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The Six Sigma Approach and the Quality of Management: Report from an Elizabethtown College Brown Bag Seminar

Feb 24th, 2012 | By | Category: Essays

The Six Sigma Approach and the Quality of Management: An
Elizabethtown College Brown Bag Seminar
By Jen Hughes

Preeti Gulati, former Manager of Financial Reporting with American Express, presented ” Six Sigma in the Service Industry” at Elizabethtown College on Feb. 3rd. Following is a report from Jen Hughes, one of the students in attendance.

Most business structures consist of a series of interdependent teams working side by side for a unified goal. This structure is seen in almost every business or organization you may come across. Managers depend on their staff to perform their work properly and effectively to the best of their ability. Similarly, this same staff depends on their managers to help guide them through their given tasks, providing them withappropriate training and resources in order to execute their assignments. Together these teams make up a business functioning similarly to that of a family who must work together to support the household. However, what happens when there is a problem among these family members? Who is there to fix it, and what is the best way to fix it?

Six Sigma is an organized management approach, designed to help an organization address a problematic issue, identify its underlying causes, and ultimately eliminate the issue at hand to form an enhanced business strategy. There are five critical phases to the Six Sigma structure known in acronymic form as “DMAIC”. This stands for “Define”, “Measure”, “Analyze”, “Improve”, and “Control”. Theoretically speaking, according to the Six Sigma philosophy, if an organization follows these five steps competently, it will overcome any specified obstacle.

Consider, for example, a large corporation that has identified a problem in its sales team. In this hypothetical situation, there seems to be large productivity differences among its employees. The organization seeks to rectify this problem by implementing aspects of Six Sigma. First, its managers must define the problem– “Why is there such a substantial difference in the performance of these employees?” Next, they must measure the scale of the problem. Here, they analyze the performance of each employee to find that the top ten employees are making five times the number of sales as the rest of the employees. Subsequently, they must analyze the problem and, in turn, develop a solution. The company recognizes how its top ten sales personnel acquired substantial experience in the field as well as received extensive training on their sales products. In order to improve the quality and productivity of their sales team, the organization chooses to provide the necessary training as well as sufficient opportunities for each employee to partake in the field to gain experience. Furthermore, the organization develops a profile of its top ten employees in order to identify and control the type of employee its human resource department will hire in the future.

Six Sigma provides an analytical way to approach an issue. A student at ElizabethtownCollege might presumably execute the five steps in order to change study habits to obtain a higher GPA. First the student must define the problematic area, such as procrastination, and measure what effect this problem has had upon productivity in the past by looking at earlier projects and areas of difficulty. Following that, the student should analyze the problem and search for ways rectify the problem. These solutions may be found in a tutor, group study sessions, etc. Finally, the individual must implement these improvements and ultimately control his or her own future behavior.
Arguably the most problematic step of this process is the acceptance of change within a group in the organization. Managers may find their staff are very reluctant to recognize the necessity of changes and are thus hesitant to rectify their behavior. It is vital that the team manager sufficiently explain the reason for changes as well as provide adequate resources and training for the staff. In extreme cases, recalcitrant employees may have to be let go.

Developed in 1986 by Motorola, USA, Six Sigma expanded concepts that were not new to the business world. It is yet another attempt to bring structure to problem solving in a quest to identify issues more objectively and therefore make them more manageable. While seemingly just another way to identify, isolate, manage, and resolve an issue with the aim of increasing productivity and efficiency, Six Sigma is defined by a more structured, methodical approach to problem solving. Although with time its popularity has waned, seeming to some like “old hat”, it continues as a strong problem solving initiative even today.

While Six Sigma has seemingly taken the business world by storm, its processes and techniques do not work for everyone. Many times Six Sigma requires a company to redesign their entire business structure and management system, which may not be in the best interest of its customers. Also, simply put, Six Sigma is a lot of work! It requires a significant amount of time and cooperation. Many organizations find that some aspects of Six Sigma are already incorporated in their business plans, and thus find it difficult to allocate such a significant amount of time to implement this new plan. However, studies have shown that those organizations, who do implement Six Sigma see an increase in their return on investment, return on sales, and stock growth.

Since 1986 several different management procedures have taken rise in place of Six Sigma providing companies with new buzz words and claims of offering the latest and greatest methods but still impart the same results. Many of these newly developed approaches promise significant administrative or economic advancements. However, are these techniques really as forthcoming as claimed? Most, like Six Sigma, develop a plan to instill a series of steps into an organization, including the examination of a specific issue, strategy development, and problem resolution. Ultimately, the result of programs like Six Sigma is efficient, effective problem solving techniques that can be easily instituted at any level of business or within our personal life.

Still Six Sigma can be considered a unique player in its field; one that others use as an example. Its well structured means of problem solving is distinctive and useful in problematic settings. The history behind its plan and purpose is not one to be dismissed but cultivated and grown upon. Used properly it has the potential of helping any organization, large or small, public or private, corporate or personal, address any specific problem. Managers must be able to identify when issues arise and determine how to implement strategies to help their employees through aspects of group and individual change for the good of the organization. A well developed, trained, and skilled team of managers experienced with problem solving is essential to any successful business.

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