The case study of the 3M company demonstrates how a Lean Six Sigma initiative can enhance a firm’s performance and quality control. According to Schroeder and Goldstein (2020), “Six Sigma quality is related to the normal probability distribution, with sigma (σ) denoting the standard deviation of the process” (p. 178). This model can be implemented by companies that operate in various industries, manufacture products, or provide services. The main goal is to improve processes and enhance the overall performance of a firm. Currently, the Lean Six Sigma methodology is successfully applied by the world’s leading companies in all sectors of the economy. This paper aims to discuss various aspects of the use of the Lean Six Sigma program at 3M.
The Benefits and Costs of the Lean Six Sigma Program
The benefits of using the Lean Six Sigma program include the advantages of Six Sigma and the Lean methodology. In particular, activities that do not add value are eliminated from the production process. This approach can help decrease inventory, shorten the completion time, and remove steps that are unimportant for quality goods manufacturing or provision of services. As reported by Singh and Rathi (2018), Lean Six Sigma “results in reduced waste, defects and improved process, which in turn provide high-quality products at minimum cost and this leads to customer delight” (p. 622). Eventually, the overall living standards in society increase, which benefits the company, clients, and the general population. Furthermore, Lean Six Sigma enhances corporate culture by emphasizing each employee’s role in quality management and strengthening their sense of belonging. The benefits of this approach should be tracked with the use of key performance indicators that comply with corporate goals and drive positive outcomes.
The costs of the Lean Six Sigma program include various expenses with regard to investment, materials, resources, labor, training, data collection and analysis, and other essential processes for the company. Overall, several elements can be distinguished, such as planning, control, and failure costs (Sony et al., 2019). The implementation of Six Sigma involves evaluating the company’s needs, developing a system, teaching the personnel, and eliminating defects during and after the production process. As Conceição et al. (2019) note, “in enterprises, controlling the quality of products and processes and reducing costs are the main ways of achieving competitive advantages” (p. 2024). Therefore, expenses should be tracked by measuring financial benefits and costs associated with the program. It is essential to ensure quality control for all processes within the organization.
The Inclusion of Functional Areas and the Role of Management
Every organization comprises various functional areas that work together towards accomplishing business goals and enhancing overall performance. They include operations, finance, leadership, marketing, sales, and research and development (Nawaz & Koç, 2019). As noted by Schroeder and Goldstein (2020), Six Sigma focuses on improving processes and important business activities. Therefore, all functional areas should be involved in the Lean Six Sigma initiative, which can be achieved by establishing clear expectations and measuring performance quality. For instance, administration and human resources should focus on meeting the company’s needs for the workforce, while engineering and manufacturing teams need to ensure efficient design, assembling, and use of resources (Nawaz & Koç, 2019). Sales and marketing should work closely with research and development to meet customer needs, while the finance department’s main role is to plan and coordinate the budget and funding (Nawaz & Koç, 2019). The Lean Six Sigma approach is aimed at eliminating errors and optimizing outcomes, which means that all operations and processes throughout various departments need to be evaluated and enhanced.
In this regard, senior and middle management should play a pivotal role in the change initiative by focusing on quality improvement and monitoring all of the company’s activities. In particular, middle managers need to focus on maintaining productivity and lowering costs by assessing processes and measuring the company’s compliance with goals in each functional area (Sony et al., 2019). Senior managers should evaluate the overall change in the company and ensure that Six Sigma contributes to its enhanced productivity and competitive advantage at a broader level (Sony et al., 2019). In other words, enhanced performance is crucial to the selected initiative, and all business activity needs to be centered around it.
Skepticism about the Original Six Sigma Program
The case study demonstrates that the 3M company was transformed with the implementation of the change initiative. According to Schroeder and Goldstein (2020), “the 2003 annual report credited Six Sigma with increasing operating income by $500 million in 2002, and an additional $400 million in 2003” (p. 460). Nevertheless, not all companies embraced this approach and integrated the change into their business activities. The main reasons to warrant this skepticism include the lack of need to prioritize quality, the complexity of the program, and its incompatibility with service-based industries (Schroeder & Goldstein, 2020). However, I disagree with any of these points made by skeptics. Even though it is true that training and implementation require time and resources, higher quality of goods and services can increase sales, improve customer loyalty, and result in better overall performance in the long term.
In general, any change initiative needs to be comprehensive to provide benefits for the company, which requires finding, time, and continuous control over the processes. Nevertheless, the successful implementation of Lean Six Sigma by manufacturing companies and service providers indicates that the investment can be compensated over time due to improved productivity (Nawaz & Koç, 2019). There are two main reasons why managers start implementing Six Sigma. Namely, the company’s existence might be at risk due to high competition rates in the market, which requires immediate change. Alternatively, the firm might want to improve the quality of its products and services to become a leader. As practice shows, the Lean Six Sigma concept is adopted by high-level specialists who achieve impressive growth rates, regardless of the initial conditions.
Lean Six Sigma and the Innovative Culture at 3M
In the given case study, it can be seen that Lean Six Sigma can improve the innovative culture at 3M. According to Schroeder and Goldstein (2020), the company “continues to pursue innovation in both products and processes” (p. 460). In any industry, regardless of the company’s size, organizations need to develop to remain competitive in a fast-changing environment. At the same time, certain resources are required to drive innovation, such as people, equipment, funding, or other assets that contribute to the firm’s development.
The implementation of the Six Sigma methodology at 3M can be beneficial as this approach apply non-standard thinking to address the existing problems and enhance processes. As noted by Conceição et al. (2019), the ability to identify and implement innovations is one of the greatest strengths of Six Sigma professionals. Compliance with the change initiative at 3M can help the company to effectively involve employees with regard to optimizing activities and significantly increase their productivity (Conceição et al., 2019). Furthermore, this approach can contribute to continuous improvement at all levels of the company. At the same time, it is not enough to implement Lean Six Sigma to promote product and service innovation at 3M. since this approach focuses on optimizing processes, additional initiatives are required to develop new designs.
The Difference between Lean Six Sigma and Traditional TQM Programs
The difference between Lean Six Sigma and traditional total quality management (TQM) programs lies in different strategies regarding the business activity. Lean Six Sigma aims to produce better results within short periods by eliminating errors and optimizing processes, while other approaches focus on the company’s compliance with requirements (Schroeder & Goldstein, 2020). The fact is that the philosophy of TQM is built on the principles of the collective creativity of all employees of the enterprise. In turn, Lean Six Sigma can be defined as a quality measurement tool that leads to excellence (Conceição et al., 2019). While TQM is a traditional approach, Six Sigma is a fairly new concept that aspires to continuous quality improvement to achieve perfection by limiting the number of possible defects. Total quality management focuses on customer satisfaction, while Six Sigma focuses on continual improvement that will continue to benefit the company even after the achievement of goals.
To conclude, Lean Six Sigma at 3M is an effective practice for improving the company’s efficiency. Its benefits indicate that this approach can be implemented by any organization, regardless of its size or field of activity. The case study of 3M shows that the Lean Six Sigma initiative can become an effective solution for a company that embraces change and supports innovation. Its implementation can help achieve positive outcomes even when other market participants are still considering the feasibility of this methodology.
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Nawaz, W., & Koç, M. (2019). Exploring organizational sustainability: Themes, functional areas, and best practices. Sustainability, 11(16), 4307.
Schroeder, R. G., & Goldstein, S. M. (2020). Operations management in the supply chain: Decisions and Cases (8th ed.). McGraw-Hill.
Singh, M., & Rathi, R. (2018). A structured review of Lean Six Sigma in various industrial sectors. International Journal of Lean Six Sigma, 10(2), 622-664.
Sony, M., Antony, J., Park, S., & Mutingi, M. (2019). Key criticisms of Six Sigma: A systematic literature review. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, 67(3), 950-962.