Six Sigma

Is Six Sigma Dying?

By Ron Updated on May 25th, 2007

I have often struggled with Dr. Deming’s 10th point of his 14 point management philosophy. It reads, “Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.”

Opponents of Six Sigma, and even Lean to some extent, say aiming for perfection or the infamous 3.4 defects per million is exactly what Deming was preaching against in point 10. They may be right.

Then again, Six Sigma proponents will say that Six Sigma is all about the “system” and perfectly aligns with Dr. Deming’s words. They may be right.

I am probably stuck somewhere between these two camps. But to me these slogans or almost impossible targets are not the biggest issue facing Six Sigma.

I actually think the biggest thing working against Six Sigma has to do with the fact that in order to be a “black belt” or “green belt” you normally have to use a certain number of tools to solve the problem at hand. This is all well and good unless the tools required are not the right ones for the job! Then the tail is indeed wagging the dog.

I cringe when I see people trying to use tools like regression and ANOVA when they don’t need to. In their defense, normally the only reason they are using these tools is because they have to in order to attain certification.

If Six Sigma dies a slow death it will be a sad day since it is such a powerful methodology when used the right way and in the right spirit. But when all (or most) of the emphasis is on using a handful of tools in order to “certify” rather than simply trying to make the business better I say long turn sustainability is nearly impossible.

If I were running a Lean or Six Sigma consulting company I would consider not offering any certifications. Instead, I would teach the tools while helping people make their business better. If they wanted a “belt” I would probably direct them to a place like ASQ to sit for one of their many exams. Would this business model work? I don’t know… you tell me.

  1. Mark Graban

    May 1, 2007 - 10:42 pm

    What’s more likely to die is the consulting gravy train called Six Sigma. If companies and leaders want to use the methodology, it’s not going to disappear.

  2. robert

    May 2, 2007 - 10:06 am


    There’s a latin phrase: entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, which translates to: entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity. It’s the principle behind Occam’s razor – All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one. This is exactly true where a Belt has to use certain tools in a project to gain certification – why use a DoE when you don’t need to … will 5-Whys be sufficient? Occam’s razor also links to probability theory, from Wikipedia: By definition, all assumptions introduce possibilities for error; If an assumption does not improve the accuracy of a theory, its only effect is to increase the probability that the overall theory is wrong.


  3. Michael

    May 10, 2011 - 8:17 pm

    I agree that there are a lot of useful tools within the six sigma toolkit but they seem to be misused especially with all the variations out there. I’ve also personally witness the watered down version known as ‘lean’ and cringe every time a silver bullet solution is recommended-and of course never implemented. You want real results that are breakthrough, actually get implemented and are sustained? 1. Work on your company’s mindset change. 2. Allow your people working within the process to redesign it. 3. Get a coach that is not only good with the hard process thinking but the soft cultural side 3. Give them a simple methodology that starts with the customer, gets to root cause using real experimentation. 4. Stop putting in buerocratic methodologies like six sigma and lean that require ‘belts’ or some other form of certification.

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