Its promoters are evangelists, preaching a creed of process perfectionism. Its practitioners are passionate, its methodology is inflexible and to suggest a deviation is close to heresy. I know, because I was once a fan of Six Sigma and its sleek sibling, Lean Six Sigma. Not a big fan because, although it has some useful techniques, it has never been perfect. It is dogmatic and process-bound. It presupposes that only Six Sigma “black belts” are capable of doing the process analysis and design. It is only good for incremental improvement and not brilliant for innovative work. And it did not incorporate information technology. I have a real problem with that as I am an IT man at heart and have used the power of IT as a tool for business, organisational and process improvement for over 20 years.
Cometh the day, cometh the methodology and Six Sigma, Lean or full-fat, has had its day. When corporate planning horizons were three, four, five years ahead an inflexible process-bound methodology was useful, if only as the basis of more agile in-house adaptations. In times of great uncertainty, with planning horizons six months away, organisations are looking for agility, flexibility, speed of response (provided by a combination of tools and approaches), advanced systems thinking and an innovative, mix-and-match, method for creating breakthrough process improvements.
Six Sigma, with its dogma, priesthood and devotees, was born in times of certainty and flounders in a period of unprecedented economic turbulence and instability where years of consistent economic growth have given way to rising unemployment, increased costs, reduced incomes and a climate of risk. The increased uncertainty has affected everyone. Very few businesses, governments, private or public bodies are immune to the effects of uncertainty. To stay on top most organisations now revise their business plans more than once a year. Any business plan that is over six months old is likely to be based on assumptions that have been overtaken by events and probably needs to revise its revenue figures downwards and costs upwards. Business change is now a day-to-day process that needs to be realigned towards the changing strategic goals of the organisation and to be able to take the impact of changing assumptions on the chin.