Six Sigma a Goal-Theoretic Perspective

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Journal of Operations Management 21 (2003) 193–203

Six Sigma: a goal-theoretic perspective
Kevin Linderman∗ , Roger G. Schroeder1 , Srilata Zaheer2 , Adrian S. Choo3 Curtis L. Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota, 3-150 CarlSMgmt Building, 32-19th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA Received 18 April 2001; accepted 2 May 2002

Abstract Six Sigma is a phenomenon that is gaining wide acceptance in industry, but lacks a theoretical underpinning and a basis for research other than “best practice” studies. Rigorous academic research of Six Sigma requires the formulation and identification of useful theories related to the phenomenon. Accordingly, this paper develops an understanding of the Six Sigma phenomena from a goal theoretic perspective. After reviewing the goal theory literature, these concepts, when applied to Six Sigma, suggest some propositions for future research. This paper can help serve as a foundation for developing scientific knowledge about Six Sigma. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. Keywords: Quality; Theory; Interdisciplinary; Goals; Six Sigma

1. Introduction The implications of Six Sigma in industry are profound. For example, in 1999 General Electric Company (GEC, 1999) spent over half a billion in Six Sigma initiatives and received over two billion in benefits for the fiscal year (Pande et al., 2000). While Six Sigma has made a big impact on industry, the academic community lags behind in its understanding of Six Sigma. In one of the few academic papers, Schroeder (2000) provides a definition of Six Sigma and discusses the importance of academic research in this area. The question remains: what should aca∗ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-612-626-8632. E-mail addresses: (K. Linderman), (R.G. Schroeder), (S. Zaheer), (A.S. Choo). 1 Tel.: +1-612-624-9544. 2 Tel.: +1-612-624-5590. 3 Tel.: +1-612-626-9723.

demics research? Since theory about Six Sigma is lacking there is no basis for research other than “best practice” studies. Therefore, to conduct research on Six Sigma, the starting point must be the formulation and identification of useful theories that are related to the Six Sigma phenomenon. Understanding Six Sigma requires consideration of the role of goals. The name Six Sigma suggests a goal (3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO)). In addition, the improvement of rational systems (Scott, 1987) is governed by both knowledge and motivation. Without knowledge, improvement only occurs through incidental or implicit learning, that is, by chance events that are rarely understood. In Six Sigma, the creation of knowledge occurs through intentional or explicit learning that employs formal improvement methods. Intentional learning requires regulation of actions taken by organizational members. Goals serve as regulators of human action by motivating the actions of organizational members. Thus, improvement goals motivate organizational

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K. Linderman et al. / Journal of Operations Management 21 (2003) 193–203

members to engage in intentional learning activities that create knowledge and make improvements. Goal theory is well developed in the behavioral literature. It specifies conditions under which goals can be easily achieved or are found to be difficult or unattainable. For example, goal theory states that goals which are clearly specified and measured result in higher performance than fuzzy or “do-best” goals. Since goal theory is well-established in the management literature, it can play a significant role in understanding quality management in general, and Six Sigma in particular. Miner (1980) rated goal theory “high” in both criterion validity and usefulness in application. Pinder (1984) said, “goal theory has demonstrated more...
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