We have embarked on a 20/20 Vision initiative. Perhaps, a little hindsight might provide a useful perspective. “Six sigma” is the term applied to the concept of reducing errors by improving processes. It is the foundation of our 20/20 Vision initiative.
You may be familiar with six sigma’s predecessors such as:
- MBO – Management By Objectives (Drucker 1954)
- TQM – Total Quality Management (Juran et al. 1980’s)
Operationally, six sigma seeks to improve the quality of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of defects (errors) and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes.
Statistically the goal is to have all output within plus or minus six standard deviations on a normal bell curve. In simple terms that is 3.4 defects per 1 million. The mathematical symbol for a standard deviation is the Greek letter sigma (Ϭ). This is the origin of the term six sigma. Ok, that is a bit technical. Just think of it as getting rid of wasted effort, time and material – i.e., no “fat” in the organization. For this reason you may hear it referred to as “lean six sigma.”
The concept has its roots in post-World War II Japan. With the United States emerging as the only industrialized nation with an intact manufacturing base, it was hard for progressive management thinkers like Edward Deming to sell the total quality concept of “if it ain’t broke, make it better” to U.S. manufacturers who had a corner on the international market using existing management theories. However, Deming and others found willing converts in Japan whose industrial base had been decimated by the war. Through the efforts of Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo the Toyota production system emerged. It was based on:
- Flexible continuous production of small batches
- Minimization of all waste
- “Doing it right the first time”
This resulted in reduced setup times and inventory buffers. In simple terms – more bang from the manufacturing buck. One of the worldwide legacies is the use of Japanese terms in 20/20 vision six sigma based projects for some simple concepts. But don’t let that dissuade you – we all want to do it right the first time with minimum effort and cost.
Thomas Jefferson said “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” That is what we are doing with 20/20 vision. As John McCall put it “Our goal was to start slowly, learn the discipline and tools of the continuous improvement process, take on some small projects to build confidence and prepare ourselves to handle any challenge that comes our way.”
My next post will be on why visualizing (using pictures to support qualitative data) six sigma is a key to progress.
If you would like to discuss six sigma further…let me know.