Microsoft's Six Sigma Accelerator shoots for defect-free products

Six Sigma is playing a significant role in changing the way large companies think about their business processes. If you're a Six Sigma candidate, Redmond has developed a product tailor-made for your next Six Sigma project.

Six Sigma originated in the hallowed halls of Motorola back in the 1980s. Since then, Six Sigma has developed a cultlike following among some of the world's largest corporations seeking business process improvements within their organizations. Because of its success within so many companies, Six Sigma has stood the test of time and can no longer be lumped into that large category of passing management fads.

The Sigma symbol is used in statistical circles to indicate standard deviation. The original intent of a Six Sigma program was to eliminate defects in the manufacturing process.

Recognizing the staying power of the Six Sigma methodology, the folks from Redmond incorporated a suite of tools from their existing line of software offerings into a package entitled Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma. This package is designed to accommodate any organization contemplating an implementation of a Six Sigma program. Just how effective this package will be for a Six Sigma candidate depends on the few factors I'll discuss in this article.

What's included with the Accelerator
The Microsoft Accelerator for Six Sigma comes with the following server and client software offerings:
  • Microsoft Windows 2000 Server family
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • Microsoft Project Server 2002
  • Microsoft Project Professional 2002
  • Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server
  • Microsoft Office XP
  • .NET Framework

Obviously, this suite is intended for the IT shop that is firmly committed to the .NET philosophy and that can afford to pay the Microsoft premium. The products included with the Accelerator are essentially an extension of Microsoft's Solution for Enterprise Project Management bundle with a few Six Sigma-specific features necessary to successfully complete a project. The idea behind this grouping, however, goes beyond common project management tools and techniques to incorporate the essence of the Six Sigma philosophy. For instance, the suite includes interactive Project Guides to lead Six Sigma teams through each phase of the Six Sigma data analysis DMAIC model (define, measure, analyze, improve, and control).

Microsoft appears to be walking the talk as well in this endeavor, as it completed Six Sigma programs within its organization to learn more about how to improve its products. Perhaps this experience led Microsoft to fine-tune the Accelerator bundle as well as tweak it for Six Sigma implementations. Microsoft developed the Accelerator using Design for Six Sigma (DFSS), a methodology used to devise Six Sigma quality into new products and services so they are defect-free.

Target market
The point of the Accelerator is to leverage your existing technology investments to comply with the rigors of the Six Sigma methodology. The Accelerator was designed to help departments manage a large number of concurrent Six Sigma projects, track their financial impact, assign personnel resources, work with the Six Sigma reporting functions, and collaborate knowledge gathered across the enterprise. Not every Six Sigma candidate will need this much software to successfully deploy a Six Sigma program. Thus, the number of Six Sigma projects underway at any one time will be a major factor in how essential the Accelerator is to your Six Sigma project.

The size of the project also comes into play. When working with disparate organizations or numerous manufacturing processes, the benefit of such an all-encompassing software solution can be realized quickly. Nonetheless, an investment in this much software could prove costly without the necessary dedicated IT resources to implement the Accelerator.

Playing well with others
Microsoft has signed on with a couple of its enterprise project partners to deliver consulting services to those organizations needing help with Accelerator implementation. Immedient has Microsoft Gold Certified Partner status and provides enterprise project solutions using Microsoft Project. Pcubed provides Six Sigma-specific consulting services and can be tapped for implementation of SharePoint services that tie back to Six Sigma methodologies. Together these partners can design an Accelerator for Six Sigma program for any size organization and any size budget.

What to expect from Six Sigma
Because Six Sigma existed long before the computerized project management craze, there are many aspects of the Six Sigma program that still exist outside the realm of the Accelerator solution. Thus, the Accelerator should be seen as an aid, not an answer, to Six Sigma implementations. That said, having a robust and scalable method for tracking Six Sigma projects can mean the difference between achieving Six Sigma status and merely drowning in all the data needed to complete the program.

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