Sunday, October 20, 2013

Inherent Disconnect in Quality Systems

Several of us recently had a discussion about the inherent conflict between ISO 9001 and Six Sigma. "Say what?" you ask. There is a conflict between the two and it's obvious to anyone who has tried to work with both methodologies. It's a philosophical difference that shows up when we try to use both in our organizations.

Here's the conflict:

We have a problem. Perhaps our customer (internal--like a boss--or external--like an invoice-paying person) wants us to solve it quickly, usually within 10 business days. So we initiate a Corrective Action request. It's assigned to someone and then they do a bit of analysis, create a solution, implement it, document the changes in the policies and procedures, and close the CAR in the required 10 days. We're in compliance with our ISO policies and procedures. Unfortunately, as we often experience, the problem never really goes away, and we have another CAR...we implement another solution...the problem recurs...another CAR...another solution...rinse and repeat.

We have a problem. We want an effective solution. We put a Six Sigma team together and they take some time to define, measure (gaining an abundance of data), analyze, try some improvments and validate them, and then put control systems in place to sustain the improvement. Unfortunately, this takes time: anywhere from 3 - 9 months. Often internal and external customers cannot wait that long. ISO Management Review minutes become tiresome reporting "the Six Sigma team is still studying the issue".

The conflict occurs because of the time-frame, not the intent of finding solutions to problems. We often put quick responses in our ISO system, and we allow a lengthy timeframe for Six Sigma (often it's necessary in order to get an accurate picture of the problem). Are the two methodologies exclusive of each other? No, they can be complimentary. Be prepared that the Six Sigma team will most likely undo quite a bit of what the CAR person/team did in the 10 days (and any of the other data-dearth, trial-and-error, repetitive, CAR-derived solutions). Look at the CAR system as more remedial (i.e. quick fixes to get things running again) and not a permanent fix of the problem. If you want an effective and (semi-)permanent fix of the problem, charter a Six Sigma team to dig into the issue more thoroughly.

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