Book Review: The Six Sigma Way — How GE, Motorola, and Other Top Companies are Honing Their Performance


Georges Lteif

Georges Lteif

Software Engineer

Last Updated on May 7, 2022.
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5 min read


Who Should Read This Book

If you are curious about Six Sigma, you are a student in business management, or you are in software development and trying to formulate an opinion on whether Six Sigma applies to software, this book can be helpful.


Synopsis

This book was created by Peter S. Pande, Robert P. Neuman, Roland R. Cavanagh.

There are two editions of this book. In this article, we will be reviewing its first edition, which was published in 2000.

This book offers an in-depth discussion of Six Sigma, an extensive framework for quality management whose aim is to help businesses in the manufacturing industry achieve exceptional quality outputs.

This book aims to introduce Six Sigma to a general audience by first explaining what Six Sigma is, next through its success stories, and finally, by supplying the reader with a guide on whether Six Sigma is applicable for their situations. Finally, the remainder of the book is dedicated to explaining the technical details of those practices.

The book is divided into three major parts:

This first part defines Six Sigma as a strategy for achieving sustainable success. It then moves on to discuss three interesting topics.

The first topic revolves around the key concepts of Six Sigma. The second topic provides a thorough comparison of Six Sigma with Total quality management (TQM). And lastly, the third topic tries to answer the question of the applicability of Six Sigma in the Services industry.

I thought the portrayal of Six Sigma as an all-encompassing framework, and not just a quality control methodology – which would have been a more realistic definition, was more of a marketing stunt than a real attempt at framing the subject.

Regarding the comparison of Six Sigma with TQM, my view is as follows: the differences as portrayed in the comparison table were not as stark or clear-cut as the authors intended them to be.

Finally, I gave a lot of thought to Six Sigma as a means for improving software development projects and found that it’s not entirely without merit. I just don’t believe it lived up to the expectations of the authors as a framework that can be applied to the Services industry.

  • Part 2: Gearing Up and Adapting Six Sigma to Your Organization

In this section, the authors discuss the organization’s readiness for Six Sigma projects.

This involved three areas. The first area is the training of staff and the role of the green and black belts.

The second area discusses the preparation of the leadership for taking on and supporting Six Sigma projects.

The third area is about the scope of Six Sigma projects. This is where the authors try to provide some insights on how and when Six Sigma projects can be applied for maximum success.

  • Part 3: Implementing Six Sigma: The Roadmap and Tools

There are seven chapters in Part 3 of this book and are titled as follows:

  • Chapter 12: Identifying Core Processes and Key Customers (Roadmap Step 1).
  • Chapter 13: Defining Customer Requirements (Roadmap Step 2).
  • Chapter 14: Measuring Current Performance (Roadmap Step 3).
  • Chapter 15: Six Sigma Process Improvement (Roadmap Step 4).
  • Chapter 16: Six Sigma Process Improvement (Roadmap Step 4A).
  • Chapter 17: Expanding & Integrating the Six Sigma System (Roadmap Step 5).
  • Chapter 18: Advanced Six Sigma Tools: An Overview.

These chapters contain the basic framework of the Six Sigma methods. Ignoring the style and rigour of the content for a moment, these chapters discuss the fundamental practices of Six Sigma methods from a technical perspective.

A significant deviation from the remainder of the book can be found in chapters 14, 16, and 18 which are actually quite informative.


Has the Book Achieved Its Aim?

In my view, the book tried, without much success, to present itself as a thorough reference on Six Sigma. I will come back to this topic in the coming sections. If you are looking for a thoroughly better alternative, we recommend The Toyota Way by Jeffrey Liker.


Key Metrics

Original Content
15%
Practical Usage
50%
Depth
60%
Authority
60%
Writing Style
50%
Accessibility
90%

Quick Review

Just Fine

Format

The copy that I got has a hardcover and is a bit bulky for carrying around in your bag. Its internal structure though is clear and easy to follow. It’s easy to go back after reading to find a particular section or info.

Style

I did not fall in love with the style of this book. It regurgitates a lot of the ideas and makes it difficult for the reader to stay engaged. I haven’t noticed any particularly good story-telling skills. I think the book’s size could have been cut by half without losing any content.

Content

The content lacks originality. The overwhelming majority of the ideas presented are not supported by evidence. The cases provided seem to be hypothetical rather than fact-based. Finally, it lacks the rigour that usually accompanies topics in maths and statistics.


Format

Form Factor

HARDCOVER

ISBN: 0-07-135806-4
ISBN-13: 9-780071-358064
24 x 16 x 4 cm
423 pages


Themes

Major

Minor


Content

Structure

The book is very well structured with an executive overview of Six Sigma, followed by a discussion on its implementation in different situations and organizations. The third and final part discusses the Six Sigma roadmap in detail. It is quite easy to jump between chapters and just read through those which were of particular interest. I found it very useful that I was able to quickly go back and search for particular sections on certain subtopics.

Original Content

I found the content of the book to lack any originality. Most of the ideas presented were not new. In fact, Joseph M. Juran was quoted as saying that Six Sigma is “a basic version of quality improvement”, stating that “there is nothing new there […] They’ve adopted more flamboyant terms, like belts with different colours. I think that concept has merit to set apart, to create specialists who can be very helpful. Again, that’s not a new idea. The American Society for Quality long ago established certificates, such as for reliability engineers“.

General Tone

The book reads more like a sales pitch than a reference or an engaging story. It sometimes felt that the authors were trying to sell the idea of Six Sigma as an all-powerful, all-encompassing framework that would solve all your business problems which, in my view, they did not really succeed in doing.

Practical Usage

I tend to believe however that Six Sigma is not for all organizations, a crucial point that the authors did NOT attempt to make in the book. Having said that, the ideas presented in the book are not entirely without merit or real-world applicability specifically in the software development space.

Depth

Despite a genuine effort from the authors to explain the topics in a lot of depth and detail, it is my view that the outcome fell a bit short of that. A lot of the text presented a dumbed-down version of the ideas in an attempt at rigor and depth.

Authority

There is very little evidence to support some of the claims presented throughout the book. Facts and figures are almost non-existent. Case studies and examples are restricted to hypothetical scenarios. The content of the book does not suggest that any amount of research has been done while preparing it.


Style

Genre

The book can be classified under Business Management.

Writing Style

The authors have made some effort to present what is generally dry material in a tone that is fun and enjoyable. In that sense, they had moderate success. On the other hand, there is a significant amount of repetition in the paragraphs. In fact, the material could be cut down in half (at least!) without losing any substance. Some of the statements lacked conciseness, which made them difficult to defend. A final note on the story-telling capabilities of the authors; there are few anecdotes, even less historical context, or engaging personal experiences to tie down the ideas in a coherent manner.

Accessibility

The book is very accessible. It does not require a substantial background in statistics or Business Management to understand. For the professionals, however, it might seem like a lot of effort has been made to explain the obvious.


Author

Bio

From the book itself:

Peter Pande is the founder of Pivotal Resources, Inc. which specializes in consultancy on Six Sigma implementations. He has worked in the organization improvement business for 15 years.

Robert Neuman is a senior consultant in the Six Sigma field.

Roland Cavanagh is a professional engineer who has an extensive background in improving manufacturing and services business processes.