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Six Sigma: decade-old business principles still apply

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The data-driven problem solving methodology Six Sigma, originally created by Motorola, has saved thousands of companies billions of dollars since its inception in 1987.

It is essentially a framework that involves the implementation of proven quality measurement principles, fine-tuned after decades of research, writes Ralph Smit, executive for governance and compliance, Bytes Connect.
By its nature, originally formulated on manufacturing and operational efficiencies, it is not as prevalent in the ICT industry as other management frameworks such as ITIL and Cobit, but it is can drastically improve the productivity of a company's leadership and teamwork, which is a critical component for any organisation’s success.
Far from being just checks and balances in internal operations or high-tech statistics and technology, Six Sigma is about making more money by measuring quality based on additional value.
Today, organisations must ensure that their customer experience remains consistent at all times, often an area where most of their customers' frustrations come from. Many companies still cling to subjective opinions, reasons and remedies for the people and process inconsistencies that are not in tune with reality. But this is changing.
Globally, call centre environments in particular are warming up to Six Sigma to minimise this type of fluctuation, and to measure variants within these processes and two of the biggest IT bodies COPC (Customer Operations Performance Centre) and ICMI (Incoming Calls Management Institute), are now offering training to drive continuous improvement and how it relates to the IT environment.
Importantly, Six Sigma also changes the core of how companies report on improved efficiencies to their shareholders and customers. If companies are hitting their key performance indicators, companies must adjust them by creating more efficiencies based on business drivers.
This could be either by focusing on cutting costs or ploughing back those efficiencies to the customer through improved service or cost reduction. By employing Six Sigma, these are tangibles based on facts that can be objectively substantiated. Six Sigma becomes an effective way of maintaining a standardised service. So why do Six Sigma projects fail?
The biggest reason why Six Sigma projects fail is the lack of management buy-in where it matters most – their commitment and sponsorship. This, in part, can be contributed to the lack of leadership, the wrong tools or knowledge to support and optimise the organisation, and insufficient management engagement at crucial points in the process.
It is a case of mapping the improvement projects with business priorities. If these projects are not deemed as important or their completion targets are too ambitious, users can be sure that they will not enjoy the attention required for them to flourish.
Management would be more likely to focus on a number of small projects that deliver modest financial savings and quick wins, rather than on projects that take longer to execute and take longer to show bottom-line results. The key to solving this problem is to involve those who are working on the project in the decision-making process from the start.
Those with a stake in the project are more likely to buy in and provide their time, resources and personal interest to ensure that planning the project, and seeing it through to completion, is a success. It is all about ownership and stakeholders taking charge of the project as a personal priority.
For companies looking to embark on their Six Sigma journey, outsourcing the process to a reputable partner is a cost-effective way, if the positive results are profitable for both.
It involves putting the right mix of consultants, good trainers and business analysts at the user's disposal, with the mindset and financial incentive to drive efficiencies. Essentially, the difference between a successful project and one that fails has more to do with the people in- and outside the organisation and how they work together, rather than constantly measuring statistics, no matter how important it is.
The right tools and structured processes, seen through by Six Sigma, can make all the difference, between good and excellent project results.