Needed: A Structured Approach to Implementing a Six Sigma/Process Excellence Program

The major premise of continuous improvement, as defined by Jerry Bowles and Joshua Hammond, more than 15 years ago, in their book, "Beyond Quality: How 50 Winning Companies Use Continuous Improvement":

" involving everyone within an organization, from senior level management to the mailroom, in a daily search for incremental improvements; providing everyone with the training, techniques, and the authority they need to identify and fix problems; setting high performance targets and measuring results; and focusing the organization's strategic vision on the needs of its customers( both internal and external), everything the organization does--every product, service, or organizational process--can be improved... forever..."

Without doubt, this definition of continuous improvement defines the goals and objectives of every Six Sigma program. There is a great deal of knowledge available relating to what works, what doesn't, and why. We hope that this article will provide readers with a success recipe that has worked wonders for organizations of all kinds and sizes.

Organizing for results

Training programs that focus on statistical and analytical tools are extremely important. But —and this is a big but — without the appropriate organizational support and structure, nothing will happen.

Joseph M. Juran, in our opinion, was the founder today's approaches to quality improvement. Approximately 65 years ago, he began advocating the use of steering committees to manage the quality improvement process. He outlined in practical, actionable terms the role and responsibilities of a steering committee.

We believe that any organization which uses his structured management approach to launch a Six Sigma program will find the process smoother and more successful.

Juran’s structured management approach rests on two pillars:

  1. Forming an upper-level management committee.
  2. Project-by-project quality improvement.

A steering committee consists of upper-level executives charged with the responsibility of identifying quality problems, selecting cross-functional teams to solve them, monitoring progress, rewarding success and disbanding the team when the problems are solved.

Initially, Six Sigma quality improvement programs should be implemented on a project-by-project basis. Then, as payoffs are realized and experiences gained, a multi-project environment may be instituted. But initiating a quality improvement project doesn’t mean project management will automatically occur. And without project management a well-intentioned quality Improvement effort will inevitably fail.

The point? Training in project planning, scheduling and control is critical to success. Further, steering committees must be trained to carry out their responsibilities.

Training the steering committee

In "Managerial Breakthrough and Leadership for Quality," Juran explains how to launch and manage steering committees and quality councils. A committee or council must be trained in the following skills to perform its duties:

  • Selecting quality improvement projects and multi- functional teams to carry out selected projects;
  • Translating council objectives into measurable results through action plans;
  • Estimating the cost, time and manpower requirements for the project;
  • Deciding if "facilitators" are needed to assist project teams with their mission;
  • Monitoring a project’s progress;
  • Assigning representatives and deadlines for project performance;
  • Terminating a multi-functional team after the assignment is completed;
  • Linking compensations and rewards to quality improvement results.

It must be mentioned—indeed, emphasized— that historians who have studied the various quality crusades over the past 60 years readily admit that W. Edwards Deming, an American statistician credited with jump- starting the Japanese quality movement, was in reality not as successful as reported in the American media.

In short, the Japanese quality movement made limited progress in the years immediately following Dr. Deming's 1950 visit. Why? Because they lacked a structured approach to making quality improvements happen. Only after Juran visited Japan, and taught them his structured approach to quality improvement, did the Japanese succeed in their improvement efforts.

Of course, we do not hear much anymore about "organizing for Six Sigma/process excellence," which was one of the most popular topics of quality management books and seminars 15 years ago.

Everybody has accepted by now that a structured approach must be initiated prior to organizing for quality/process excellence. Almost all modern models of Lean Six Sigma use cross-functional teams. The legendary companies— such as General Electric, Toyota, Motorola—report that they have hundreds, even thousands, of project teams in place at any particular time.

These teams need guidance. Many newcomers would be well advised to study Juran's structured approach to organizing for quality/process improvement.