, as an industry, we should look to these other fields and benchmark what they have done to reduce the incidence of bad practice.

Getting good data to achieve this aim can be difficult, to say the least.  After all, no one likes admitting they were sucked into a marketing vortex of deceit and manipulation.  Consequently, those that fall prey to such consultancies tend to remain silent and lay blame at the doorstep of Six Sigma; and do so in an effort to rationalize their failure and belay criticism.

For some time, the literature has been studded with corporate stories that testify to the failure of Six Sigma.  The earmark of such testimony is best characterized by the theme: “We tried it, but it didn’t work; therefore, it’s bad.”  Here again, this trend seems to be continuing, but is somewhat balanced by the uncoordinated efforts of the Six Sigma community.

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About Mikel Harry

Dr. Harry has been widely recognized in many of today's notable publications as the Co-Creator of Six Sigma and the world's leading authority within this field. His book entitled Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World’s Top Corporations has been on the best seller list of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Week, and He has been a consultant to many of the world’s top senior executives, such as Jack Welch, former CEO and Chairman of General Electric Corporation. Dr. Harry has also been a featured guest on popular television programs, such as the premier NBC show "Power Lunch." He is often quoted in newspapers like USA Today and interviewed by the media, such as The Economic Times. In addition, Dr. Harry has received many distinguished awards in recognition of his contributions to industry and society. At the present time, Dr. Harry is Chairman of the Six Sigma Management Institute and CEO of The Great Discovery, LLC.
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One Response to The Dilution and Pollution of Six Sigma

  1. Pingback: Green Economy: Business Transformation and Process Improvement | Lean Six Sigma for the Blue Economy

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