7 Reasons IT Organizations Should Adopt Six Sigma

Deploying a process-improvement strategy can help your IT department be more productive and reduce errors. We talked to Six Sigma (and other) experts about why the move makes good business sense.

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Since General Electric adopted Six Sigma, a process-improvement strategy developed by Motorola in the 1980s, in the 1990s, the term/methodology has become a catch phrase for quality improvement. And although originally intended for use in manufacturing and the supply chain as a way to reduce or eliminate defects, the data-driven, process-improvement strategy has since been applied to other sectors and services, including IT.

So how can a process-improvement strategy such as Six Sigma benefit your IT organization? CIO.com asked IT as well as Six Sigma and other experts. They provided seven reasons why adopting a process-improvement strategy makes good business sense, no matter what business you are in.

1. It can help you make better decisions. "IT organizations usually have large numbers of change initiatives running in parallel, addressing a wide range of factors," says Jim Shulkin, vice president of Marketing at Daptiv, a provider of on-demand project portfolio management software.

"Implementing [a process-improvement strategy, whether it's Six Sigma or] project portfolio management (PPM) helps you decide which projects to undertake, [how to] streamline existing processes and then drive through and monitor [them] to achieve strategic objectives," Shulkin says. "For IT organizations specifically, PPM involves managing the process of translating the strategy and objectives into the right projects and then focusing on the execution of these projects towards the delivery of overall strategic objectives."

[Related: Why Are So Many IT Projects Failing?]

2. It can help you determine what's working and what's not. "Numbers don't lie -- and Six Sigma techniques eliminate the emotion of what may be perceived as 'wrong' with a process," says Nikk Gilbert, vice president, Corporate Security & Safety, CUNA Mutual Group. "By capturing metrics and allowing for more objective discussion, progress can be made more effectively."

"Six Sigma provides the structured approach that IT can use to define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC) their service portfolio and delight their clients."

In addition, using Six Sigma, you can document "what is and is not acceptable in a process's behavior," Gilbert says. Then if (or when) a process "becomes out of control, sirens should go off drawing attention to the problem."

3. It can help you to improve service(s). "Providing great IT service is about more than just meeting service level agreements (SLAs) based on averages, e.g., mean time to respond or target delivery time," says Scott Marx, managing consultant, CompuCom, an IT outsourcing specialist. "IT organization's client satisfaction is also based on predictability," specifically minimizing the "variation in service quality" to consistently deliver great service, he says.

[Related: Culture of Innovation Starts With IT]

"Six Sigma quality processes help organizations measure and control critical-to-quality metrics to not only achieve target means, but also minimize the variations that so highly impact quality," Marx says. Moreover, as "a recognized industry best practice for service design and improvement, Six Sigma provides the structured approach that IT can use to define, measure, analyze, improve and control (DMAIC) their service portfolio and delight their clients."

4. It can help you decrease downtime. "IT organizations strive for 99.999% uptime," says Luke Klink, security program strategist, Rook Consulting, an IT risk and security consulting firm.

"Whether it's Six Sigma or another process improvement strategy, adopting such a strategy will help IT organizations be more successful," by helping to decrease downtime, Klink says.

5. It can improve security. "As the security threat landscape evolves, CIOs and their security teams must ensure appropriate processes scale to protect the company's assets," says Klink.

"Similar to finding defects in operational processes, identifying vulnerabilities in security controls and processes is critical, not only for the success of the business, but the protection of its environment as well," Klink says. "A formal process-improvement strategy enables such success and protection."

[Related: Culture of Innovation Starts With IT]

6. It can decrease risk. "When addressing risk within an IT organization, continuous assessment and improvement is essential," says Klink. "As the business environment and strategies change, often risk mitigation strategies must be improved," he says. "Executing against a defined process enables efficient measurement, remediation and reporting providing business leaders key information to make risk-based decisions."

7. It can reduce miscommunication. "A project team will have a variety of [members with a variety of] skills, from technical to operational," which can sometimes lead to miscommunication or conflicts, says Gilbert. "Six Sigma, LEAN and other [process improvement] strategies, [however,] create great opportunities for team building and collaboration," by bringing everyone together to work toward a common goal -- reducing defects -- and providing a way to objectively measure and discuss what's working and what's not.

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a technology writer and a regular contributor to CIO.com. She also runs a marketing communications firm.

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