Friday, May 17, 2013

Six Sigma Methodology Critique

Six Sigma is basically a methodology, originally developed by Motorola, to improve
the quality of processes by removing and preventing defects. A defect can be any
feature or functionality of a product or a process that does not meet its specification.
Six Sigma can be defined as a metric to measure the performance of a process. Its
goal is to improve the performance and increase profitability by targeting a defect
rate of less than 3.4 DPMO (defects per million opportunities).

The key processes involved in applying Six Sigma are DMAIC (Define, Measure,
Analyze, Improve, Control). The Define stage identifies the process to be improved.
The Measure stage collects the data for the process for comparison. The Analyze
stage identifies any discrepancies between the current performance and optimal
performance of the process. The Improve stage fixes the inconsistencies in the
target process. The Control stage targets at ensuring the non-occurrence of the
discrepancies and continued optimal performance of the process.

An interesting point to note in the application of Six Sigma methodology is that
it is applicable to almost any process. This is evident from the example of the
“Tiffin carriers” in Mumbai (India), who deliver thousands of tiffins to their correct
destinations each day with remarkable precision and Six Sigma efficiency of 99.99%.
The technique employed is straightforward - uniquely identifying each tiffin by the
use of different colors, symbols, letters and numbers indicating each tiffin’s origin
and destination, leaving no margin for error or misinterpretation, even when there
is no documentation. Thus, Six Sigma focuses on process optimization by identifying
and eliminating all the defects in the course of a process and delivering almost
defect-free products.

Quality, defect-free and on-time delivery are vital to the software industry.
These can be achieved by training all the members of the project to meticulously
streamline processes by applying the Six Sigma methodology. It establishes a
culture of excellence and encourages all the members to not only accomplish
the objectives, but also to provide quality solutions at each stage of the software
development life cycle.

A notable shortcoming of the Six Sigma methodology is the lack of a standard
certification/accreditation institution which is acknowledged globally. Each
organization has its own method of judging the competency of its employees. Since
the Six Sigma level is declared by the company itself, it holds less credibility as a
quality directive. Also, Six Sigma training represents a significant cost investment,
and it does not promise zero-defect deliverables. Moreover, it is important to
consider the buy-in of the employees to implement Six Sigma.

In spite of these limitations, Six Sigma methodology promises a good return on
investment in the software industry since high-quality deliverables are part of the
business goals. The organization is able to understand customer needs much better
and take better decisions. This assists in decreasing the defects, thereby significantly
reducing the costs and consistently generating superior quality deliverables, which
ultimately lead to customer satisfaction, gaining customer’s confidence and even
continued business.

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