All organizations have a need to control and guarantee quality results. Without appropriate methodologies and processes, customer service and product performance will suffer. Six Sigma is a method that made its debut in the 1980s.
However, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 2000s that Six Sigma reached its heyday. Given the age of Six Sigma, many business leaders question its relevance. In the most simplistic terms, Six Sigma can still be relevant today.
Nonetheless, it is more or less the methodology’s fundamental principles that continue to ring true. Organizations need to shake things up a bit within Six Sigma’s implementation, so is six sigma still relevant?
Let’s find out the answer.
The Basics of Six Sigma
Six Sigma operates on five separate but interrelated principles. Here’s an overview.
- Customer focus
- Measuring value streams and identifying problems
- Eliminate unnecessary processes
- Encouraging the participation of all stakeholders
- Introducing an ecosystem that’s flexible and responsive.
The principle of customer focus concentrates on end users’ expectations and building solutions to meet those demands. It may sound intuitive or basic, but it’s easy to overlook proper customer expectations. Decision-makers may mistake their preferences for what customers want.
Measuring value streams and identifying problems is about determining all the possible things that could go wrong. Removing unnecessary processes involves eliminating extra steps that delay production or results.
Encouraging stakeholder participation is about getting everyone involved that needs to be. Finally, introducing a flexible and responsive ecosystem involves eliminating waste so an organization can remain agile and ready to respond to change.
What Remains Relevant
There’s little doubt that Six Sigma can help organizations fine-tune inefficient processes, and definitely adds credence to the question we are asking, is six sigma still relevant? The Six Sigma principles of quality control and assurance programs target process deviations and variances. Six Sigma also leverages data and data points to provide greater understanding.
Essentially, leaders can use data to discover variations and deviations. They then know what processes to target for improvement and can begin designing strategies. Just because a process looks good on paper doesn’t mean it’s consistently implemented well.
This is where Six Sigma’s data-driven approach shines. The methodology provides real-time and historical data for decision-makers. It helps businesses standardize processes and ensure consistency. Even more so, Six Sigma’s data points enable continuous improvement.
Six Sigma’s Data-Driven Approach
When it comes to our question at hand, “is six sigma still relevant”, it’s worth speaking more about how data drives the overall model approach.
Six Sigma’s data-driven approach covers the following activities:
- Define: determine the business problem, available resources, timeline, and scope.
- Measure: collect the data needed to measure metrics and reveal insights.
- Analyze: isolate and test probable causes and determine the core reasons for problems.
- Improve: discuss potential solutions and implement the most viable ones.
- Control: discuss results and determine if additional tweaks or solutions are needed.
While this is the most common approach organizations use under Six Sigma, there is a slight variation. Its steps include define, measure, and analyze. However, the final two steps are called design and validate instead.
The latter approach is preferred if an organization’s existing processes fall short of customers’ expectations or when new techniques are necessary. This includes previously optimized or tweaked processes that are still below par in the customers’ eyes.
Design helps employees innovate and validate determines if it was the right decision. The design step ensures that something brand new is brought into the organization. It can be more challenging to break down existing processes and put something new in their place.
Potential Changes to Six Sigma
Traditionally, Six Sigma concentrates on measuring changes in numbers and quantitative results. This may translate to the physical outputs, the number of employees that receive cross-training, and revenue increases.
However, as the business landscape changes, Six Sigma is being adapted to measure more qualitative results. These include the customer experience and value gained, employee engagement and satisfaction levels, and sustainability.
Now, that doesn’t mean that some of these attributes can’t be quantified. Nonetheless, these are results that are usually tied to perceptions and emotions. They might even be thoughts or impressions of the organization itself, such as brand associations and values.
Organizations are also shifting learning under Six Sigma to include processes that reflect the modern environment and its expectations. Some examples are self-directed and hands-on learning, on-demand coaching, and standardized templates and tools.
Around 53% of Fortune 500 companies are still using Six Sigma. When Fortune 100 firms are thrown into the mix, the percentage rises to 82%. These statistics demonstrate the continued relevancy of Six Sigma. Business leaders believe the method still carries value.
So is six sigma still relevant, yeah, I’d say for sure it is.
Six Sigma will likely continue to remain relevant, at least in terms of its basic principles and data-driven approaches. That’s because an increasingly demanding and competitive environment means that customers’ expectations must drive companies’ actions.
That said, there are some additional considerations and tweaks for businesses. It’s not enough to have efficient internal processes. They must match clients’ demands, be standardized, and continuously work on. Six Sigma is a method that addresses these core realities.
A sole focus on the numbers won’t cut it in the evolving business world. Organizations should modify Six Sigma to include qualitative or non-numerical data points and measurements. This practice will help carry Six Sigma into the next generation of organizational decisions.
Hey, I’m Kris Taylor. I’m a Learning and Development professional currently in the healthcare field, with over 8 years of experience in the area of corporate education. I have created numerous instructional content for various corporate projects including eLearning, in-person facilitation, and virtual training across a wide variety of learning interventions and sectors. On Taughtup, I discuss topics ranging from how to succeed through K-12 to college all the way to instructional design tips for L&D designers.