Customer satisfaction particularly in terms of the level of products and services quality that an organization provides to its clientele is one of the most important aspects of any business operations today (particularly in this era of ever stiffening competition). In effect, the need to be on top of the market in relation to the level of products and services quality as well as optimal levels of customer satisfaction cannot be overemphasized. As a matter of facts, business environment continues to become more and more competitive by the day. Consequently, businesses are in dire need to provide the market or rather customers with products and services that provides the best level of the latter’s satisfaction as a means of basic survival. Consequently, business practitioners have come up with various models that seek to guarantee optimal clientele satisfaction from the products that they offer. Ideally, one of the earliest and most widely used such approach which has been used over the years to check product, eliminate product variations as well as ensure virtual minimization of variations in products is the six sigma model. The model popularity is particularly evident in its extensive use predominantly by major players in the automobile industry including Toyota, BMW among others. Since the development and debut utilization by Motorola in the 1980s (Pande, Neuman & Cavanagh 56), the six sigma model has been widely utilized as an alternative and compliment of total quality management both of which seeks to ensure that the output of the production process meets or even exceeds the customers expectations in relations to the quality level of the organization’s products and services. This paper therefore provides a detailed overview of the six sigma model to quality assurance. Furthermore, the paper reviews the significance of six sigma model in relations to the cost of production of products and services that fail to meet customer’s needs while comparing it with total quality management.
The six sigma model
Irrespective of the fact that the six sigma model was developed by Motorola in the early 1980s the model’s history and use can be traced to as early as the 1920 when its similar application are reported to have featured in the statistical process control (SPC) (Montgomery 71). According to Montgomery (72), the six sigma can be referred to as a model that is used in the manufacturing process with a sole objective of reducing variations in the production process to ensure that all the products succeeds in meeting or even exceeding the ultimate customers expectation. In effect therefore, six sigma model is institute and applied with an objective of assuring optimal customer satisfaction via assurance of the best product free from defects.
With the utilization of the six sigma model, provision for defects and variations is only created for only 3.0 defects in the manufacturing output in every million such occurrences (Pande, Neuman, & Cavanagh 57). Ideally therefore, the main purpose of this model is to ensure maximum clientele satisfaction while minimizing defects in the production processes. According to Stamatis (7) six sigma is a formal and a systematic methodology of organizational problem solving which follows a rather generic pattern in its problem solving approach? The latter argues that the six sigma approach instead of focusing its solutions to the problem towards specific problem or concern within the organization, there is tendency of it bringing the attention of the experimenter to the overall solution as well as its effects. As such, the latter indicates that the problem solving approach in which the six sigma model follows includes definition of the problem, the problem diagnoses, seeking remedies, solution to the results of the diagnoses, identifies root cause of the problem as well as ensuring that the gains of the process holds via instituting adequate control measures (Montgomery 76).
The element of six sigma model of quality management
Basically, the six sigma approach is made up of three basic processes all of which are mutually inclusive (Stamatis 17). The latter indicates that these parts include the improvement processes, the designing/redesigning processes, as well as the management processes. In effect, it is the three elements or rather processes that define the workability of the six sigma model to quality management.
The improvement process
According to Tennant (38), performance deficiency or rather faults in the product development process are inherent in any one organization. As a matter of facts, the latter holds that these shortcomings particularly in virtual production and which are likely to be exhibited in the final products are potential causes of real problems to the affected organization leading to ineffectiveness and inefficacy in the organizational operations. As a result, the process of improvement as part of the six sigma model and its great importance in all organization need not be overemphasized. Ideally, the process seeks to do away with all the shortcomings and which are inherent in virtually all the organizations. The effectiveness of the elimination of these deficiencies for the success of the elimination process is however defined by six major steps which includes defining, measuring, analyzing, improving, and ultimately controlling the entire processes to ensure that the gains yielded by six sigma and total quality management are upheld at all time as far as the organization is concerned (Richardson Para 5).
Ideally, this is the initial step in the improvement process. Virtually, the step entails physical ascertainment or rather identification of a critical problem either in the manufacturing process or in other sectors within the organization and which could affect the ultimate product or derail efficient operations of the organization. Upon this identification, a project team is immediately constituted and handed in the respective responsibility to bail out the organization from the pre-identified problem (Pande, Neuman& Cavanagh 59). More importantly, the defining step involves preparation of the problem statement the latter of which is supposed to describe the problem in specific terms that identify the problem, the characteristics of the problem of the physical manifestation of the problem as evidence, the extent of the problem seriousness as expressed in terms of measurable and quantifiable effects as well as the absolute size of the problem to ascertain whether such a problem can be managed by a unit average size project or whether its size calls for its subdivision in to a number of sizeable manageable projects.
Furthermore, a projects mission statement must be developed to describe the steps and activities that are going to be involved in getting a solution to the identified problem (Pande, Neuman& Cavanagh 61). Preferably, the mission statement is supposed to represent the objectives to be achieved by the improvement project. In effects, both the mission statement and the problem statement must be made up of similar variables as well as units of measure. In addition, a team must be selected the latter of which should be a cross functional team that directs the functions that are likely to be affected either directly or indirectly by the improvement project.
This forms the second step in the improvement process. It involve gathering of data on the way the process is currently working with an objective of coming up with at least basic ideas on the possible causes of the problem. In the course measurement evidence of the problem is ascertained via seeking of visible symptom as well as establishing criteria for measuring both current and previous organizational performance. In addition, the measuring process involves development of map showing the way in which the process that is the cause of the problem operates. Nevertheless, project’s main purpose at this point involves analyzing the outward observable evidence of a problem, the latter of which is a phrase used to refer problem symptoms characteristics in six sigma model. Moreover, the measurement is used for confirmation or modification of the mission statement on the basis of the conclusions of the analysis. According to Tennant (41), in circumstance where the outwards of the observable evidence comes in a continuing basis, the problem can be classified as chronic reflecting a problem that requires addressing as fast as possible before it gets out of hand. In addressing this problem, the following system can be utilized in the analysis of the problem symptoms.
In addition, the measuring step of the improvement process as far as the six sigma model is concerned involves developing of operational definitions, measuring the symptom, and defining the precincts i.e. the scope of the improvement project. Furthermore, those carrying out the analysis should focus on the very important aspects that are concentrating on those sources of the problem that are thought to have played a greater part in the problem/ error (Stamatis 17).
Once the measuring step of the improvement process is successfully performed, a detailed analysis is then performed based on the identified preliminary ideas, coupled with gathering and developing of theories describing in details the possible causes of the problem. The theories and ideas are then tested to ascertain the root and real causes of the problem. During the analysis step, theories about the root causes of the problem are devised after which they are taken to test with an aim of identifying the actual root causes of the problem (Stamatis 19). During the formulation of the theories, the project team come up with possible theories to the problem at hand, documents them, and then organizes them in the form of a cause-and-effect diagram.
Prior to any of the devised theory becoming accepted as the real and basic cause of the problem, it is taken through systematic tests. As a result, all the data that is required for the testing of the theory must be sought in advance while all the data should be virtually sifted so as to eliminate all the data that deems irrelevant in relations to the deficiency or problem at hand. Upon testing of the theory and ascertainment of the relevant data to the problem, the core/ initial causes of the deficiency/ problem can be clearly identified and virtually eliminated, a move that is expected to significantly reduce the problem or totally eliminate it thus posing as a solution to the latter (Stamatis 21).
At this stage, measures are then developed to eliminate the identified causes of the problem via designing and implementing changes to the faulty process/ processes. This step entails several steps that occur chronologically. Among the steps involved in the improving process is the virtual evaluation of alternative methods in order to ascertain the method that is most ideal either mitigate or virtually eliminate the defect or the problem or rather its root cause. In accomplishing this, a number of evaluation criteria are employed in seeking the alternative methods of evaluation which includes but not limited to cost impact, cost/benefit ratio analysis as well as cultural impact method (Stamatis 19). Once an improvement method has been selected, the improvement process is designed by confirming that the improvement is ideal for efficient achievement of the project’s goals.
Furthermore, this step in the course of six sigma model would involve ascertainment of the needed resources, coming up with the specifications of the procedures and other variations that may be required in the course of project goals pursuance as well as identifying need for any training and retraining of personnel for the project’s ultimate success. More over, a plan in preparation for cultural resistance is made. This is because any change particularly which comes with improvement efforts are likely to be faced with unprecedented cultural resistance and which is inherent in any one organization (Pande, Neuman& Cavanagh 63). As a result, the project organizers or rather the managers in charge of the whole improvement operations must prepare adequately to face the resistance head to head being careful not to let the resistance bring failure to the project.
The accomplishment of the project must be accompanied by the manager’s of the improvement process prove that the improvements made are to be effective prior to their adoption by the organization. Those in charge must therefore prove that the improvements made are actually effective under the operating circumstance. Therefore, a number of methods can be utilized to test the improvement effectiveness including conducting a pilot test or rather a dry run that is devoid of virtual customers deliveries and acceptance test or rather a mock up among others. Once the improvements have been proved effective, the introduced changes can thus be confidently implemented by introducing them to the organizational members directly in charge of performing the real tasks that will make them work.
According to Tennant (27), effective implementation of the changes however would require a clear planning, a clear description of the introduced variations, and proper communication to the implementers that offers clear explanation of why the introduced changes are necessary and important. Furthermore, all individual who have been affected by the introduced variations must be actively involved to avoid resistance the latter of which should lead to failure in implementation of such changes. However, Pande, Neuman& Cavanagh (59) points out that effective and successful implementation greatly relies on good planning and preparations as well as unmatched unity and cooperation among all the parties involved in the implementation of the changes.
At this point, new control measures are put in place and implemented in order to prevent reoccurrence of the problem as well as coagulate the gains that have resulted from the overall improvement process. During this Control step, controls are put in place to ensure that the gains that have been achieved will continue and that the problem will not recur (De Feo & Barnard 13). In controlling, effective control measures and tools are developed and affected and the improvements/ changes that have been introduced are perfected. Furthermore, the controls that have been instituted are continuously audited to ensure that the improvements maintain maximum effectiveness (Pande, Neuman& Cavanagh 67).
As a matter of facts, some deficiencies in the production process or rather problems cannot be solved by improving the existing processes in an organization. As a result, Stamatis (19) points out that the six sigma model allows for the designing of new processes or rather overhaul of the existing process via a re-designing module. Redesigning or designing of processes in an organization may be necessitated by a number of scenarios. For instance, in events where an organization in the course of pursuing an improvement proper finds out that the mere improvements of the existing proves will not translate to products that efficiently deliver the level of customers satisfaction that is exercised via quality, the only alternative left would be a total overhaul or redesigning of the entire project. Furthermore, the organization would be required to come up with an entirely new process in cases where it is faced with an opportunity to offer a totally new product or service. Process design or redesigning entails five core steps (Stamatis 21).
- Defining or rather virtual identification of the new process’s goals and objectives while considering the customers requirements and expectations
- Coming up with a set of activities required for the development of the new process while ensuring that the performances are consistent with the preset new process goals and objectives and-
- Performing an analysis of the identified activities related to the new processes the later of which is used to produce an outline of the new process on the basis of the new product and its expected quality.
Afterwards, the outline developed in the last step is thus worked on and developed in to a detailed design the latter of which is adopted for implementation. The design is taken via a verification process to ensure that it is best performing upon which effective control measures are put in place to ensure the expected level of process performance are maintained.
Tennant (38), argues that process management forms perhaps the most challenging and lengthy constituent of the six sigma. The latter points out that this is due to the fact that the manner in which an organization is constituted and run would require at least some basic changes in cases where the six sigma model is applied in the organizational context, a fact that Pande, Neuman& Cavanagh (67) greatly supports. Basically, process management entails a rather multifaceted approach which includes definition of the processes involved in the entire projects, ascertaining and documenting the clientele needs, and expectations in relation to the expected products as well as determining those in charge of the process implementation and control. Furthermore, it involve steady and continuous appraisal in which performance is measured relative to customers expectations and needs.
At this point there, efficient product and performance indicators must be identified, verified, and document. Furthermore, the management of the processes entails comprehensive data analysis in order to foster measures as well as beefing up the processes management mechanisms. Also, this stage of the six sigma approach that involves controlling the process performance particularly via close monitoring process, inputs its operations as well as the output in form of customer satisfaction delivery through expected products services levels. Furthermore, the management ensures the process efficiency and flexibility in terms of ability and ease to aptly respond to eventualities problem and process change (De Feo & Barnard 14).
Six sigma model as an approach to operations management
Six sigma is an approach that forms the core of operations management in business organization. According to Stamatis (11) the methodologies of the six sigma greatly traverses not only in other quality management models such as total quality management but also occupies a central position in operations management. As a results, Just like total quality management (TQM) the six sigma is a model of quality management that seeks to quarantine total quality via minimization of defects and products variation from the core of OM. Ideally, Operations management refers to all set of strategies and activities that are geared towards the careful management of processes to produce and distribute products and services. According to Pande, Neuman& Cavanagh (69) the set of activities that are involved in the operations management includes product creation and development. Consequently, OM is greatly associated with product quality management, which greatly focuses on efficiency and effectiveness of processes involved in quality assurance. Similarly, quality forms the central focus of six sigma approach.
Six sigma Significance: The Costs of Poor Quality
Production of poor quality products or rather products with defects and variations attracts dire costs on the part of the organization ranging from financial costs to loss of markets particularly due to customers dissatisfaction (De Feo & Barnard 12). Apart from the financial cost implications, the poor quality of products in an organization comes with scores of other costs; both internal and external. For instance, De Feo & Barnard (12) argues that due to poor quality, organizations are forced to bear internal costs such as the costs of reworking the products, the costs of obsolete repairs on finished products, which has both monitory and time costs, loss of materials and some finished products as scrap, the cost of unnecessarily changing suppliers and altering the purchasing channel, expediting as a result of emergencies among others. In addition, the latter holds that poor products quality attracts massive cost on the part of the organization in terms of the external relations. First, it leads to loss of reputation on the companies and their products in the markets. For instance, in circumstance where the products involved are automobiles defects or variation in the expected product quality level may lead to the total collapse of the respective organizational markets. This is because the customers value their lives hence it is unlikely that they will buy the automobile products particularly if they have a reputation that blacklist them as being prone to accidents. Consequently, such a scenario is likely to cause massive reduction in sales which is obviously likely to cause spells of losses in the organization.
Secondly, this poor reputation greatly hurt the relationship between the companies and the investors, creditors as well as the suppliers due to lack of absolute confidence of its future. In order to avoid such cost therefore, the organization ought to adopt a model that minimizes such product deficiencies thus acting as an assurance of quality and a key to optimal customer satisfaction. Resultantly, the company is likely to experience high profitability particularly if the model attracts lower costs. In effect therefore, six sigma is an ideal such model (Stamatis 11). Furthermore, its usability in quality management has been evidenced by its successful applicability particularly by Motorola, Toyota, Ford, firestone fire company and many others succeeding in bailing them out of product quality crisis.
Six sigma Vs Total Quality management
Six sigma and total quality management are one and the same although totally different in context and application. Basically, Total Quality Management abbreviated and popularly referred to as TQM refers to a model to management whose roots are believed to be the Japanese’s industry and whose popularly and utilization across the world has continued to grow steadily over the years and reached its peak in the early 1980’s. Ideally, total quality is a phrase that describes culture attitude as well as company’s way of operations with an objective of provision and continued provision of products and services that deliver the highest level of satisfaction to its clientele (Stark Para 6). As a matter of facts, existence of the culture of total quality in an organization has over the years proved effective in ensuring that quality in all aspects of the organization is upheld at all time by including a policy that support continuous improvement. Furthermore, TQM culture ensures that all things in the organization are performed in the right manner at the first shot while ensuring that problems/ defects as well as waste in the production process are totally done away with forthwith. Therefore, both TQM and Six sigma model hold the same objectives and greatly relate in performances and implementation within the organizational context.
While in most cases the two approaches to quality assurance succeed in complimenting each other in the optimization of customers satisfaction through quality, sources indicates that six sigma as a model excels where TQM has failed. As noted by Stark (Para 3), many organizations are usually faced with a problem in the adoption and implementation of the total quality management (TQM approach). According to the results of a survey released by consulting firms it was reported that just between 20 and 30% of organizations that have embarked on a total quality management programs have achieved the desired results in the achievement of desired goals in terms of quality improvement, enhanced productivity, fostered productivity competitiveness as well as bettering its financial position. Therefore, six sigma offers simplistic, more specific, and effective approach to quality assurance and optimum customers’ satisfaction (Stark Para 3).
Although total quality management (TQM) is a model that has been employed over the years and particularly common in organization as a means of quality assurance, it has since been traded for six sigma (the latter of which is currently the most popular model for quality assurance for optimum customer’s satisfaction). Ideally, six sigma model offers an opportunity for practical streamlining of organizational processes to ensure that customers’ expectations via products and services are guaranteed via eliminations of product defects and variations ensuring maximum customer satisfactions. On the other hand, total quality management (TQM) relates to series management practices which are usually instituted across all the organizational functions and which are destined to make sure that the organization remains as consistent as possible in meeting and even exceeding customer needs in terms of its products and services. Basically, total quality management places a great emphasis on the measurement of the organizational processes while instituting controls to ensure that the policy of continuous improvement (Kaizen) is virtually upheld throughout the organization (Stark Para 5).
Just like in six sigma model, total quality management approach to optimum customer satisfaction delivery draws effectiveness from a number of the important constituents that it entails. These include customer-driven quality focus, top management leadership and commitment, continuous improvement policy, fast response to changes, consumer complaints about any aspects of the product, encouraging actions based on existence of mere facts, ensuring all employee’s participation in quality delivery as well as its ability to institute an impeccable total management culture in the organization (Stamatis 11).
Furthermore, Product development processes in a TQM environment are greatly controlled and monitored to eliminate defects in the production process thus ensuring that the output meets specific customer expectations for satisfaction the same way with the six sigma that excel in the virtual elimination of the defects in the production process (Montgomery 78). On the other hand, a production environment that is devoid of the TQM and six sigma culture has a lot of conflicting aspects in production with each department operating on its own thus exhibiting points of deformities in production, high levels of variations in products quality, necessitated changes, work-around, a lot of wastages as well as often need for work to be redone (Stamatis 9). Moreover, product development process in both six sigma and Total Quality Management environment places the greatest focus in quality and customer needs for satisfaction. Also, production teams are usually process-inclined with continuous interactions with the organizational customers with an aim of meeting their expectation in product outputs. In such an environment, organization top management places a lot of emphasis in the overall process control as well as encouraging and adequately rewarding teamwork as a means of delivering result as a unit.
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