Six Sigma ought to be a learning process.

Six Sigma ought to be a learning process.


The impact of six-sigma mechanism on organisational learning has been a matter of substantial debate (Lifvergren et al 2010). It involves the sustainability of improved performance in processes considered by an organization. This paper will discuss how six sigma has contributes to organisational learning with reference to personal experience where applicable. Commencing with a base overview of the concept, this paper will build a foundation upon which to establish evidence. Following this section with an assessment of Six Sigma in the business world will enable a quality illustration of effectiveness. A combination of the first portions will allow for a credible evaluation and determination of the positive or negative feature of the Six Sigma concept.

In the end, this study will have considered past contributions, modern impact and future potential for the Six Sigma concept with the stated goal of determining if it makes a positive impact on Organisational Learning.

What is Six-sigma?

The accepted definition of Six Sigma is defined as a system of reducing mistakes and improving value (Gygl and Williams, 2005). First created in the early 1980’s the company, Motorola utilized the Six- Sigma method to increase production capacity. Every aspect of the business operation is anticipated through the cost of the method (Lifvergren et al 2010). Revenue is impacted with every lost customer, replacement part, having to perform a task again and these factors all combine to produce an impact to the full business income (Gygl et al 2005). With estimates of loss due to these factors into the forty per cent range, there is growing recognition of the critical need to implement a more efficient strategy. Together with Lean manufacturing methods the hybrid practice referred to as Lean Six Sigma has emerged to become a modern tool. Others view Six Sigma approach as little more than a piece meal method made up of already existing theory that will soon fade (Livfergren et al 2010)

Six Sigma has evolved to become a general purpose evaluation method illustrating the means to minimize mistakes and maximize value (Gygl et al 2005). The application of the Six- Sigma system is argued to be oversimplified in many cases (Livfergren et al 2010). This is characterized by an excruciating occasional internal examination of business infrastructure, to illustrate a method to improvement performance, lower costs, increase success and better consumer outreach. Six Sigma operates on two distinct levels, the managerial and the technical. This complex creation component creates constant opportunity for delay (Livfergren et al 2010). The managerial component of the system encompasses the people, technologies, schedules, projects and details that must be managed associated with developing plans and taking direct action. The Six Sigma system must be in managerial balance in order for the technical elements of the method to be effective (Ibid). In my personal experience this shows how clearly demonstrated that lacking a coordinated and rigorous managerial implementation alongside the technical aspects will result in markedly diminished results. In order for the organisational learning element to be enhanced the Six Sigma system must be carefully implemented by leadership in order to smooth application and provide the full range of results (Livfergren et al 2010).

Six sigma as a learning process

The Six Sigma process is best understood by breaking it down into its base elements which are: Improvement of the process, Design or redesign of the process and Process management (Anand, Ward and Tatikonda 2010). Each of these elements is connected to the others, making the capacity to learn and apply that knowledge a vital component of the system (Ibid). The ability to capture explicit knowledge with the research method has the opportunity to offer insights into the process. Improvement of the process refers to the effort to pursue the elimination of the base cause of performance deficiencies that may be present in any organization (Gutierrez, Bustinza and Molina 2012). The Six Sigma approach links the (Gutierrez, Bustinza and Molina 2012). This is an indication of the ability of the firm to take in new information and make it work within the existing infrastructure (Ibid). With a clear benefit related to the capacity to identify and adapt this element is a learning cornerstone (Ibid). In order to balance this area of improvement Six Sigma identifies five fields that must be addressed including the define, or identification stage followed by the measurement phase to gauge the extent of the issue, then an analysis of the issue must be performed based on these initial components(Gygl et al 2005). This analysis will then be subject to improvement, alleviating the root cause, followed by the creation of new controls in order to better maintain integrity (Ibid). Again, personal experience has demonstrated the value of progress built on the capacity to learn and adapt.

The design or redesign phase is often more than a simply tweak to an existing system, commonly requiring a complete reconceptualization of the model (Harmon 2007). Several fundamental business causes are credited with needing this step. An organisation may simply choose to upgrade or completely reinstall a process in order to make progress (Gygl et al 2005). Or, during an on-going improvement process, a discovery making a new process essential is made. Further, a company may see a long term advantage by offering an entirely new product or line, making this step essential (Ibid). There is a five step process to achieving this goal of design or process redesign. This process includes the Define, or identification of goals for the new process, Match, or the development of performance requirements, to Analyse or the analysis using the performance requirements created, Design and implement, refers the creation and subsequent implementation of the developed process followed by the Verify, or testing to make sure that the new process lives up to the specifications of the required research (Gygl et al 2005).

This design stage of the Six Sigma process incorporates the lessons gained from each step by the company to create and then implement a complex goal (Macadam, Antony, Kumar and Hazlet 2012). Yet, the lessons learned from the experience may differ with each team member, making future application difficult (Lifvergren et al 2012). With each application personal experience will impact application and can only be improved through additional experience. With the creation of learning process for the team membership, the capacity for the team to achieve a successful resolution to the process is enhanced (Sony and Naik 2012). Conversely, the overly complex nature of the Six Sigma method can lead to unnecessary delays in development and production (Macadam et al 2012). Personal experience during the implementation of Six Sigma illustrates the very complex methods required to generate the expected results. This overly complex approach has delayed project production by adding in several elements to be considered that were time consuming to attend to. The effort to add organisational learning to this aspect is difficult as the need to incorporate all of the diverse elements is hard to do.

The Process Management section is required in the presence of the need for a fundamental change in the manner in which a business operates (Gygl et al 2005). Often credited with being the most challenging potion of the Six Sigma process, this entails a similar approach as did the first two sections. This process includes the defining stage, or the identifications of key requirements, the measuring of performance phase, the comparison of requirements and current production levels, the analysis stage is need in order to determine the best methods for process refinement and the controlling process performance stage in order to maintain the progress gained through the experience (Ibid).

This step of the Six Sigma process allows for the company to identify their fundamental challenges, learn from the determined shortcomings and achieve success through implementation (Parast 2011). The step by step organisation of goals enables streamlined learning process that allows for a companywide learning component.

Arumugam, Antony and Kumar (2013) illustrate their argument that Six Sigma enhances the learning process in order to produce better results. Incorporating the two organizational elements of Six Sigma resources, technical and the social or team safety factor, their research supports the argument that he Six Sigma project teams are a deliberate extension of the process and promote organizational learning (Ibid). This study demonstrated that the project resources clearly impact the knowing-what and knowing how. Additionally, the team psychological safety factor impacts the knowing how learning mechanism (Ibid).The knowing how balances the influences of the knowing what on overall project success, a clear indication of learning.

Lifvergren et al (2010) credits the Six Sigma learning process as creating a seventy five per cent success rate over the course of twenty two Six Sigma projects. In this case success is defined as the business increasing revenue and enhancing operations (Lifvergren et al 2010). Further, the lessons learned during this period, were then utilized to contribute to other developing projects adding to the fundamental value of the technique (Ibid). Personal experience has taught that The Six Sigma method enables an atmosphere of targeted learning for the team members, which in turn allows for enhanced benefits.

Organisational Theory and Six sigma’s contribution to the learning organisation

Organisational theory describes the interaction between the activities of the business and the world (Jones 2010). Organisations are formed around a group of people working together towards the same goal. Organisational learning is defined as the change in the organisations knowledge base as the entity accrues experience (Argote 2012). This involves both the area of declarative knowledge, or facts, and the procedural knowledge which encompasses the related skills and routines, the concept touches on every level of business. This suggests that as an organisation grows and operates it also learns (Ibid). Others argue that the process of gathering experience is not strictly confined to operational production, but can in fact be made of theoretical and secondary experience (Easterby-Smith and Lyles 2013). Organisational learning directly impacts the quality and performance of the company (Argote 2012). This element has been argued to be a measureable indication of a company’s wellbeing (Ibid). The capacity to read the signs of the world around them enable these forms of company to ‘learn’ from the environment, and by doing so, is able to create a sustainable model. Modern researches have determined that organisational learning within an organization may be measured either by assessing cognitions of the membership (Easterby-Smith and Lyles 2013). Others argue that the behavioural approach is the better method of evaluation with research focus on the practice and routines of the membership and take note of how performance characteristics change (Pepper 2010). In both approaches, it is the membership that is evaluated as well as their response to the environment around them.

Six Sigma contributes to the organisational learning process by laying out a clear set of guidelines, which can lead to a successful resolution (Aboelmaged 2010). With a wide array of both statistical tools and methods, the opportunity to become overly dependent on a single approach can diminish the results (Snee 2010). The wide range of available mechanisms adds depth and adaptability to the Six Sigma process (Pepper 2010). However, the converse argument describes this as an overly convoluted process that will only lead to a dearth of data which will in turn become a detriment to the application (Snee 2010). Six Sigma contributes to the learning process by laying out the process clearly, this allows for a companywide approach that serves to utilize the wide range of experience innately available.

How can six sigma be implemented into the organizational learning mechanism

The Six Sigma process can be implemented through the management phase that provides support for the company (Nair, Malhotra and Ahire 2011). The roles of executive leadership, or the CEO, the Champions or stewards of the Six Sigma implementation, Master Black Belts or in-house coaches and Black Belts as experts on specific elements provide a clear tool for Six Sigma to be implemented into the organisational learning mechanism (Ibid). Others cite these very same elements as being contrary to the organisational learning effort by making it overly complex (Nair et al 2011). Further, the organisational learning effort can be hampered by a lack of qualified leaders, crippling the time frame (Livfergren et al 2010). This system offers advanced training and certification in Six Sigma components in order to alleviate this same issues as well as enhance the opportunities for positive organisational learning experiences (Basu and Wright 2012). Yet, personal experience has illustrated the fact that many of these trained advisors are ill equipped for each unique Six Sigma application experience.

The concept of organisational learning incorporates many of the same mechanisms that the Six Sigma uses (Basu et al 2012). For example the initial step within each of the Six Sigma basic processes consists of the identification and subsequent definition of the issue at hand in order to understand the limits (Ibid). The organisational learning approach utilizes the concepts of experience and inquiry in order to bridge the conceptual gaps found in the business world (Easterby-Smith and Lyles, 2012). The compatibility of goals allows for a Six Sigma approach that closely correlates to the companies need to be progressive (Basu et al 2012). Further, the Measure and Analyse elements of the Six Sigma approach enable a clear benefit to the organisational learning efforts, as the company or issue at hand is scrutinized, measured and considered in detail (Glyn et al 2012). However, personal experience has illustrated that this over attention to detail can create the opportunity for organisational learning that is hampered by the over exposure to diverse theories.

The process of organisational learning is further supported by the Six Sigma’s elements of improve and control (Argote 2012). The recognition and resolution of the issue being researched leads to a more informed membership that will in turn provide improved performance. Others argue that the increased scrutiny only adds to the member’s opportunity to fall prey to delay (Basu et al 2012). In each case the Six Sigma supports the organisational learning process as well as adds to the quality of analysis and provision for resolution.

How can six sigma influence organisational learning?

Six Sigma has several opportunities to enhance organisational learning at every level of operation (Yun and Chua 2002). Others argue that the implementation of the Six Sigma process is a waste of resources (Eng 2011). Innovation and consumer satisfaction by the Six Sigma concept enables a better outreach capacity for the entire organisation, directly enhancing the entities ability to learn (Yun et al 2002). Others cite the elements of the system as being less than innovative or original; in fact, arguing the system is redundant (Argote 2012). However, the complex nature of the Six Sigma mechanism allows for a comprehensive examination of the even the most detailed business, adding to the opportunity to accurate organisational learning.

Over exposure and reliance on the statistical tools related to the Six Sigma system are a common criticism of the system (Corbett 2011). Others cite the availability of wide range of tools an asset during the often exhaustive examination process (Eng 2011). Further, the Six Sigma method has been argued to an extension of the Total Quality Management, or TQI, system, and in no substantial way new or innovative (Corbett 2011). However, others find the nature of method, both reassuring and inclusive (Eng 2011).


The Six Sigma process has become a matter of substantial debate as business turn to emerging theory in order to streamline operations. The evidence produced in this study has illustrated the divide over the systems complexity, yet exposed the industries need for the tool. With the capacity to assess and identify and subsequently improve, the Six Sigma system adds depth to any organisational learning experience. Further, the knowledge gained during this exposure will be available for later use. Utilizing the Six Sigma elements including Black Belts and Master Black Belts, the incorporation into any existing organisational learning model is made possible. Yet, this same issue of complexity has the potential to derail and diminish the return of the Six Sigma experience if the process lacks consideration or balance during implementation.

Eventually, as with any highly refined tool, the Six Sigma has the capacity to become a valuable element of the organisational learning experience. Yet, the success or failure of application will rely on the methods chosen as well as the professionals responsible for the analysis.


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