Six Sigma and Colorado Mines

Most readers seem to have little use for Six Sigma programs, whether they be to improve innovation or quality. But there are readers who think Six Sigma was never meant for improving innovation. And the dean of the College of Engineering & Computational Sciences at the Colorado School of Mines wants to be sure everyone knows they do much more than just teach about mining. May we suggest a name change?

Six Sigma: A dead end?
I saw your recent editorial (“Antidote to Innovation …Six Sigma,” Oct. 18), and it struck a chord.

I guess Six Sigma was best summarized by a Dilbert cartoon. When the boss informed Dilbert they were starting a Six Sigma program, Dilbert responded, “Why don’t we go for a program that hasn’t already been widely discredited.”

My company spent a fortune trying to jam a square peg in a round hole with Six Sigma. It did not apply to our work, but it was the latest corporate buzzword, so in it came.

Meanwhile, two of my fellow employees and I were busy developing a product that saved the company millions and is still yielding huge savings. Our reward? The Six Sigma “champions” tried to grab our project and claim it as their own.

Eventually my company gave up Six Sigma and two months later, you couldn’t find a single Six Sigma book in the company. And my SS analyst wall plaque? I threw it in the garbage where it belonged.

Right and on Time, Quality Circles, Six Sigma, and other (mis) management programs should be labeled for what they are …useless fads. Companies that really want to improve manufacturing should encourage their own employees and then cultivate their talent and creativity, not pay an outside “expert” with the latest line of nonsense.

George Wilson

Your editorial really hit home. I have been at a company for a few years now that addresses innovation in a way that frustrates and flabbergasts most of the engineering staff. It has me broken-hearted and looking to see what else is out there.

Name withheld by request

Using Six Sigma to boost innovation is a great example of using the wrong tool for the wrong job. Six Sigma is only effective on predictable, repeatable processes. But innovation is a random process, almost akin to gambling. You invest in and develop many ideas and hope one or two can make money. This is definitely not a predictable, repeatable process.

As my great mentor Homer Simpson would say: “D’Oh!”

John Cronin

I have over 15 years of experience with Six Sigma, and I know that when it’s used right, it’s not an innovation killer. Six Sigma tools can help make more-reliable informed choices, but they don’t stop innovation.

Innovation is not being stifled by 6S practice. It’s stifled at the top by those who don’t dare to be wrong. Establishing go/no go decisions for projects, even for simple advances, has become a process designed to make sure every project that gets a green light has almost no risk. This must be backed up by reams of technical, financial, and a full regulatory and legal assessment. When companies select projects that way, those projects with truly innovative potential are unlikely to be given much of a chance.

Lance Sirt

One man’s trash …
Thanks for an entertaining and informative commentary on eBay (“So Much for the Idea of Putting a Hex on Your Boss,” Oct. 16). I never knew people sold such stuff there, but I never looked for it, either. It is, perhaps, a testimony to human gullibility, but also to the diversity of human interests.

Mike Langlois

The items mentioned in your editorial are often just the modern version of “patent medicine” or “snake oil.” While many doubt the efficacy of acupuncture, ear candling, or colloidal silver, others swear by them.

But the relevant questions to ask in a free society include: Can a privately owned company (such as eBay) be required to carry advertising for products it sees as worthless, harmless, or perhaps even a scam? Do privately owned companies have the right to set a policy to refuse to advertise such merchandise/ services? And does the government have the authority to mandate that companies manufacturing dietary supplements or nontraditional medical supplies (acupuncture needles, ear-candling supplies, or books on iridology) prove not just that their items don’t cause harm but also that they are effective before they can sell them?

A free society still requires diligence on the part of sellers and consumers alike. (Caveat emptor and caveat vendor.)

Richard Windsor

We’re more than mines
Thank you for mentioning the Colorado School of Mines in your recent commentary (“Which Engineering Schools Offer the Best Value?” Sept. 20). We’re understandably proud of the value of a Mines education.

However, you imply — and it’s a common misconception — that we’re only about mining, petroleum, and earth sciences. In fact, Mines offers nine accredited engineering degrees. And although it is true we produce a lot of grads in petroleum engineering, mining accounts for only about 2.9% of our students. More than one-third of our students are in interdisciplinary Bachelor of Science in Engineering programs, with specialty options in civil, electrical, environmental, and mechanical fields. Likewise, our Engineering Physics program is one of the largest in the country. We also have graduate degrees through the Ph.D. level along with world-class research programs in areas like fuel cells and water resources.

We’re proud of all our offerings, including legacy programs in mining and petroleum engineering. We provide a wealth of degree opportunities that are very much the “right choice” for many students.

Kevin L. Moore Dean,
College of Engineering & Computational Sciences
Colorado School of Mines

Where’s the innovation?
I must be missing the part about why tractors from Deere & Co. for the Indian market have to be made in India (“Jobs and the Reverse Innovation Mindset“ Oct. 3). I also find it interesting (and perplexing) that a company with as much experience as Deere & Co. finds it necessary (and not too embarrassing) to resort to disassembling six rival tractors. We in the USA are always complaining about intellectual property and copying from those in other countries. Then this U. S. firm spends two years of a product-development team’s time to come up with a new design that uses clutch technology that was “already developed for more-expensive models.” This is an educational and eye-opening article on many levels.

Name withheld by request

Outsourcing isn’t done for cheap labor
I would beg to differ with Mr. Mitch Free when he says jobs are leaving the U. S. in search of cheaper labor (“Forget College, Go to Trade School,” Oct. 3). He lives in a fantasy world filled with the rhetoric used by the Unions.

The fact is the majority of large businesses and corporations leave the U.S. because of overregulation and taxation. Add in the facts that American workers no longer care to work on unskilled manufacturing lines for minimum wage and American consumers have a healthy appetite for cheap personal and household goods.

This conflicts with American workers who demand top dollar for unskilled work. That’s what the unions and some sectors of the government seem to promote. Merit is not a factor for those pushing equal pay for the same job, regardless of performance.

The U.S. government is also working with the UN to force rich corporations to take jobs to poorer countries in an effort to try to improve their economies.

Joe Montena

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