Six Sigma sucks big donkey balls


Leo and I had pretty typical conversation last night:

C: Stop reading that stupid magazine and pay attention to me!

L: But this magazine is so much more interesting than you.

C: No it isn't. What could it possibly have that I don't?

L: How about news about the nation and politics? Your head is too full of old Law & Order episodes to have that information.

C: Is not! For example, did you know that Saddam Hussein's mother tried to abort him? Or that Uday once crashed his uncle's party and open fired with a machine gun?

L: Where did you hear that?

C: On Biography! (that I watched during the commercials for Law & Order)....

So this is my situation. Some women have to compete with porn or mistresses. My main competition is a magazine.

After this exchange, Leo read aloud from the page he happened to be on. It was this article about how the U.S. Army plans on implementing Six Sigma in order to save money. Well, I might not be Bill O'Reilly and I might not be an expert on global affairs, but I know a thing or two about Six Sigma. And let me tell you that the use of Six Sigma on non-manufacturing projects is a big crock o' hooey.

Six Sigma, as anyone in the auto industry could tell you (anyone except for Shannon, that is) is a "methodology" for problem solving. The shtick is that you analyze your problem with the Six Sigma tools and you will come out with a cost saving answer in the end. This was developed for manufacturing, where it actually works. Then some genius decided that it was the next big management craze and now it is being applied to anything and everything. Here's the root of the problem in the non-manufacturing application of Six Sigma: non-manufacturing operations or processes are so inherently complex that all of their inputs cannot be adequately defined or objectively qualified.

Imagine listing all of the inputs that go into making a sandwich (operator, bread, mustard, mayo, meat, lettuce, tomato). You could do that. Now try to imagine listing all of the inputs that go into deciding on a restaurant for you and your two friends to go to (friends 1, 2, and 3, where they live (so it's not too far away), food allergies, weather, price, restaurant hours, means of transportation, terror events, what they had for lunch (which might effect what they want for dinner), how tired they are, etc!). You could go on for a really long time before you exhausted everything. And then you would have to attach a relevance to each input. This relevance is inherently subjective (how important is it to the choosing of a restaurant is it that it is raining? It depends on what you are wearing, how hard it is raining, etc.). If you run subjective data through a big honking formula, your result will still be completely subjective.

Will you end up with an answer after your months and months (literally) of paperwork? Sure. Will it be the same answer you would have guessed at the beginning? Probably. Six Sigma-ists would then say that this was a "just do it" project and wasn't complex enough (they actually say this) for Six Sigma. The problem with this is that most businesses aren't set up to "just do" projects. With Six Sigma, employees dedicate part (10% where I work) of their time to problem solving. I have tried to solve the problem used in my Six Sigma project before. I could not, because I was not granted the authority or the time to do so. Now that it falls under the blessed banner of Six Sigma, I can.

Companies realize cost savings by using Six Sigma not because there is anything magical in all of the tools and formulas but because they actually allow their employees to fix the things that need to be fixed. The problem with Six Sigma is that filling out all of the tools and formulas takes an amazing amount of time (about 200 hours) and slows down the roll out of the solution. This costs the company money both in money lost waiting for a problem to be fixed and for the amount of time an employee spends on it. Of course, this is never measured in the Six Sigma cost savings.

I fully expect that, ten years from now or so, the Six Sigma craze will be over, ushered out by some famous business professor saying exactly what i just said. I just wish this would happen sooner rather than later as I am up to my schnizzle in meaningless statistics right now.

So now that I've got that off my chest, I will return you to my regularly scheduled meaningless musings....

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