Whilst passing through Miami Airport en route to Mexico City, I was killing time by perusing the newspaper, and I came across an article on ‘Six Sigma’ in USA Today which caught my eye. Dated 21 July 1998, it had a challenging message relating to the cost benefits of Six Sigma. In the current global economic downturn, this challenge is even more prevalent. At that time I was co-ordinating a global MRP(II) programme between all the manufacturing sites of GlaxoWellcome, including the Xochimilco plant in Mexico. The Global Manufacturing and Supply Division of GlaxoWellcome was considering a ‘Lean Sigma’ initiative which was meant to be a hybrid of Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing. It struck me that the message in USA Today reflected not just the doubts (or expectations) in the minds of my colleagues but perhaps those of quality practitioners world-wide.
These doubts or expectations addressed many questions. Isn't Six Sigma simply another fad or even just a repackaged form of TQM? It appears to be successful in large organisations like Motorola and General Electric, but can small firms support such a programme? How can we apply the Six Sigma methodology originated from manufacturing operations to the far larger market of the service sector? Like any good product, Six Sigma will have a finite life cycle – so what is next? Surely one big question must be: how can we sustain the benefits in the longer term? It is good to be ‘lean’, but isn't it better to be ‘fit’ in ...