20 Apr Evolving beyond the Six Sigma mentality in manufacturing
If you’re in the manufacturing industry, you’re in the Six Sigma industry. Based on the idea that a near-perfect end product is always possible, Six Sigma is the methodology fueling so much of internal manufacturing processes, and for good reason. It’s estimated that Six Sigma has saved Fortune 500 companies over $400 billion since 1987.
But is Six Sigma always going to be the best approach for maintaining a strong customer base? Not necessarily. Take one look at industry disruptors like Tesla, GE, and Toyota, and we know there has to be something else at play to keep your customers your customers. As manufacturing professional and iSixSigma contributor Forrest W. Breyfogle noted, “Six Sigma sometimes is deployed for projects that provide little payoff…Six Sigma does not provide the integrated excellence at all operational and corporate levels that should be required and can be measured with bottom-line predictability.”
It’s time for manufacturers to consider how business transformation initiatives could benefit from a different approach than the old standbys: leading with customer experience in mind. Industry disruptors are not companies practicing Six Sigma in bigger, better ways—they’re the companies completely turning the equation around and providing customer value with a comprehensive experience.
We’d like to spend some time evaluating the old manufacturer mentality, why it doesn’t work for business transformation work, and what organizations can do to adopt the current, modern approach in their processes:
Before: Product excellence first
For decades, the manufacturing culture has put product excellence on the highest pedestal. It’s how companies have been dominating the market and maintaining control over large customer bases. In correspondence with that, the engineers tasked with developing these products assert their worth as a resource by making products even more perfect. Engineers aren’t just there to build something that works—they’re there to build something that won’t break. The cost of recalls, faulty parts and pieces, botched solutions, etc. present huge liability and safety concerns for the industry. All of this has fostered—rightfully so—a culture of Six Sigma discipleship.
Six Sigma requires final designs that have very little variability or chances for error. It pushes designers and engineers and, ultimately, the entire company, to not move forward on a given product until that 99.9999998% standard deviation from the mean has been attained.
Now, this mentality is great for product development. We certainly expect our products to be safe, functional, and free of error. However, this mindset isn’t ideal for business transformation projects where agile, adaptable, and fast-moving initiatives are the name of the game. Manufacturers have proven themselves to be masters at product excellence. But it’s time to pivot that drive for perfection to a more flexible methodology better suited to the initiatives driving the revolution behind digital customer experience—the new…
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