There has been much debate and consideration extended towards the major quality and process movements of the last several generations. This is true both in the United States and around the world. Some of the more common ones, and indeed the ones that will be covered in this report, include Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and Business Process Reengineering (BPR). There are also other movements and methods such as CMM, ITIL and ISO 9000. However, the three mentioned prior will be the focus. While no single process method is perfect and usable in all situations, they are all quite impressive in their own rights when chosen and wielded correctly.
Six Sigma is perhaps one of the more notorious and well-known process improvement techniques in the United States and perhaps around the world as well. It was created in 1986 by Motorola Corporation. The clearest and brightest example of a firm over the years that has used Six Sigma with glowing results was General Electric (GE) under the supervision and tutelage of GE Chief Executive Officer Jack Welch. Six Sigma is tailored towards quality and lack of defects in manufacturing. Six Sigma has a rating system that indicates the amount of defects that are commonly seen in finished goods. A true "six sigma" business is one that sees defects a fraction of one percent of the time (Gygi, Williams & Gustafson, 2006; Tang, 2006).
There are two main methodologies that are part of the Six Sigma system, those being DMAIC and DMADV. DMAIC is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. Define means to act as the voice of the customer and fetter out the requirements and desired results of a project. Measure means to look at the key traits and parts of a project and to collect all of the relevant data. Analyze means to look at and investigate the information that comes out during the process as a whole and discover the genesis of any defects in the end products that are coming out of the manufacturing pipeline. Improve means to theorize and test solutions to the aforementioned problems that may be discovered that were leading to defects. Finally, control means to look at any results that are a clear diversion from the plans and to ensure that they do not happen again in the future. DMADV means to Define, Measure, Analyze, Design and Verify. It is also commonly referred to as DFSS, short for Design For Six Sigma. The steps in DMADV are similar but are used for a different application. DMAIC is to be used for existing processes and procedures. Conversely, DMADV is for brand new products and process flows (Gygi, Williams & Gustafson, 2006; Tang, 2006).
Lean Six Sigma is similar but has its focus more on eliminating waste and it actually defines waste in eight different forms. The acronym "DOWNTIME" is used for these eight types of waste, also referred to as muda. The types of waste are defects, overproduction, waiting, non-utilized talent, transportation, inventory, motion and extra-processing. The Lean Six Sigma iteration arose almost two full decades after Motorola crafted the original Six Sigma. It was described and details in a book written in 2002 by Michael George and Robert Lawrence Jr. The name of the book was Lean Six Sigma: Combining Six Sigma. Not unlike standard Six Sigma, the level of achievement while wielding Lean Six Sigma tools and techniques. A yellow belt Lean Six Sigma is a person who has awareness of the process and how it works. A green belt Six Sigma is someone that focuses has a strong understanding and grasp of DMAIC and general Lean principles. A black belt Lean Six Sigma is someone that is a full-time project leader and that uses the Lean Six Sigma methodology. The final and top ranking of Six Sigma is known as "MBB," short for Master Black Belt. This is someone who has at least two years with Lean Six Sigma and that does (or at least can) teach Lean Six Sigma to others (George, 2010; Taghizadegan, 2006).
The final of the three major process movements up for review here would include Business Process Reengineering, often shortened to BPR. BPR came out about halfway between the original Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma. Crafted in the 1990's, it yielded a focus on workflows and the processes/procedures by which operational tasks were completed so as to get rid of inefficiency and other problems. Rather than start with the minutia of daily tasks, BPR usually starts at the top and verifies what a business is out to accomplish, their mission statement, their mission statement, the niches of industry that they inhabit, the niches of industry that they want to inhabit and so forth. There are actually four major dimensions that BPR looks at in one form or another. Those dimensions are speed, cost, quality and service. Some firms seem to keep things focused on cost but doing all four of those is important. One major thing that distinguishes BPR from the Sigma flavors is that they focus less on incremental change and more on reinventions that are meant to last a long time (Klein, 1994).
A few of the differences and similarities between the three process movements mentioned above have been touched upon already but they shall be covered more in depth in this section. Obviously, Lean Six Sigma and Six Sigma are going to be the most similar as one (Lean Six Sigma) was an offshoot of the other (Six Sigma). Lean focuses more on cutting waste while standard Six Sigma focuses on getting rid of faults and flaws in end-products. Regardless of the Six Sigma, both of them continue in a perpetual and constant fashion and thus are ever-processing. On the other hand, process reengineering is much rarer in terms of changing things and when they do, the changes are sudden and major. Rather than little dribs and drabs here and there like one would typically see with Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma, the changes are much more wide-ranging and emphatic when dealing with BPR. Put another way, BPR is typically manifested by complete overhaul and change from the existing system to a new one. Six Sigma is more about maintaining progress and realignment if/when problems are spotted (Six Sigma Institute, 2014).
However, the changes are not limited to that. A major driver of Six Sigma is making service more integrated and seamless while business process reengineering is looking more at actual changing of the market itself. The main goal of business process reengineering typically centers on making things more efficient and streamlined while Six Sigma is looking at the alignment of process across the different business units and products. The overall risk vs. return level with business process reengineering can be high or low but it tends to be medium to high when speaking of Six Sigma. However, one way in which BPR and the Six Sigma arcs are very similar is that technology is seen as helping of reinvention of processes and procedures. Also, the overall impacts of both business process reengineering and the Six Sigma flavors are over both short and medium terms but Six Sigma can also have long-term effects, comparatively speaking. Business process reengineering typically leads to more help from the outside while Six Sigma generates ideas from the inside out. Changes in both business process reengineering and Six Sigma happen from the top down but Six Sigma is more gradual and there is definitely a "top," a "middle" and a "bottom" when assessing and looking at the progression. This is not nearly the case when speaking of business process reengineering (Six Sigma Institute, 2014).
The two main tools used in the two major types of processes are different as well. Statistical analysis is an unmistakable part of the Six Sigma process while business process reengineering focuses more on process maps. The overall method behind process reengineering is the challenge the fundamentals of the process while there is a focus in the Six Sigma known as COPQ, short for Cost of Poor Quality. The way to translate this to a real-world story is to look at how BPR and Six Sigma would each approach the same issue, that being reinvention of a bank deposit process at a bank. Six Sigma would look at removing variation and differences and streamlining the process would be the overarching goal. On the other hand, business process reengineering would focus on changing the entire process, which is something Six Sigma would do only if customer satisfaction and major procedural problems existed. Rather than reinvent the wheel, which is what business process reengineering would be much more likely to do, there would be a focus from Six Sigma that would first center on improving the existing infrastructures and processes. It would refine and improve what is already there rather than discarding it and starting over (Six Sigma Institute, 2014).