Six Sigma Drives IT Innovation

By Sreedhar Kajeepeta  |  Posted 04-16-2009

Six Sigma Drives IT Innovation

If you think Six Sigma is not for you, think again.

The old notions about Six Sigma are being challenged. It's no longer just a quality-management framework for manufacturing firms -- it's quickly becoming an efficiency driver for IT organizations.
Riding on its popularity in the manufacturing sector at early adopters like Motorola in the mid-1980's, Six Sigma gained momentum in IT earlier in this decade. But "Six Sigma in IT" has so far been mostly about applying quality-improvement programs on top of services delivery, and of making it a complementary discipline along with Capability for Mature Model for Software programs.

Now, progressive IT organizations across the world are launching their own Six Sigma programs, with the aim of achieving savings through improvements in quality and productivity, and also launching programs of innovation funded by those savings. Six Sigma comes with independent yet complementary sets of tools that can support the distinct activities of optimizing current operations and launching programs of innovation.

While IT organizations are institutionalizing prorgams to define, measure, analyze, improve, and control (DMAIC) for operational gains, they are also beginning to take a look at the other, not so widely explored and tapped side of Six Sigma aimed at promoting and enabling strategic thinking and innovation. That process is called Design for Six Sigma (DFSS), or DMADV, which stands for define, measure, analyze, design, and verify.

DFSS is distinctly different from the classic DAMIC process. It is explorative in nature, as opposed to being exploitative. It aims to cover the entire product/service life-cycle as opposed to DMAIC which only focuses on the last two of the five stages of a service life-cycle, as listed by ITIL (i.e. service strategy, service design, service transition, service operation and continuous service improvement).

While DMAIC is helping companies increase productivity and the quality of existing products, resulting in higher levels of customer satisfaction, DFSS can help them to aim for customer delight and may even catapult them to a market-leading position. 

How Six Sigma Enables Innovation

   

If a critical thoroughfare in a city was under a DMAIC process, it would be able to respond well or even avoid shutdowns from normal wear and tear, like potholes. But as a process, if it didn't undergo DFSS at design time taking traffic loads into account (and allowing for medians and adequate number of lanes), small accidents or peak traffic patterns at rush hours can bring the flow to a grinding halt, rendering the whole service useless.

There is a lot of room for exploration and research when it comes to applying DFSS to innovation in IT. As companies make a push for modernizing various elements of IT infrastructure, they know that it has to be done in a non-intrusive manner, but more importantly they also realize that such efforts have to be self-funded. That is where the two aspects of Six Sigma complement each other. DMAIC helps in realizing significant gains from support activities, which, in turn, can fund modernization activities where DFSS can help improve business alignment and agility.

To ensure that DFSS does improve IT's alignment with the business, IT management  should take a closer look  at the upstream ITIL activities of a service and the tools/techniques that DFSS offers to facilitate innovation and ideation. The set of tools/techniques for DFSS total to more than fifty statistical/analytical tools meant for different stages of 'DMADV,' and they include such artifacts as strategic plan, benchmarking, KANOs model, design of experiments, expected value analysis (EVA), Poka Yoke (a.k.a. mistake proofing), and so on. These are but a smidgeon of a sampling of the whole list, but, hopefully, they are enough to stimulate the interest and motivate IT shops to incorporate best practices of DFSS into their modernization efforts.   

When a set of well-qualified application portfolios are being migrated to a service-oriented architecture (SOA), the discipline of DFSS, for example, would require that the eXtended Markup Language (XML) payloads be quantified to clearly demarcate the boundaries from one sigma to Six Sigma. These boundaries would then drive the design efforts to develop the appropriate application and infrastructure architecture (which perhaps would point to a proactive use of XML Gateway appliances as necessary) to meet the desired compliance and service level agreements for response time.

But, more importantly, using design of experiments of DFSS, IT would be able to ascertain during design time if, in fact, the appliances are helping in achieving the Six Sigma support, or are they only able to go as far as, say, three sigma. Based on those outcomes, IT and business can get into a cost-benefit analysis to determine the viability of pursuing Six Sigma goals for the given SLA.

Six Sigma/DFSS offers a discipline and a host of tools/techniques that can help IT to design systems that are resilient and are easy to manage. By providing tangible goals to chase, it ensures that innovation efforts are well grounded in reality and are constantly guided towards meeting business challenges.

Sreedhar Kajeepeta is CTO, Strategic Technology Services, with CSC.