July 2001

Vol. 3, No. 7

Six sigma and more:  What would Deming do?
by David R. Schwinn

A letter to the editor in Quality Progress from Lloyd Nelson, a statistician whom I greatly admire, admonished another writer for advocating "managing by the numbers." He held up W. Edwards Deming as opposing such management practices. I started thinking that it might be interesting to ask, "What would Deming do (WWDD)?" as it relates to Six Sigma theory and practice.

Of course, I recognize the arrogance and risk associated with attempting to answer such a question without asking Dr. Deming directly. However, I thought it might be a fun, maybe even enlightening, exercise. I'll use his Fourteen Obligations of Management and what he called the Seven Deadly Diseases, as his system of management and the framework for this approach.

Before I begin, let me point out that Dr. Deming, in his later years, focused primarily on what he called Profound Knowledge. This focus, I believe, came from a need to create an understanding of the theory upon which the Fourteen Obligations of Management and the Seven Deadly Diseases are based. At a later date, I'll address the relationship between Profound Knowledge and Six Sigma.

While we all know that Dr. Deming was continually improving the 14 points and 7 deadly diseases, I've chosen to use those documented in Out of the Crisis (Cambridge, Mass: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Advance Engineering Study, 1986).

Point #1: Create constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service.
Six Sigma hits a home run here. Everything about Six Sigma centers on a top-down, aggressive focus on significant, measurable improvement. I am reminded of a letter from one of our readers who appealed to all of us to "shout it from the rooftops." I agree. The message is clear and simple. It should reverberate through as many communication channels as possible, and repeated over and over again in many different ways even after management is sick of saying it. It is hard to hear in the trenches.

The other issue that comes to mind is related to "constancy." I've said before that just saying we're going in a new direction, such as Six Sigma, is never enough. Policies and procedures must be changed, as well as processes and the systems of reward, recognition, and punishment. Sometimes people and their roles need to change. So, how do we figure out what to change?

During World War II, Kurt Lewin, a University of Iowa professor, invented a simple, elegant tool, force field analysis. It is a great way to identify what needs to happen to encourage any kind of change, such as Six Sigma. For those of you who are not familiar with it, here are the steps:

  1. Be as clear and simple as you can about what you are trying to do. For example, "Launch and sustain a Six Sigma effort that will result in Six sigma capability of all critical product and service characteristics in ten years."
  2. Brainstorm the driving forces, or the existing forces that tend to support this Six Sigma objective.
  3. Brainstorm the restraining forces, or the existing forces that tend to inhibit achievement of your goal.
  4. Prioritize the driving forces with respect to their relative strengths.
  5. Prioritize the restraining forces with regard to their relative strengths.
  6. Develop a list of actions designed to reduce, eliminate, or reverse the effect of the restraining forces. Often, this can be be done by taking advantage of the driving forces.

Force field analysis, as well as other tools in Practical Tools for Continuous Improvement from PQ Systems, will support Six Sigma efforts in any organization. An illustration of force field analysis is shown here.

One last thought. I can hear Dr. Deming, in his booming voice, saying, "David, FOR WHAT PURPOSE?" What if we were to define our purpose as, "Create an organization that evokes the willing hands and hearts and minds of all the stakeholders and serves the common good," rather than, "Launch and sustain a Six Sigma effort that will result in Six sigma capability of all critical product and service characteristics in ten years?" Interesting.

Speculating about the relationship between Dr. Deming's management principles and Six Sigma is a useful exercise. But let me know what you think! You can reach me at support@pqsystems.com

Copyright 2000 PQ Systems.

Please direct questions or problems regarding this web site to the Webmaster.