Six Sigma from the Bottom Up

business team talking and working on data during planning meeting

When many people think of Six Sigma, they think of a metaphorical toolbox for continuous improvement that will help solve a host of process constraints and issues.

My interpretation of Six Sigma is less of a set of tools, but more of philosophical way of thinking.

Often, some aspects of Six Sigma are deployed and implemented from a high point on the corporate seniority ladder. 

These applications are studied and measured by Six Sigma specialists who are well versed in the material. This method of high-level implementation helps to perform a strategic strike on a firm’s critical issues. Often there is a heavy investment, in terms of time and training, for these specialized employees to define, measure, analyze, implement and control these projects.

When I think of Six Sigma, I believe that all employees should be familiar with and engaged in the philosophy from the bottom-up. Frontline employees have an in-depth knowledge of the processes the company performs and can better identify issues as they present themselves. The Six Sigma philosophy defines a concept called “Gemba.” This is a Japanese term that means “the actual place.”

This refers to knowing the process that is being performed and how the different inputs are transformed with value-add services to the desired outputs. For example, in my role as an analyst, I identify process optimization opportunities through analysis of large historical data sets. However, my colleagues on the front lines of the process are often already aware of the sub-optimization occurring. Therefore, I believe that if employees are deeply involved with a process, they can identify issues and process trends that need to be addressed.

If they are equipped with the knowledge of the Six Sigma philosophy, they will be able to engage resources to begin the process of employing solutions. With their intimate knowledge of the process, they will be a valuable resource in creating the solution.

In closing, all levels from entry-level employees to senior leadership need to be engaged in process improvement initiatives and Six Sigma projects. These employees will be able to identify the specific issues because; “Quality cannot be copied; there is no step-by-step cookbook that applies equally to all company situations and cultures.” 

(Six Sigma quotes "What is a Quality Management System?")

stack of business planning blueprints rolled up on desk

Since there is no out-of-box solution to continuous improvement, companies should utilize their employees from the bottom-up to realize the benefits of Six Sigma.