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Six Sigma Success Factors

  • What makes Six Sigma work?
  • What are the factors contributing to its successes at big corporations?
  • How can it be implemented to secure the bottom-line results that Six Sigma promises?

These are the most frequent questions being asked by the potential Six Sigma followers. But, there is no easy answer to each one of them. Simply because driving a business toward Six Sigma is not a one-time effort; it is about producing products and services that continue to meet customer and market requirements. This requires organizational agility and constant vigilance to changes in the marketplace. Thus, the real challenge with Six Sigma is getting to the point where one can meaningfully measure a business' current performance against dynamic customer requirements while developing the internal organizational abilities to response to changing marketplace conditions. Doing this well means aligning organizational components inside the company (leadership, strategy, people, and technology) to give Six Sigma efforts the momentum and staying power they need to succeed.

Most recently, one of PQA's Associates, Dr. John McLellan has done his doctorate thesis on the Six Sigma success factors and their integration into the Management Control structure for the organization.  For more information on this Six Sigma Doctoral thesis, or to obtain a copy, contact PQA

PQA has also written a PQA Whitepaper on management commitment for Six Sigma, and the typical and PQA recommended method of Six Sigma implementation.

There is limited literature to reveal the success factors for Six Sigma implementation. However, one doctoral candidate, Tsung-Ling Chang, performed a research survey which identifies ten Critical Success Factors for implementing a Six Sigma quality system. Based on Chang’s research findings, Process Quality Associates has developed a Six Sigma implementation framework.

Following is a summary of Chang’s research survey:

General Respondents Information

 The samples were mainly selected from two groups of Six Sigma professionals: the members of the International Society of Six Sigma Professionals and the trainees of a Six Sigma consulting firm. A total of 345 questionnaires were originally e-mailed with 21 being returned for e-mail address discrepancies. The resulting sample size was 324. There were 106 returned.

 In addition, 25 of the respondent companies (24%) had implemented all 10 initiatives listed and 74% of them had implemented over 6 of the 10 initiatives listed. It indicates that their Six Sigma Quality Management Systems (QMS) are quite advanced and mature. It also implies that companies, which adopted Six Sigma programs required a much higher maturity of their quality management systems. However, it is unusual to find that only 69.2% of the companies were IS09000 certified and about 20.6% of them did not have any industry certification. In general, about 95.2% of them indicated that the implementation of quality initiatives had a positive impact on company business operations.

Research Survey Results

The respondents were asked to indicate their level of agreement with 53 statements about their Six Sigma QMS on a scale of “1: strongly disagree” to “7: strongly agree”.

After the verification through the hypotheses examinations, the proposed 10 factors: strategic planning, competitive benchmarking, leadership, process management, human resource development, education and training, quality tools, information and analysis, supplier management, and customer management, have been confirmed to be critical to the success of Six Sigma QMS.

Chang also asked the respondents to name the factors they considered to be the five (5) most critical ones for implementing a Six Sigma QMS.

A summary of the mean value of responses for each critical success factor, and the Top 5 rankings, are presented in Table 10.1.

Table 10.1 : Critical Success factors for a Six Sigma QMS
Critical Success Factor (CSF) Mean % of SMEs Placing CSF
in TOP 5 (Rank in Brackets)
1. Top management leadership & commitment are essential to Six Sigma QMS success. Top management should act as key driver in continuous improvements, communicate to employees about organizational goals, and establish an environment for supporting organizational & employee learning. 5.99 95.9%
2. A well-implemented customer management system is critical to Six Sigma QMS success. Processes need to be established in order to monitor customer satisfaction levels, to receive customer feedback, and to resolve customer concerns. 5.92 74.0%
3. The education and training system should provide continuous courses to employees for equipping them with quality-related knowledge and problem-solving skills. 5.64 71.2%
4. A well-organized information and analysis system should be designed to collect the performance measures in order to monitor the quality of key business processes. 5.58 30.1%
5. A well-implemented process management system that identifies, improves, and monitors the key business processes has a positive impact on Six Sigma QMS success. The quality assurance system, work unit performance measures, and statistical techniques are essential to process management. 5.57 34.2%
6. A well-developed strategic planning system must translate into executable action plans with related performance measurements. The necessary human & financial resources must be allocated to support the implementation of business action plans. 5.53 61.6%
7. A well-developed supplier management system, where the main criteria for selecting suppliers is based on quality aspects, has a positive impact on Six Sigma QMS success. Processes need to be built in order to monitor the quality performance levels of suppliers. 5.50 39.7%
8. Throughout the organization, from management to employees, equipping all with quality tools has a positive impact on Six Sigma QMS success. Quality tools should be used in production and non-production processes. 5.46 61.6%
9. A well-developed human resource management system has a positive impact on Six Sigma QMS success. A job advancement system is important to human resource development. Various methods are developed to facilitate the communication between the organization and its employees. To promptly improve performance, employees need to receive their performance feedback from their supervisors. 5.22 17.8%
10. A well-developed competitive benchmarking system should be capable of collecting market and competitors’ information. The process of benchmarking information collection needs to be evaluated to ensure its effectiveness. 4.95 13.7%

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