Mining companies are dealing with complex production processes involving extractive metallurgy, chemistry and mining, chemical, electrical etc. engineering sciences, logistics and highly capital-intensive operations. These processes and disciplines benefit from deployment of six sigma improvement programs throughout the organization. The six sigma improvement programs are often championed at a local division, with the intent to pilot the program and subsequently deploy the six sigma improvement methods and practice to the rest of the company. The role of the divisional manager was key – she championed the approach and introduced comprehensive training program for many employees. The practice was kept somewhat isolated from the rest of the company, awaiting the evaluation of outcomes which, when done, gave overall positive results. However, the change in leadership resulted in change of priorities and gradual dilution of the effort as leaders who did not share the same passion for the six sigma approach took over the decision making.
A small effort in more rigorous deployment of statistical methods with no direct connection to the pilot location initiative was initiated several years later at company’s corporate R&D group. A group of R&D employees including technicians, engineers and scientists progressed through yellow and green belt training programs after one of them completed Champion training at a local business school. The training program was based on case studies covering variety of R&D projects. The intent was again to start the formal deployment in R&D environment, where there was already a sound foundation in statistics and problem-solving techniques existed and select challenging projects to showcase the approach. The training program was well received although formal transition to the main operating divisions did not take place to the best knowledge of the authors. In the R&D group, the development program acquired a local “flavour” owing to the new leader who championed the six sigma deployment at another mining company. A popular acronym during this period was “ICTC” – “In-Control-Then-Capable”). This name clearly communicated the message of Deming-style improvement programs in 4 words, facilitating focused effort to bring production processes in statistical control before embarking on major process optimization campaigns.
The overall culture of the company was impacted by the subsequent change of ownership, resulting in many changes of senior leadership positions and a departure from the six sigma terminology and framework under the new leadership.
4.4 An energy retailer – non-numerical data collection and treatment (attribute data)
We have included the Energy retailer in our paper because it was different from any of the above-mentioned organizations as it manufactured nothing and was a for profit business organization that purchased energy in bulk and sold in retail to consumers. All its processes were transnational. However, the strategy we have outline in the first part of this paper worked very well at this organization as well. Because of the nature of organization, we did not need to train black belts at this organization. At the pilot stage, 10 key projects were launched that were completed by 10 Green Belt candidate under the coaching and supervision of a master black belt resulting in savings of US$2.2 million. This encouraging result prompted the full-scale launch of the program spanning all its North American Operations.