The results of an exploratory study of six-sigma, suggest that the development of knowledge and learning communities is instrumental to sustaining six-sigma initiatives. Case studies highlight particular aspects of implementation and deployment efforts. The work presented in this report is to capture the current state of Six Sigma as well as to document the current practices of Six Sigma. Six key findings have been established. These include the interpretation of Six Sigma, tools and techniques, its development, implementation of Six Sigma, benefits. The future work to progress as Six Sigma continues to develop and evolve. The findings also open up new opportunities to apply Six Sigma in the fields that are not widely explored before for instance sustainability and product-service systems.
Six sigma is a highly regimented process that helps an organization to center on developing and performing near-perfect products and Services. Six Sigma is a rigorous, focused, and highly effective implementation of proven quality principles and techniques. Incorporating elements from the work of many quality pioneers, Six Sigma aims for virtually error-free business performance. Sigma, σ, is a letter in the Greek alphabet used by statisticians to measure the variability in any process. A company’s performance is measured by the sigma level of their business processes. Traditionally companies accepted three or four sigma performance levels as the norm, despite the fact that these processes created between 6,200 and 67,000 problems per million opportunities! The Six Sigma standard of 3.4 Defects-per-million opportunities (DPMO) is a response to the increasing expectations of customers and the increased complexity of modern products and processes. Despite its name, Six Sigma’s magic isn’t in statistical or high-tech razzle-dazzle. Since its introduction in the mid-eighties, many large corporations have been investing substantial resources in six-sigma efforts, as a means of accelerating their learning and taking the prescribed path to spectacular financial achievements. Although some firms have succeeded, some of the biggest have not been enticed by the approach, others have abandoned their six-sigma initiatives and many are struggling for survival. Business experts and analysts attribute six-sigma effectiveness and success to the package that facilitates its implementation. Accordingly, managers are not expected to work out the “how to” because the blueprint of the implementation, i.e. the road map, has been tested and proved successful. Clearly, this line of thought implicitly assumes that knowledge transfer is straightforward. It has also been claimed that six-sigma is “the most important breakthrough management tool ever devised”. In contrast, it has also been argued that the six-sigma trend is harmful to the quality profession, destabilizing previous quality efforts and organizations. To better understand contradictory perceptions and public debates on six-sigma and its benefits, and to lay the foundations for subsequent systematic research, an exploratory study on six-sigma implementation strategies and deployment was conducted. Five case studies in Canadian enterprises shed light on knowledge aspects of the implementation of six-sigma initiatives. The objective of this article is to present the results of this study. Findings suggest that six-sigma programs should be reviewed from a knowledge perspective. The development of knowledge and learning communities emerges as a key issue in sustaining six-sigma implementation and deployment. The configuration of six-sigma related activities and the structure of these knowledge communities within organizations apparently play a critical role.
The article is structured as follows: First, building on a literature review, implementation strategy and deployment of six-sigma programs are discussed. Second, case study methodology, descriptions...