Since its introduction in the 1990's, 6-Sigma has become the buzzword in both the manufacturing and service industries. The various methodologies used in 6-Sigma are based on a disciplined and data driven approach that help in eliminating defects and achieving near perfection by restricting the number of possible defects to less than 3.4 defects per million. The methodologies are effective in managing business processes of both the manufacturing and service industries. In manufacturing industries, the concepts and methodologies are used for reducing the number of defects whereas in service industries, they are used mainly for reducing transactional errors.

Although many companies have been successful in reducing the number of defects through Six Sigma projects, the arguments raised against the efficacy of 6-Sigma in all aspects of business processes still do not seem to die down. Some management experts think that Six Sigma is inherently flawed, as it does not take into account the flaws that might be present in the system itself. They are of the opinion that the analytical and statistical tools used in 6-Sigma only expose flaws in the execution and do not account for a process that itself is riddled with defects.

Supporters of Six Sigma offer a different viewpoint. According to them, quality management tools such as Total Quality Management (TQM) and 6-Sigma are conceptually quite similar except for their labels. Business organizations may use any of these for improving overall quality. However, they often give preference to 6-Sigma as they believe that Six Sigma is more than just a process improvement program and is based on concepts that focus on continuous quality improvements. They have the opinion that 6-Sigma concepts combine statistical measurement tools with contemporary management techniques for achieving extraordinary results.

The Limited Use Of Six Sigma

6-Sigma gained prominence as an effective quality improvement technique after it was successfully implemented in Motorola. Since then, many large organizations have implemented 6-Sigma programs and improved the quality of manufactured goods or services rendered. However, the full potential of 6-Sigma has not been realized so far because many competent small to medium level enterprises have still not implemented Six Sigma programs. These enterprises have all the resources to implement such programs, but are often wary of the final certification, as they believe that it is meant only for large organizations. These companies often do not realize that 6-Sigma delivers the same benefits to both large as well as small business enterprises. The only difference may be in the volume of goods manufactured or services rendered.

The Future Of Six Sigma

6-Sigma may appear similar to other quality management tools such as TQM or Kaizen Events, but in reality, it is quite different. Other quality management programs often reach a stage after which no further quality improvements can be made. 6-Sigma, on the other hand, is different as it focuses on taking quality improvement processes to the next level. This means that 6-Sigma has the potential to outlast other quality management programs in the future.

The scope of 6-Sigma is also much broader than other quality management programs as it can be applied to every business process of an organization. The future is bright for 6-Sigma programs with the growing awareness in small and medium enterprises about the potential benefits that can be derived from implementing such programs.


Author's Bio: 

This definition is part of a series that covers the topic of Management Skills. The Official Guide to Management Skills is Meryl Runion. Meryl Runion, CSP, is a Certified Speaking Professional and the author of four books on communication. Her books have sold over 250,000 copies worldwide. She is the author of a weekly email newsletter called A PowerPhrase a Week, which boast thousands of subscribers. Her clients include IBM, who find her to be systematic, the IRS who particularly love her in April, and the FBI, who find her to be a person of interest.

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