By Matthew Brimelow, Business Improvement Manager at BSI
I'm often asked what’s new in the world of Six Sigma. Frequently I find myself answering: "Not a lot…". This is because many of the tools and techniques used in Six Sigma today continue to evolve. Six Sigma is like a pirate, creatively swiping anything and everything that is potentially useful in order to help businesses more effectively solve problems and improve processes and products. So, while there may not seem to be much that is 'new', the Six Sigma methodology continues to advance subtly and with stealth, through the progressive adoption and adaptation of best practice processes and useful tools and techniques.
Yet the success of Six Sigma goes beyond the tools alone. It relates back to the basic principles identified by Motorola in the mid-1980s when the Six Sigma programme was born: the use of a consistent road map (such as DMAIC); the support network of sponsors, Black Belts and Master Black Belts; the use of data to drive decisions; and the concept of variation reduction.
However, what is really critical to the tools above and the successful delivery of a Six Sigma programme is the choice of people. This is because the fundamental role of Six Sigma is to deliver a true culture change based on relevant facts and data that will drive business growth.
To put this into context, consider Nippon Gohsei UK, a strong supporter of the Six Sigma methodology. The company has been working with BSI to implement a transparent and systematic approach to process improvement that focuses directly on the customer. With a proven history of best practice quality management, the adoption of Lean Six Sigma enables Nippon Gohsei UK to develop this ethos further and embed a culture of continuous improvement in all that they do.
As a result of implementing the methodology, qualified individuals are now sharing a common understanding of improvement tools that they are able to apply to relevant aspects of the business – from everyday problem solving, to high-level projects involving the improvement of operational management systems. The knowledge and skill transfer techniques that have been taught are now clearly demonstrated by the positive impact on the company’s bottom line.
It's particularly interesting to note that although Lean principles have their roots in the Japanese manufacturing industry, the successful marriage of Lean with the westernised Six Sigma methodology further compounds those business benefits when applied effectively – as in the case of Nippon Gohsei UK.
It's my job at BSI to train people in the Six Sigma approach – from understanding the business needs and how Six Sigma relates to those needs; through identification of projects and potential Green and Black Belts, to ongoing support and coaching until project completion. One thing I always tell my Green and Black Belts is that the training is the easy part; the difficulty is in trying to win the hearts and minds of those we work with so that Six Sigma becomes a part of the business rather than just another quality programme.
So back to the initial question: what’s new in Six Sigma? My considered answer would be: "Everything and nothing." Everything – because we continue to include new tools and find new ways to use old tools. Nothing – since we are the pirates of the business improvement world, plundering what works and using it to enhance our own improvement road maps.