Six Sigma methodology is one of the revolutionary tools and techniques for process improvement. The maturity of the process can be measured in a statistical term called Sigma indicating yield of the process. A Six Sigma quality means you are at a perfection level of producing no more than 3.4 Defects per Million Opportunities or your Specification limit is in fact 6 standard deviations away from the process mean.
It adopts a DMAIC Cycle of Improvement.
Define – Understand the Voice of Customer and define the project based on customer needs
Measure – Assess the current process performance objectively
Analyze – Apply analytical / statistical techniques & tools to identify the underlying root cause.
Improve – Using right techniques and tools identify the solutions and implement the same
Control – Implement the techniques to hold the gains always.
There are other methods like DFSS (Design For Six Sigma) that focuses on DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design & Verify) cycle mostly used when generating altogether new processes when none existed before.
A Six Sigma project is very complex and takes lot of time and effort to achieve the results. It may be relatively easy to achieve say improvement from 2 sigma to 3 sigma but as you advance further to achieve near perfection it gets increasingly complex.
Companies who were pioneers in development of Six Sigma have been immensely benefited by its implementation and many demand that their suppliers to be also focusing heavily on Six Sigma. This holds true for IT Services in India. Many of their customers have a strong focus on Six Sigma and they expect their suppliers in IT Services in India to also enable Six Sigma in their processes.
Every coin has two sides and many a times the entire Six Sigma initiative is highly misinterpreted due to lack of knowledge, customer pressure and mindset to cut corners.
Here are some examples of what Six Sigma Green Belt projects were undertaken in IT Services Companies in India
1. A Time & Material Project needed to optimize and improve its billability. A Six Sigma Project was undertaken. The solution was implementation of a policy to enable employees to take leaves only when there’s no work from the customer.
2. A maintenance project handling various client-server applications of a customer was spending over 3 hours in doing a monotonous task. The work involved downloading some files, manually altering its contents and then uploading the modified files. The whole manual process would take over 3 hours. A six sigma project was undertaken and the solution was to use Visual Basic and develop and application that would automate the whole procedure and reduce the effort to under 15 minutes.
3. Many practitioners where cribbing that the Project Plan template designed in line with the Quality Management System is too big. A Six Sigma project was undertaken (For what?). Solution was to convert the MS Word Document to MS Excel and provide links to all other documents to minimize redundancy of information.
Surprised? Yes, above are examples of Six Sigma(?) Green Belt Projects undertaken in IT Services in India. I have many more such examples of Six Sigma(?) Projects where the leader earned Six Sigma Green Belt Certificate by doing above or similar ordinary improvement work.
The fundamental question these leaders should ask their conscience is, are these really six sigma projects? In above examples the problem is obvious and solution is also obvious. Also in some cases the solutions may not be long lasting or really effective. It might appear to have worked by chance.
Six Sigma focuses on truly measurable and quantifiable goals and also significantly reducing the variation in the process that cannot be obviously detectable by ordinary means. Improvement Projects where problem and solution are very obvious are not Six Sigma at all!
You do not need a DMAIC Cycle to arrive at the solution in above cases. These are ordinary improvement projects disguised as Six Sigma project for the sake of achieving Six Sigma certification.
Six Sigma is not really applicable in situations where ordinary improvement is needed. Six Sigma deals with complexities of common cause variation where just by looking at the process you may not get any clue as to what the real issue is and what might be the best working effective solution. It involves enormous analytics using various tools and techniques to arrive at the real root cause and identify the correct solution that truly addresses the issue and hold the gains forever.
Many of the customers from Western countries that have well established Six Sigma processes insists that their suppliers in India in IT Services should also focus on Six Sigma. In the absence of real audits and evaluations, the companies in India cut corners and prove on paper by ordinary improvement projects that they have also succeeded in Six Sigma processes. What they have actually done is disguised ordinary projects as Six Sigma projects as they have to meet the Service Level Agreement (SLA) targets of certain number of Green Belts and Black Belts.
It’s increasingly complex and time consuming to make Six Sigma in Services Industry. It involves enormous effort to make it work and hold the gains. In Services a large number of processes are still person dependent unlike manufacturing and this makes implementation of Six Sigma a far greater challenge.
In Indian IT Services many a times the entire Six Sigma Initiative is customer centric (Unless implemented in real sense of six sigma for a real benefit). As customers are insisting for Six Sigma their suppliers are bound to comply but they lose of effectiveness of Six Sigma by aiming to meet the SLAs!
In depth independent onsite customer audits, evaluations and analysis by the customers is the key to make a true assessment of real effectiveness of Six Sigma in Indian IT Services in India. I guess a long way to go!