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A Note on 6 Sigma(1999/06)

I like to rewrite main part of my contribution to Deming Electronics Network(DEN) on the 6 sigma packages with some notes.

William J. Latzko wrote:

I am fully convinced that Bill Scherkenbach is right when he speaks of the  need for emotional change. My, what I thought was tongue in cheek,  suggestion has gotten more response on the DEN and back channel than it deserves. My discomfort is not with the run-of-the mill managers but with the potential for damage that can result when great expectations are not fulfilled. I see this whole area following the "Path of Frustration" deliniated by Deming on page 322 on in "Out of the Crisis"(OOTC). If that happens, these run-of-the mill managers will not blame their lack of understanding or misapplication for the failure but will discount the all theories related to quality and survival. Remember Quality Control Circles as applied in the US?


Years ago I pointed out to Ken T. Delavigne that for *cargo cult * subject, we

needed to go to the sociological studies, and even the *barbarians* have their own

*science *. He replied that cargo cult is a bad science.

My point was that cargo cult is very human. And it might be a good metaphor to describe the some initiatives of quality fads, like 6 Sigma program which is getting popular now in USA, the most under-developed country (this is Deming's opinion but Deming is obvious not a good economist, since for someone, the strong market demand may justify itself as a good business). Some consulting companies trying to repackage one of Japanese management arts, that is Parts Per Million (ppm) improvement practice since '60 into so-called 6 sigma, and trying to resell it with their typical management style as a management science to other countries, some people even claimed the background thinking of it is the Shewhart's legacy.

I worked for Motorola in 1985, at that time the 6 sigma methodology was forming and establishing. Now some USA companies learned from it and promote it with so-called

*black-belts* professionals( that is, they are certified trainers. But I didn't know the essence of improvement methodology can be trained with a package grows to such a sophisticate level now and within such a short time).

From business point view, we may like to say congratulations for the new cargo born. It might make most USA quality consulting companies *stay in the business * for a while, at least in the near future. But best efforts and best practices in some segments may be not enough and may be very misleading.

For me, this fad is like one of Deming's most favorable figure: Plot of the number of fires per month in a business establishment.(that is , along the path of frustration and go to page 324 of OOTC . Indeed, this figure is one of Deming's favorite ones, and he quote it frequently, like in his The New Economics, and in some of his papers.) I'll take the quality fad as a metaphor of fire accidents in our life.

Many people may believe Shewhart's (and Deming's) thinking that

statistics is the scientific way of looking at the universe. We might learn from this control chart that if the system is not improved, the potential accidents or the seeds of

fire will be quite common in the marketplace.

That is, along with the pseudo-learning or false-improvement of improving mechanism( 6 sigma) by 'law of experience curves or half-life cures' , that is indeed the most frequent new path of frustration, it eventually will deteriorate into an

* examples of costly misunderstanding *. In the consulting business, after each fire, there will have their new phoenix reborn. .

Bill, you came from banking industry and you should heard about some practice of creative accounting: for example, if the defect level is in 3 parts per million , the definition, measurement and verification will be quite difficult (Deming has his comment in OOTC ).

For many people, a consultant always brings a briefcase with many cargoes. Now you might be able to know the unspoken *Fire Sermons* in my website ( See the English article and its Chinese translation dated May,1998).

Note1: for Cargo Cult (see millenarianism), please refer to any dictionary or handbook of sociology for detailed information. The note in Deming's Profound Change for it goes like that: The term cargo cult encompasses a number of remarkable cases dating back to the nineteenth century, involving the effects of South Pacific islanders reacting to contact with foreign cultures.

Note 2: It is interesting to note that in Juran's Quality Handbook( 4th edition, 1998) nearly nothing was mentioned about 6 sigma but now the consulting company bears with his name is also marketing 6 sigma package. I am expecting to get some reason of justification in the 5th edition soon. I think the USA quality professionals are trying to forget the original Japanese contributors like TDK among others in this subject. This point can be learned from Managing Quality Fads by Robert Cole( ASQ and OUP, 1999).

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