What is Six Sigma Plus ?

Most of us would have heard of the revolutionary quality management methodology and framework, Six Sigma. For quality professionals and people in manufacturing and operations, Six Sigma is a buzzword for effective quality management and rigorous application of defect prevention and reducing wastage in the organizational processes.

However, in recent years, there has been movement towards a new model of quality excellence called Six Sigma Plus. This model of quality excellence goes beyond the methodology employed by Six Sigma and is aimed at aligning people and processes not to mention the management focus towards accomplishing the goals of effective quality management.

What is Six Sigma Plus ?

The preceding section gave a brief introduction to “Six Sigma Plus”. Though Six Sigma is universally known for over two decades now, it is only in the recent past that Six Sigma Plus has become popular among the quality professionals.

To put it simply, Six Sigma Plus is more than Six Sigma and the “Plus” is used to denote the “synergies” that are achieved by integrating people, processes and strategy.

For instance, Six Sigma aims reducing the defects in a million parts to 3.4. Likewise, Six Sigma plus uses the same metrics for defect prevention. So, one might be tempted to ask, what is it that is so different about Six Sigma Plus? The answer lies in looking at the scope of a typical Six Sigma Plus implementation as compared to a Six Sigma implementation.

A Six Sigma Plus initiative aims to “integrate” the three cornerstones of an organization i.e. systems, processes and people and melding them together with the underlying business strategy.

This means that unlike Six Sigma that concentrates on processes and reducing the defects, Six Sigma Plus goes beyond the statistics and instead aims at a “holistic” approach that takes into account the customer focus and customer centric strategy.

Further, Six Sigma Plus is a “proactive” approach that anticipates future trends and acts in the present to capitalize on them when they become the standard. In this way, Six Sigma Plus hopes to go beyond Six Sigma in its scope.

Now that we have defined what Six Sigma Plus is, it is useful to look at the areas covered in a typical Six Sigma Plus implementation. Traditionally Six Sigma implementations covered the production processes and aimed at defect reduction and defect prevention in those processes.

However, Six Sigma Plus implementations typically cover all the departments including the functional areas and the product development functions as well. This ensures a comprehensive coverage of all the processes in an organization and not only the production processes.

Further, Six Sigma Plus implementations are typically customer focused which means that these implementations anticipate customer trends and act decisively to integrate customer needs and expectations into the implementations.

Difference between Six Sigma Plus and TQM

As the preceding sections have shown, Six Sigma Plus is a holistic approach when compared with standard quality management approaches like TQM or Total Quality Management. The “plus” in Six Sigma is the alignment of quality initiatives with that of the business goals and this is what differentiates Six Sigma Plus from TQM.

Where TQM takes a narrow approach towards defect prevention and quality control with the ultimate goal of customer satisfaction, Six Sigma Plus takes the whole notion of quality management to a new level by starting with the customer and then aligning the business strategy with that of the quality processes.

The point here is that TQM is more of an internally focused measure that aims to reduce defects and hence satisfy the customer whereas Six Sigma Plus takes the customer as the starting point and works the quality processes from this perspective.

The other differences between TQM and Six Sigma Plus include the “change” aspect of Six Sigma Plus where the objective of the latter is to proactively seek measures to improve quality as opposed to that of the TQM methodology which concentrates on doing the same process to the quality norms prescribed for the process.

The difference here is one of continuous improvement and change with each iteration as opposed to merely reducing the incidence of defects. The operative term here is “change” and the practitioners of Six Sigma Plus tend to call themselves as “change agents” as opposed to calling themselves as “quality champions” in TQM implementations.

Further, Six Sigma Plus focuses on driving change through the organization by identifying areas in the processes that can be improved and being customer focused as well as extending the process improvement to all functional areas. In short, Six Sigma Plus covers the entire organization whereas standard quality management methodologies like TQM confine themselves to quality control and quality management of the production processes.

The difference here is that Six Sigma aims to identify process improvements in all functional areas and build on them proactively whereas TQM usually contends itself to preventing defects in selected processes and areas in the company.

Differences between Six Sigma Plus and Six Sigma

This section focuses on the differences between Six Sigma Plus and Six Sigma. As mentioned in the previous sections, Six Sigma Plus goes “beyond” the normal implementation of Six Sigma and has the added advantage of Customer focus, Process Improvement and Productivity growth as the cornerstones of its implementation.

Though, the differences between Six Sigma Plus and Six Sigma appear superficial on first glance, there are indeed significant differences in the way these methodologies are implemented.

The Six Sigma framework posits an acceptance of two defects per billion samples tested. Though this might seem impossible to attain particularly in the manufacturing sector where quality slippages are common, it is indeed the case that several companies like GE, Dow Chemical, The TATA group and banking institutions like JPMC, Citigroup and Bank of America have successfully adopted the Six Sigma framework.

The adoption of Six Sigma by these companies came about as a result of a focus on quality that was both top-down and bottom-up and the combined efforts of all the stakeholders ensured that the exercise was a success.

However, it needs to be mentioned that adoption of the framework is the first step in the process of attaining quality excellence as the companies need to adhere to the framework in their every day operations in order to claim that they are indeed Six Sigma compliant.

As many experts have put it, Six Sigma Plus takes the Six Sigma methodology and adds the aspects of leading change to strategy, coaching leaders to people development, a practical approach to theory, implementation of customer focused projects to training, enhanced tools through components (as discussed in the section related to Six Sigma Plus) and using a mix of soft skills and hard skills to make the company more competitive with regards to its competitors.

Conclusion

This article has discussed the differences between Six Sigma Plus and Six Sigma as well as TQM. The emphasis in this article has been on finding the added advantage that companies get when they embrace Six Sigma Plus as opposed to traditional methodologies like TQM. As can be seen from the preceding discussion, the alignment of people, processes and systems with that of business strategy in a holistic manner and achieving synergies in the interaction of the components is a hallmark of Six Sigma Plus implementations.

Further, Six Sigma Plus seeks to drive change and focus on leadership as opposed to merely training people in the methodology. The key term here is the ability to conceive of a different mindset when it concerns quality and hence Six Sigma Plus can be thought of a philosophy of quality as opposed to implementation of statistical measures of quality.

In conclusion, Six Sigma Plus is an emerging model of quality excellence that goes beyond traditional conceptions of quality and gives an entirely new meaning to the concept of quality control. It remains to be seen how many companies adopt the Six Sigma Plus methodology and how successful this addition to the existing pantheon of quality initiatives would be.


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