Why Many Japanese Organizations Think Six Sigma Is A Joke | Ian Moore | Nipponica

“Six Sigma as a problem-solving methodology causes many hang-ups for Japanese managers. Many Americans seeking training in Six Sigma in Japanese organizations face resistance with little explanation as to why. This often leads to frustration and contempt towards management.  They write off the Japanese resistance to the training as resistance to change, preventing growth and feeling unrepresented.

Sourced through Nipponica

Michel Baudin‘s comments: In this post, Ian Moore makes the case that rejection of Six Sigma by Japanese organizations is rooted in the national culture,  which is ironic, given that Six Sigma’s Black Belt concept was borrowed from Japanese martial arts with the obvious intent of creating the perception of a connection to Japanese culture.

Here we go again, invoking national culture as the reason why a technical and managerial approach cannot be used in a particular country! Before transplant factories like NUMMI proved otherwise in the 1980s, we heard the same nonsense about TPS in the US, Europe, and Latin America. This argument is always a disabler, never an enabler. It is always used to claim that something can’t be done, never the opposite. If it were valid, how would you use it to explain, for example, why Six Sigma is short of a raging success in the US, where it originated?

In the discussion on this article in the TPS Principles and Practices group on LinkedIn, Ian Moore doubled-down when he attributed to Japanese culture Shigeo Shingo’s rejection of “inductive statistics” in favor of poka-yoke, in the opening to his book Zero Quality Control.

Modern example of a candlestick chart

How would he use national culture to explain why the candlestick charts used to this day in stock trading were invented in the 18th century by a Japanese rice trader named Munehisa Honma? Shingo’s rejection of SPC had everything to do with its irrelevance in the industries he was working in and nothing to do with national culture. SPC was invented 90 years ago to solve process capability problems in electronics, and Six Sigma was invented in the 1980s to modernize SPC and make it relevant in  contemporary electronics manufacturing.

One key feature of advanced electronics and high-technology manufacturing, in general, is that, if your processes are capable, your products are obsolete. This is true at the tip of the technology spear, semiconductor manufacturing, if not in computer or printer assembly.

As a result, you must constantly attempt to produce in volume with processes that don’t have the stability you expect in mechanical industries where today’s machine tools can hold tolerances ten times tighter than required. In this kind of environment, quality problems are not due to lack of process capability but to delays in detecting accidents — that are reduced by one-piece flow — and human errors — that are addressed by mistake-proofing. For details, see When to use statistics, one-piece flow or mistake-proofing to improve quality (2001).

 #SixSigma, #Japan, #SPC, #Quality

3 comments on “Why Many Japanese Organizations Think Six Sigma Is A Joke | Ian Moore | Nipponica

  1. I only have one data point, but I’ve met a Japanese hospital CEO… his organization has been practicing TQM and quality circles diligently for more than 20 years. He said that GE introduced Six Sigma to him and his hospital, but he stopped doing it. I forget the reasons why, but he was adamant that Six Sigma wasn’t helpful in his setting. His organization was starting to embrace Lean in addition to their TQM baseline… not just doing six-month long projects, but using other Lean methods and trying to engage everyone in daily Kaizen improvement modes.

  2. Michel, your post is timely for me. I am business process improver, but not really used the Six Sigma methods in particular. Now studying for my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt (an unholy union in one test, if there ever was one). As I do a deep dive into Six Sigma, I find myself wondering if we ever isolate so many variables that a SPC chart is going to cough up anything useful. I did download your article from 2001 and scanned through it. Michel, or anyone else – is SPC only good for process capability, and then SPC charts are largely obsolete, in your opinion? And you extend your remarks on this topic – anything changes to your thinking since you wrote that article?

    • Process capability analysis, these days, is based more on design of experiments than SPC. A few things have changed since 2001. Toyota has introduced two new concepts, Change-Point Management (CPM) and Jikotei Kanketsu (JKK), with the goal, among others, of preventing the deterioration of mistake-proofing systems. CPM is about pre-planned responses to events and JKK, or “autonomous process completion” is about ensuring quality at every operation. In parallel, data science has kept moving forward since 2001, and I have been learning more about it. If you are studying for a Six Sigma Black Belt, I suppose it is what you should be focused on. Once you have your Black Belt, however, I would recommend looking beyond the Six Sigma curriculum.

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