The Importance of Critical Thinking in Six Sigma Process Methodology
While the Six Sigma methodology may be both a logical and workable tool for business process and product improvement, the importance of integrating critical thinking (CT) in the Six Sigma process cannot be overstated. For without the application of CT, the data under consideration in the process may be incomplete, rendering the reliability of the Six Sigma finding(s) and recommended solution(s) suspect. Six Sigma is a method many organizations utilize for enterprise process improvement, which employs scientific and statistical method to reduce defects and variation in production processes and/or products. As a robust business improvement methodology, Six Sigma focuses the organization on customer requirements, process alignment, analytical rigor and timely execution (Ayad, 2010). Fundamental in its approach is the application of certain problem-solving methodologies such as DMAIC and “root cause” analysis. DMAIC, an acronym which abbreviates Defining, Measuring, Analyzing, Improving and Controlling (opportunities and performance), is a means of measuring variation and defects and improving quality. Another methodology used by Six Sigma practitioners is an approach referred to as the ‘5 Whys’, which is a method of isolating the ‘root cause’ of process variation and/or defects by asking “What caused the problem?” followed by “Why?” five consecutive times. After the fifth response is rendered, it is assumed that root of the problem will have been revealed. Six Sigma seeks to improve business processes through the use of DMAIC as its approach, with the outcome of identifying root causes of opportunities and/or defects, and improving corporate performance. (Ayad, 2010). It depends upon business statistics and numeric data analysis to drive a course of improvement. By virtue of its systematic approach, the Six Sigma methodology does employ certain levels of Benjamin Bloom’s six educational objectives (Ellis, 2013), such as Understanding, Applying, Analyzing and Evaluating. However, it is the means by which and extent to which it does so that necessitates further inquiry. For example, as Watson points out, analysis is conducted to identify which steps in a process map add value and which do not. For those steps that add value, statistical optimization techniques are applied. Those steps which do not add value are either eliminated or minimized (Watson, 2004). While process improvements can be achieved in this measured, formulaic manner, Six Sigma does not, at its core, evaluate its effect on outcomes which may be more difficult to measure using its methodologies, such as morale, culture, corporate politics and power (Ayad, 2010). For example, although reducing a given process to its most fundamental elements may maximize process efficiency, it may also result in a punishingly boring or stressfully fast-paced work experience for the teammate carrying out the task. This may lead to an impact on employee morale so negative that the results may outweigh the efficiency benefit of adopting the new process. Similarly, deploying a new, highly efficient process may result in the corporate culture to shift from a culture in which employees, highly loyal to the organization, become disgruntled and less enthusiastic about their overall work experience. Additionally, while in theory, the ‘5 Whys’ may seem to enable the Sis Sigma practitioner to get to the root of the problem, does it take into consideration concerns the teammate may have about providing the ‘wrong’ information. After all, merely utilizing the ‘5 Whys’ does not guarantee that the responses elicited will be honest or accurate. And an employee desirous of impressing the boss, or at a minimum, keeping oneself out of ‘hot water,’ may not have as his/her primary objective, that of being honest and forthright. The integration on CT in employing Six Sigma methodology imparts a framework for...
References: Ayad, A. (2010), Critical Thinking and Business Process Improvement, Journal of Management Development, Volume 29 Issue 6, p 556-564, 9p
Ellis, D. (2013), Becoming a Master Student, Wadsworth Cengage Learning, Boston, MA
Watson, G. H. (2004), Six Sigma: Analyse Sources of Variation, Manufacturers’ Monthly, p 20-21, 2p
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