Six Sygmies Morph Into Pygmies–As Six Sigma Morphs Into “Six Stigma”


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Six sygmies of the world unite – and all read the June 11, 2007 of Business Week. Not one but two BW articles deliver supporters of applying six sigma outside of manufacturing their well-deserved comeuppance. But the real question is – why would anyone in their right mind have ever believed that a process improvement approach developed for low variability, high repetition, production worker settings would deliver anything but disappointment in high variability, low repetition, empowered worked environments?

We’ve been preaching this message to clients for almost ten years. Fortunately, the majority got the message in time. And not only did we talk about the problem, we did something about it by developing Visual Workflow as an antidote to utilizing manufacturing-based process approaches (including lean and “lean sigma”) where they don’t belong. And VW is no longer the only process approach out there designed for variable work environments, so there’s less and less excuse for trying to hog-tie employees with six sigma when they attain efficiency and effectiveness through flexibility, not rigidity.

Good to see mainstream business thinkers getting the message, too. It’s about time.


  1. Dick

    I too read the article with interest. I even went out of my way to buy the Business Week issue in question, despite not being a fan of it’s reporting style and depth.

    Having read the article, I do not see the article delivering “well-deserved comeuppance” to the supporters of six sigma at all. Instead, I see the article describing the difficult transition at 3M from a cost-driven CEO to an innovation-driven CEO (now that the costs have been driven out). I also see the smart suggestion to develop an Ambidextrous Organisation that encompasses the best of Six Sigma to manage standard business processes with the best of other approaches to process management to manage Small & Large I Innovation.

    It makes no sense to throw the Six Sigma baby out with the refocussed organisation bathwater, just becuase their is a new corporate nanny in the 3M nursery. Indeed, as the article points out, the new nanny has no intention of throwing Six Sigma out at all.

    Graham Hill

  2. No. Buckley’s not throwing Six Sigma out. He’s just throwing out of the places it doesn’t belong. And McNerny didn’t just drive costs out of 3M. He drove out a ton of top talent who realized the ridiculousness of trying to apply a good manufacturing technique in variable environments.

    Dick Lee


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