This best-selling book by Mikel Harry and Richard Schroeder has been held in high esteem for more than twenty years. Indeed the reputation earned by Six Sigma: The Breakthrough Management Strategy Revolutionizing the World's Top Corporations has for the most part been excellent, especially in the corporate industry. The authors are highly qualified to write a book about Six Sigma since they basically founded the organization. Mikel Harry is known as a high-powered consultant to businesses, and before writing the book with Schroeder served in the U.S. Marine Corps (as an infantry platoon leader and company commander) and was instrumental in founding Motorola's Six Sigma Research Institute. In fact Harry is given credit for founding the Six Sigma strategy for implementation. Schroeder, meanwhile, is a partner with Harry in setting up Six Sigma; he too worked at Motorola, and he and Harry work as consultants with corporations around the world to set up Six Sigma programs.
Review of the Book
The key target for this book is organizations that are seeking to improve their processes, seeking to slim down their overhead and receiving the training and certification schemes that Six Sigma offers. There is no shortage of organizations that have become more effective and more successful due to the concepts and components of Six Sigma. According to Professor Thong N. Goh (National University of Singapore), the most important business concepts that Six Sigma offers include: a) increased level of performance based on "critical-to-quality" (CTQ), a customer-centric process; b) clearly laid-out and understood roles and duties for the personnel (employees) that will solve problems based on Six Sigma's "Champions-Master Black Belt, Black Belt-Green Belt hierarchy"; c) a careful integration of the statistical tools that include the idea that the whole is larger than the sum of its parts; and d) using cutting edge information technology in software and hardware so that crunching numbers is a seamless operation and yet produces facts and results that are important to the company (Goh, 2012, p. 23). Goh also takes the position that Six Sigma has "for too long" touted the important changes it has accomplished for companies like Johnson & Johnson, Federal Express, and General Electric among others. Goh believes that pointing to those successes may be "counter-productive" because smaller companies may get the idea that Six Sigma is just for behemoth corporations.
Meanwhile, reading through the book it is apparent that this is not just an academic volume that raises business issues through esoteric philosophies and theories. While this book claims there is "nothing new" within its covers (in terms of the ideas presented), it offers companies a chance to change direction, to adjust and reinvent their work culture and their approach toward successful. The book refers to the positive changes that Motorola went through -- leading to the development of Six Sigma -- not as a way to brag about how profitable Motorola became with the progressive new ideas for success put forward by Harry, but rather a pathway for other companies that may be struggling to be profitable.
That said, any book that extols the virtues of a hot new business strategy that could help companies make more money is bound to include some bragging. On page 21, the authors write: "We are bombarded daily with requests from companies around the world that want more details on how the Six Sigma program works and how it can be applied to their organization." Are they really "bombarded" or is that a bit of hyperbole? Just when a reader thinks the authors are going off on a tangent to promote their program, they offer bullet points that apply to the changes that companies need to go through in order to increase a company's value: a) process improvements; b) product and service improvement; c) investor relations; d) design methodology; e) supplier improvement; and f) training and recruitment.
Yes, Six Sigma is all about "improving profitability," the authors explain (Harry, et al., 2006, p. 1), but it is also about changing the culture of a business, and to enhance the "economic value and practical utility to both the company and the consumer" (6). The term "practical utility" has a bare-bones kind of implication, and it is a nice catch-word (which the authors are adept at embracing), but it really means the customer gets a finished product supplies three areas of satisfaction: "form, fit, and function" (6). If it is an automobile company that needs an upgrade in its design and production, "form" simply means that a potential consumer wants a car that "pleases the eye"; "fit" means that the auto is tight, there are no rattles and no flaws; and "function" obviously means that the car provides good service, good gas mileage, the right amount of power beneath the hood. Thus form, fit, and function presents a very simplistic yet profoundly appropriate concept for a company to relate to as it prepares to undergo a sea change for the better.
The Six Sigma "Breakthrough Strategy" receives a lot of attention in this book. It is a great catch phrase and a memorable one, which is no doubt why they came up with it. The term "breaking news" is used by virtually all cable news shows these days so the word "breakthrough" has a fresh, even revolutionary feel to it. The Six Sigma Breakthrough Strategy is based on the need companies have to undergo a "…disciplined method of using extremely rigorous date-gathering and statistical analysis to pinpoint sources of errors and ways of eliminating them" (24). In other words, in order to make important improvements, companies first need to make an assessment of where they are. This doesn't sound revolutionary at all, but when deciding what needs changing, analysis comes first.
The short-term tactics in the Breakthrough Strategy include using tools to remove defects that are obvious (i.e., reducing operating costs and eliminating waste); the long-term approach is to "…shorten the length of time it takes to bring a new product to market" and to process a company's transactions in "shorter time periods" in order to improve margins and capacity (23-24). The three phases of the Breakthrough Strategy include: a) analyze phase ("…key pieces of information" that help point to "defective products" and determine whether the problem is technology related and whether it is "sporadic or persistent"; b) improve phase (in this phase the plan is to use the Design for Six Sigma [DFSS], which directs how to create better quality goods and services in the same way "…Motorola designed a process" that produced a "virtually defect-free pager"); and c) control phase (creating controls to assure that the same problems that plagued the company in the past no longer are a problem) (22-23).
Champions, Green Belts, Black Belts, and Master Black Belts. Training personnel to understand and work with the Breakthrough Strategy means they understand fully the customer's needs and desires. To do this, Six Sigma provides a scheme based on several categories of leadership. The Champion is the executive leader; there are Deployment Champions and Project Champions; the Deployment Champion is like the CEO in the nurturing process of teaching the Breakthrough Strategy; the Project Champion oversees the specific changes. The Master Black Belts are chosen by the Champions and they are supposed to spend "100% of their time to Six Sigma" -- and in the process they coach and train Black Belts and Green Belts in terms of the "overall process and status of projects" (193).
Master Black Belts are the heavyweights when it comes to the changes that are part of the Six Sigma program. Master Black Belts organize employees, design "cross-functional experiments," they structure and coordinate the projects" and basically help mold their organization into a Six Sigma kind of culture. Black Belts are under the supervision of the Master Black Belts, and Black Belts are to spend full time figuring out "how to get it done" (194). Black Belts undergo serious, intense training in gathering statistics and learning problem-solving techniques. Without Black Belts pushing forward toward the implementation of the changes the Breakthrough Strategy would not succeed. Next in line in the pecking order are the Green Belts, who are the employees given the task of executing Six Sigma as part of their duties and responsibilities within the firm. Green Belts also go through intensive training but not as much as the Black Belts do; the authors suggest that "two to four days of rudimentary training" is adequate for the Green Belts, and that assumes that the Black Belts have done their job properly and are poised for the cultural changes needed.
The Six Sigma program involves -- no surprise -- six guidelines. On page 197 the authors present those guidelines (which could have been printed earlier in the book because of their value to the program): Phase One (the selection of champions and belts -- 1 Champion per business; and 1 Master Black Belt for every 30 Black Belts); Phase Two (the training in the Breakthrough Strategy…