Six Sigma

Six Sigma


Six Sigma mud flaps made from mouse pads: finally, a tangible benefit! Well, technically they are IPDS mud flaps, but IPDS leverages the awesome powers of Six Sigma, for example, to reduce the number of screws in a cabinet after a six-week meeting. This accomplishment occurred within a business unit that lost enough business it had to be absorbed into another BU a few years later....

Six Sigma


Everybody knows the boat is leaking, everybody knows the Captain lied... thanks to beat poet and still-working legend Leonard Cohen!

Most of this original piece was written in April 2005. Back then Mrs. Unknown Editor wouldn't let the piece be posted as she feared that it might cost UE his next raise when he was working for a company that actually trademarked their own Six Sigma logo. Is Six Sigma still around today? Yes, it still appears on resumes, but it has toned down some. Why are we capitalizing Six Sigma? You wouldn't use lower case for jesus christ, would you?

Note to Big Companies: at small companies, we only pretend to use Six Sigma when we talk to you. Behind your back, we're not laughing with you... Just like Steinbeck's Chrysanthemums, that potted plant isn't going to make it much past your driveway...

In 2008, the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints church was raided in Texas, freeing up 400 children from polygamist child abuse. The father of the Unknown Editor summed up the FCLDS this way: "that's not religion, that's horsesh*t." The truth is, you need to know that SS and FCLDS have this attribute in common.

Wow, we just snuck in the "s-word" onto Microwaves101, how could that be? It was easy, we connected it to "horse" and used an asterisk so that your company's net nanny won't get her underwear in a knot.

The origins of the 21st century cult phenomenon of "six sigma" can be traced to a paper published in 1991 IEEE Circuits and Devices, entitled "Defects Trail Off with Six-Sigma Manufacturing". It was written by Paul Fieler and Nick Loverro Jr. of Motorola. Later, Motorola offered a course to interested engineers at major trade shows, for example, at the GaAs IC Symposium.

The original principles of Six Sigma can be summarized in two bullets:

  1. Design engineers should try to design products that are robust enough to withstand 1.5 sigma shift in the process distribution mean.
  2. Process engineers should try to reduce variation.

Along with those two statements, the original "vision" involved some useful math that converted specification limits and process variations into defects in parts per million, and ultimately, yield. Their paper showed that the authors had a remarkable depth of understanding in statistical process control, and it is certainly worth your time to read it and understand it. The math involved, though not calculus, was enough so that it would separate engineers from non-engineers if it was given as a test.

Over the years there have been a variety of quality initiatives at companies aimed at raising quality and reducing cost. For example, lean speed, Total Quality Management, ISO9000, Zero Defects, Statistical Process Control, Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), Hoshin, and Concurrent Engineering seem to have stuck around and aged like fine manure. There is a entire cottage industry out there that does nothing but feed off of company fear that they somehow "don't get it". It is fortunate that none of these initiatives existed during World War II, otherwise it might not have ended for another decade.

Six Sigma has been twisted from a math exercise into an entire cult phenomenon, and dumbed down in the process so that an admin can take the same class as an engineering fellow. There is a parallel between acknowledged cults such as Scientology, or Landmark's "The Forum", and a Six Sigma class:

Pick out some of your D-students, and offer them some free training at a location away from work (and smarter people).

Have a "teacher" of similar background work with them for two or three days, using card tricks or other sleight of hand to get the message across that up until now they were poor lost souls, and didn't "get it".

Send them off with assignments that will force them to interact with unfortunate people that have impossible tasks to show off their newfound intellect.

Raise their expectations by telling them that the way to get ahead is merely to embrace this new knowledge.

Be sure to reward Six Sigma zealots with bigger raises and bonuses than their non-cult coworkers. Soon everyone will want a piece of the action.

Here's a homework assignment: Google on any major microwave company and the words six sigma. Yes, it is bad. Then take a straw poll about the merits of Six Sigma at work among all the the people that you regard as truly gifted engineers. Their response will always be, go away, I'm trying to get some work done.

Massachusetts nurses have coined the phrase "sick sigma" from their experience with it. Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) has pointed out that Six Sigma companies trail the Standard & Poor 500 index.

If you want to improve quality, fire people that do crummy work. Trust us, Six Sigma will hit the scrap heap in five years or less. (Famous last words, written in 2005...)

Six Sigma has stolen "belts" terminology from martial arts. Watching Youtube, you can be a white belt in a few minutes. If you are a "black belt", you are indeed The Man. In the lamest-ever exercise, part of the black-belt graduation ceremony might involve getting a fake Six Sigma tattoo and posing with the CEO. To use belt terminology is to disrespect anyone that ever walked into the dojo. If Six Sigma is that great, why not get some real Six Sigma ink on your arm?

Breaking blocks

Here's another analogy. Get your hands on a JC Whitney car parts catalog (or go on-line and do this, Einstein). Circle all of the ads that claim to improve gas mileage. Don't forget about the dopey magnet that you put around the fuel line!!! Add up all of the reputed gains. Voila, you will have a vehicle that won't require fuel, or even fills its own tank! Six Sigma claims at all major companies don't add up, but they don't have to, once your CEO has drunk the Kool Aide.

U.S. patent application 123538000, 2003, by Melendez of Las Vegas


This will really bust up those hydrocarbon clusters,
it's almost a corollary to Maxwell's equations!

So far, no company has ever been audited to substantiate all of their Six Sigma claims. That would be entertaining! Say, if you own stock in your mega-company, you have a right to put proposals in front of shareholders at the annual stock holder meeting. Hmmmm...

Author : Unknown Editor