Could the book achieve “Six Sigma”?
If not zero defects then, what about the six-sigma target of about 3 errors per million opportunities. Since PMI is a leading consultancy and training firm in Six Sigma we should be able to achieve that, shouldn’t we? But, and it really isn’t an excuse, let’s consider this one carefully too.
If, regardless of the above, we assume we could agree what a defect is (the customer’s tolerance) my book, with about 70,000 words in all, would have no errors at all. Hmm, anyone who has written more than a page or two will see the nonsense here. A Six Sigma achievement would be one error in the entire contents of a small library. In fact, one error per chapter would be pretty impressive, and that with a lot of effort in multiple reviewing, proof reading and so on. That’s about Four Sigma, apparently not much to shout about.
In fact this shows that “Six Sigma” as a target should be used with great care. When used as originally by Motorola to drive up the quality of mass production of new electronic devices, it was transformational. The problem is that it has been adopted so carelessly that for many it is devalued. As a target for publishing it’s no help. Incidentally, if six-sigma as a target isn’t sensible for an organisation, then Six Sigma as a programme name is also not helpful.
How about an older ambition, “on target with minimum variation”?
Going back more than 40 years, in fact to the early 60s, brings us to this phrase, credited to Genichi Taguchi. Although it somehow seems less demanding than the specification-based western rallying cries of zero defects and so on, it is in fact a profoundly rigorous term, that you can apply to every circumstance.
If you seek to get your outputs “On target with minimum variation” you need to;
- appreciate what your customer values
- establish criteria that you can measure, both of the customer characteristics and of your output
- understand the process that leads to the output, and its context (How the work works)
- optimise the operation of the process to get the mean of the outputs close to the target, and with minimum variation about the mean.
If you are making crankshafts this philosophy enables you to achieve better than six-sigma, in fact it’s pretty routine. Those who have watched Don Wheeler’s video “A Japanese Control chart” will recall that the factory produced many millions of parts with none out of specification.
And it works just as well for a call centre manager trying to do their best with the variety of queries coming in on the phone.
“Making your work, work” – will it be on its target, will the variation be acceptable?
I have tried to keep in mind as my target audience the everyday manager trying to achieve better and more predictable output from their work. Regular managers don’t have time for complications, but do need some analogies, inspiration and explanations. Thus every topic presented temptations to expand, to illustrate or to go into more detail, but doing too much would be going off target. Time will tell if I have achieved an acceptable compromise.