Is Six Sigma a Zero Defects Standard?

Is Six Sigma a Zero Defects Standard?
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C.Vishwanathan

Published on November 16, 2012


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In one of the recent meets done and dusted with a CEO of a leading service organization (ITES to be specific), I had to head out to unwind myself completely. This CEO claimed to be a big fan of quality, quality processes, quality services and anything that had footprints of quality. He remarked, “Hey Six Sigma works like a breeze, as a result of which I have been able to have zero defects in my company. Everyone seems to be satisfied and I am thinking of terming Six Sigma as a zero Defects approach.”

All was fine bar his last comment which almost STUNNED me into oblivion! 0 defects just so you know was an idea conceived by Phil Crosby in the early 1960s, much earlier than the first wave of Six Sigma had ever been practiced. This was a very successful approach until the 70s. Come the 70s and a whole new wave of programs like Total Quality Management, SPC, Malcolm Baldridge and of course Six Sigma in the 90s resulted in 0 defects to fade out like a burning candle. Companies shunned the slightly impractical 0 defects philosophy to embrace the more convenient and user-friendly, Six Sigma so to speak.

Conceptually and fundamentally 0 defects and Six Sigma walk different lines. Here is a quick summary of their comparisons –

  1. 0 defects, focuses exhaustively on Defect prevention while Six Sigma focuses on managing the defects. Of course, Six Sigma aims at reducing the number of defects in a process, but the deal with 0 defects is that it helps you in preventing the occurrence of the defects.
  2. The understanding itself is crisp and clear. Even a kid will be able to explain 0 defects but the same cannot be said of Six Sigma. It needs you to understand some mathematical and statistical concepts.
  3. The training differs too. In the 0 defects approach, the employees are not given special training programs as such. Focus is on delivering just the usual training and that’s where the story ends. Six Sigma to its credit focuses on extensive training being imparted and especially for the support or the non-productive staff.
  4. 0 defects in implementation do not need extra employees, but when a company decides to go for a rigorous implementation of Six Sigma, it needs to add Six Sigma Green Belts and Six Sigma Black Belts to its rolls. To beat this slightly disadvantageous point, companies have been training resources internally.
  5. Let us look at the concept as well. 0 defects at all times works on the concept of having absolutely no defects whatsoever, which happens when someone works right the first time and every time thereafter. Six Sigma on the other hand works on the concept of 3.4 DPMO, which also translates to very few defects. But the difference is there for everyone to see – It is definitely not 0 defects.
  6. 0 defects, has a very high performance standard. It does not accept any defects at all. Having such a strategy could be beneficial competitively for the company, but is practically impossible in today’s times to realize. Six Sigma on the other hand accepts some defects in a million opportunities. Sounds acceptable but ask companies who are implementing Six Sigma approaches in their organizations and they will tell you how tough it is!
  7. Finally employee involvement which is always a hot topic of discussion. 0 defects ensure each and every employee is involved in identification and fixing of possible reasons for defects. The same though cannot be said about the Six Sigma approach. In a sense then, one may call Six Sigma being the elitist approach. Nothing wrong with that, because the statistical mastery needed to tackle Six Sigma applications may not go down well with all the employees!

On-ground, it may seem that 0 defects is a much more demanding approach than Six Sigma. To tell you the truth, companies spend a lot of time burning the proverbial midnight oil and only then do they even get close to the desired Six Sigma levels of performance. It is not easy as one thinks, “Get out of the bed and your company will start working at Six Sigma levels”.

A good amount of hard work and a sound understanding of Six Sigma knowledge and statistical tools for the company to get anywhere! One thing is for sure – Nothing is easy in this world. 0 defects is possibly perfection and I guess most of us have got to accept the fact that nothing in this world is perfect. Applying Six Sigma would get you as close to perfection as you would have thought of and yes, it does help in reducing defects and bringing in financial benefits, but at the end of the day the differences are too glaring for us to overlook. Yes, Six Sigma is not 0 defects. No ways.

About the Author

Mr. C.Vishwanathan is a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a Lean Deployment Specialist, with over 1500 hours of experience in Training and 5000 hours in Project consulting. He is currently the Head-Faculty, Chief Mentor and Co-Founder at The School of Continuous Improvement and a Faculty Trainer – LSS with Simplilearn.


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