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Which IT Project Methodology? Six Sigma - Why and why not?


In a recent flyover article about the various IT Project methodologies, we looked at the pros and cons of each and I promised that we’d go on to look at each methodology further, in order to gain more insight on the advantages and disadvantages each can offer.

 In this piece, let’s focus on Six Sigma.


Six Sigma. What Is It, When Should You Use It?

Like a fine wine, it would appear that the Six Sigma methodology gets better with age. Since its initial introduction in the 1980s, fans of the methodology claim that it has been ‘perfected’ thanks to small tweaks that have been made over the years. Six Sigma allows for high-quality deliverables to be produced. Indeed, the main focus of the methodology is to produce a piece of software that is effectively bug-free and teams that use Six Sigma are renowned for producing high-quality work.

In the introductory piece on IT methodologies I wrote the following:

Six Sigma was first introduced in the mid-1980s at Motorola. I believe that executed right, Six Sigma is the best methodology for eliminating errors and therefore improving quality. Six Sigma identifies what is working well and more importantly what is not - what is not working can then be removed from your project's gene pool. Data is key to Six Sigma.

When Is It Most Effective? Six Sigma is great for larger organisations seeking greater efficiency and quality.

Proponents of Six Sigma are among the most passionate advocates of any methodology (as anyone who knows a Six Sigma Master Black Belt will attest). Not for the faint-hearted, data is the lifeblood of the methodology and what you get out of it relates precisely to the quality of what you feed in!

Six Sigma is great for clearly identifying and framing the problem that your IT Project seeks to address and its goals.

Now, let’s do the deep dive on Six Sigma.


What Advocates of Six Sigma Say

Increased quality of software - The majority of teams who chose to use the Six Sigma methodology do so in order to improve the quality of the projects they deliver. Six Sigma practically ensures that software delivered is virtually bug-free, the data analysis used in Six Sigma helps prevents bugs from occurring (usually before an issue has even arisen). Six Sigma makes sense from a business point of view, a higher quality product is more valuable commercially and reputationally.

High customer satisfaction - Teams who use this methodology often boast that their ‘customer’ and stakeholder satisfaction is higher. It’s all about that higher-quality end product. High satisfaction levels payback time and again, happy sponsors and stakeholders mean more project green lights. Better projects mean better end customer experience, yielding a higher number of returning customers for the parent organisation.

Improves team efficiency over time – Every process that takes place during the production of a piece of software is documented, when using Six Sigma. Everything from the processes used, errors that occurred and what steps were taken to resolve these errors. Documenting processes can allow a team to become more effective. The success of a certain process will be documented, the team can then use this as a template for future projects. A good team leader may also use Six Sigma documentation to determine any weaknesses in their team, and allow them to address these issues. For example, they may plan sessions that focus on a specific skill. The Six Sigma documenting process also allows teams to record how they resolved a specific issue, making a fix much simpler in future projects. This could prevent both time and money being wasted in future projects, increasing the efficiency of the team.


What Six Sigma’s Detractors Say

Requires specialist leadership - Whilst most methodologies require an experienced leader, Six Sigma requires a specific type of leader in order to be most effective. Six Sigma courses are available to those looking to lead Six Sigma based projects. Completion of these courses allows individuals to become certified, the higher the certification of an individual the higher their skill set is. Certification ranges from yellow belt to master black belt. The issue with this is that the highest certified individuals are in high demand, making them hard to find and attract to your company. Another obvious issue is pay, as these leaders are in such high demand, companies often pay more to secure their services. On the flip side,  securing one of these certified individuals can bring many advantages to businesses, for example their decision making and problem-solving skills can make projects run much smoother. You get what you pay for! The Return on Investment (ROI) from Six Sigma can be higher.

Demanding and complex process - The process of a Six Sigma project can be extremely demanding as well as complex, and this can have a negative impact on team members. Firstly, team members must constantly collect and analyse data in order to produce the information required for the project to be successful. This constant data collection can put stress on team members. This process is also extremely time-consuming. In order to ensure that gold standard data analysis is carried out, teams must dedicate a suitable amount of time to deal with the data collected, this can extend the length of projects, therefore again placing demand on those within the team. Data analysis under Six Sigma considers large amounts of data at once, therefore those carrying out the data need to be experienced with working with high volumes of data at once.

Increased production costs – As touched on already, following Six Sigma can increase the production costs of a project. However, when looking to produce software and outcomes of higher quality, it is often a price worth paying. Those experienced in Six Sigma projects will likely demand a higher pay packet in comparison to the ‘average’ employee but don’t be put off by the price tag – the Project Management as a Service market can deliver Six Sigma benefits without having to add Six Sigma salaries to your payroll.

If you nail it, Six Sigma is the Rolls Royce of the project methodologies. Ultimately, which methodology you choose should depend on the delivery value it will bring. The whole point of your project is to deliver the greatest impact for your business or organisation when you transition your IT Project into service while deploying all resources, you have available in the most efficient manner possible. Six Sigma is a black belt at this!

You should never limit your potential outcomes by sticking to your safe, default, "old faithful" methodology. If you find the best approach is outside your current comfort zone, buying in project resources, from individual talent to end to end PMO, can help you mix things up and reap the rewards of doing so.

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