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Issue dated - 13th October 2003


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Indian IT buys into Six Sigma

India’s IT industry is respected globally for its focus on quality. While SEI-CMM and other ISO standards are quite common, Six Sigma is now becoming popular amongst Indian IT and ITeS companies. Some have already started reaping the benefits of adopting Six Sigma, says Abhinav Singh

Sambuddha Deb says that in most other standards it is very difficult to measure quality as everyone has a different definition of quality, but Six Sigma practices underline defects in a process, thereby making it easy to improve upon by eliminating the defect from its root

In a business where there is little to differentiate between competitors, quality is that key ingredient that can aid in the differentiation process. Obviously, quality standards and certifications have become a buzzword amongst Indian IT and ITeS companies. The goal of Six Sigma is continuous process improvement. Indian companies are adopting it to gain an edge over the others in the pack. Six Sigma’s adoption has resulted in the improvement of business processes for many companies. While Six Sigma adoption is still in a nascent stage and challenges remain, it is expected to take off amongst Indian IT and ITeS companies in the years to come.

Six Sigma is popular with Indian IT and ITeS players for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is very clearly result-oriented. Of course, the fact that one of Indian software’s biggest customers, General Electric (GE), is a big proponent of Six Sigma doesn’t hurt either.

More result-oriented

Many Indian IT and ITeS players believe that Six Sigma is more result-oriented than other quality and improvement standards and therefore it helps them streamline their processes, bringing about all-round organisational improvement. As Six Sigma practices aim at quantifying each and every process in numbers, it is easier to measure improvement. Sambuddha Deb, chief quality officer, Wipro Technologies says, "In most other standards it is very difficult to measure quality as everyone has a different definition of quality. However, Six Sigma practices underline defects in a process, thereby making it easy to improve upon it by eliminating the defect from its root." After adopting Six Sigma, many organisations have found that their delivery processes have become sustainable and continuous. For call centres in particular, and IT companies in general, the prospect of improving HR processes using Six Sigma is a big draw. Shwetank Sharad, head of quality at ICICI OneSource says, "There are well defined roles in a Six Sigma practice, like a Master Black Belt, Black Belt and a Green Belt. It aims at zero error in a process, thereby resulting in overall improvement in a set-up."

Increased customer satisfaction

Several Indian IT and ITeS companies have adopted Six Sigma in order to gain customer acceptability and improve client satisfaction. It has helped them create and deliver value and demonstrate direct savings to their customers. Some IT companies like TCS and iGATE Global Solutions went in for Six Sigma as a result of their long-term relationship with General Electric (GE) one of the pioneers in spreading and adopting the concept of Six Sigma (Motorola was the other pioneer in Six Sigma). N G Subramanayam, vice president of Bangalore Operations for TCS says, "Initially we took the help of GE and Motorola in adopting Six Sigma. GE trained our core team, which then spread the concept across TCS. After having adopted the Six Sigma practice in 1999 we have worked on nearly 300 projects using this practice."

According to Krishnan Puthucode, SMEs find it difficult to adopt Six Sigma because in most SMEs there are hardly 10 projects running and they have hardly any aspect of repeatability in them

Continuous process of improvement

Indian IT and ITeS companies have adopted Six Sigma across their organisations and have tried to incorporate most of the processes running in their set-ups. As Six Sigma aims at continuous improvement it has resulted in changing the complete mindset of employees as per its procedures. The change in the overall mindset of the organisation has resulted in greater efficiency and productivity as well as a reduction in cost and cycle time.

Adoption mainly amongst large IT & ITeS players

The adoption of Six Sigma has been largely confined to large IT and ITeS players in the country as they have a large number of repeatable processes that can be improved over a given time period. They also have a large number of projects that follow a similar process. Large IT and ITeS companies also have multiple quality standards running across the organisation and it is easier for them to integrate Six Sigma practices along with other standards. Krishnan Puthucode, director and CEO, SEI Authorised Lead Assessor, Software Quality says, "In some SMEs there are hardly 10 projects running and they aren’t many repeat processes in them. In such cases it becomes very difficult to adopt Six Sigma practices. Hence SMEs are struggling to adopt Six Sigma."

Integrating Six Sigma practices with other standards

Indian IT and ITeS companies adopting Six Sigma already have a quality standard like a CMM Level 5 certification or an ISO certification. It is easier to integrate Six Sigma practices when there are also practices like CMM or ISO running in a set-up. Some organisations like Wipro, TCS and iGATE Global Solutions in the IT field and EXL Services and 24/7 Customer in ITeS already had other quality programmes running successfully before they went in for Six Sigma. Ravi Venkatesam, VP-Operations, Technical Support Practice 24/7 Customer says, "We already had a ISO-9001 certification, and a COPC. When the Six Sigma adoption idea was mooted the management readily accepted it, thereby paving the way for overall adoption across the organisation."

Shwetank Sharad says that there are well defined roles in a Six Sigma practice, like a Master Black Belt, Black Belt and a Green Belt

Challenges faced while adopting Six Sigma

Customising Six Sigma: Customising Six Sigma to an organisation’s requirements is a big challenge. The whole mental attitude of the organisation has to change in order to adopt Six Sigma and realise its benefits. Vikas Bhalla, vice president, Quality & Process Excellence, EXL Services says, "Quick adoption of Six Sigma depends on how mature an organisation is and where it is headed. During the initial stage of adoption strategic directions are not very clear as to how to go about adopting the practice but once they are clear Six Sigma can be customised and adopted throughout the organisation across departments. Freshers in an organisation are more open to the Six Sigma practice." Besides this it is important to train people to adapt to change and new practices. Considerable resources have to be pumped into training employees on Six Sigma. K L Murughan, deputy general manager iGATE Global Solutions says, "Applying Six Sigma in the software development process is very challenging, as it is important to identify and quantify each and every project in terms of the number of defects."

For TCS it was the enormous size of the company and partly because it was taken up as a global initiative that it was a challenge to adopt the practice initially. N G Subramanayam of TCS says, "After adoption of the Six Sigma practice it is easier for us to deal with companies like GE but dealing with other companies that are not very comfortable with the Six Sigma concept it is very challenging for us."

Identifying areas for improvement: It is equally challenging for companies to identify projects and areas that need immediate improvement. Deb of Wipro Technologies says, "We have set up a mechanism to identify projects upon which we can improve immediately. However, as business priorities change every year we ensure that the same holds true for the parameters for selecting the right project that can reap the maximum benefit if Six Sigma is applied to it." It is also challenging to identify projects and pain areas in those areas where Six Sigma has never been adopted before, like some areas in the sales and marketing operations.

According to Vikas Bhalla, quick adoption of Six Sigma depends on how mature an organisation is and where it is headed

Statistically measuring every process: Since Six Sigma is heavily dependent on numbers to underline the number of defects it becomes difficult to measure each and every process mathematically and statistically. Puthucode of SQC says, "It is easier to measure each and every process in a production environment but when it comes to software there is this problem of lack of repeatability. A lot of dedication is required, especially while measuring people processes, as it means a complete change in the attitude of the employees." However some companies like Wipro Technologies have created a data driven system and have made it mandatory to collect data for each of the processes running on Six Sigma. This system solved the problem of statistically measuring processes running on Six Sigma for Wipro Technologies. Ramaswami K, Viswanathan, consultant at QAI India says, "When it comes to measuring Six Sigma it can be applied in any field of operation from manufacturing to software design, from sales and marketing to customer service, from financial back offices to call centres. The difference in IT organisations is that it may be applicable for ‘product design’ oriented projects while ITeS may use process improvement projects."

No proper assessing body: The absence of any assessing body to monitor the applicability of the Six Sigma process is also a major challenge which Indian IT and ITeS companies face. The lack of good consultants in the space who can assess and monitor the adoption of the Six Sigma practice has compelled companies to go in for self-assessment of the practice, which at times may not be accurate.

The road ahead

With Indian IT and ITeS companies concentrating their energies to tap global markets and compete with MNCs most of them have adopted some quality standard or the other. But how far they go about adopting Six Sigma, which is a highly complex standard, is yet to be seen. So far Indian players have been effectively playing the cost game but it is equally important for them to adhere to world-class quality standards like Six Sigma to achieve perfection and excellence in their work. There are promising days ahead for Six Sigma in India.

Road Map for an organisation adopting Six Sigma standards

Step 1
The organisation charters a diagnostic assessment. The aim of the diagnostic assessment is to assess the organisational SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). From this it finds the best opportunities to apply Six Sigma and calculates the potential benefits Six Sigma can bring in—both financial savings and other non-quantifiable benefits; also finds out what is the roadmap for the deployment of Six Sigma—the who/what/when action plan. Another key benefit of this step is that the organisation gets to know the most promising Six Sigma projects they must embark on immediately. This assessment typically is done by a senior QAI consultant and takes 1 week for a 300-member group/location.

Step 2
Based on the above assessment, the organisation appoints a champion for Six Sigma deployment. The champion reports to the CEO, who in turn acts as the ‘sponsor’.

Step 3
The champion selects Black Belt and Green Belt participants, who in turn go through training and Six Sigma project execution.

Step 4
The training lasts five days for Green Belts and 20 days for Black Belts. These methodologies have five clear phases or milestones to go through. The Six Sigma training teaches the participants more than 80-120 tools—statistical, quantitative and qualitative in nature. The training covers the DMAIC and DMADV (Also known as DFSS or design for Six Sigma) methodologies of Six Sigma. DMAIC is a Process Improvement Methodology while DMADV is a product or Process Design Methodology. These five steps are Define, Measure, Analyse, and Improve Control for DMAIC and Define, Measure, Analyse, Design, Verify for DFSS.
The training for Black Belts is spread across four to six months: one week of training, (first week for D&M phases, second for A phase, third for I phase, fourth for C phase respectively) followed by a four-week gap. During this gap the team performs the tasks they are supposed to do; and creates the ‘deliverables’ for that particular phase.

Step 5
During this training, the participants form Six Sigma project teams. These teams are led by Black Belts with two to three Green Belts as team members.

Step 5A
During the define phase, The team writes ‘Project Charters’ which enumerate the business case of their Six Sigma project, when they intend to complete it, and what benefits the organisation can achieve.

Step 5B
During the measure phase, the team converts the business problem into a statistical problem. That is, the team collects data on the Project Y or CTQ (Critical to Quality) parameter they are targeting for improvement. The team computes the Z or Sigma Level for the CTQ.

Step 5C
During the analyse phase, the team brainstorms for causal factors (Xs) for the effect—i.e. the Project Y. The team uses several statistical tools to come up with a mathematical / statistical equation which links the Y with the Xs as Y=F (x).

Step 5D
During the improve phase, based on the results of analysis of Y=F (x) equations the team could fit, the team suggests improvement plans; i.e. the team converts the statistical or mathematical solution into a practical solution. The best possible solution is chosen for piloting. The team proves that the situation has improved by collecting and measuring the Sigma value once more.

Step 5E
During control phase, the team optimises the process and goes ahead to implement the new process (Standard Operating procedures) on a large scale, organisation-wide. Control and sustenance mechanisms are put in place.

Step 6
By the end of approximately four to six months the organisation completes several projects it had undertaken. The champion is involved in each phase of the project—D, M, A, I and C—to monitor the progress of each project. Learnings from these projects are collated and evaluated. Financial benefits are calculated. The teams get certified as green Belts and Black Belts upon writing a certification exam and successfully completing these projects. Learning experience from the projects is spread across the organisation. The organisation gets ready for the next ‘round’ of projects.

Source: QAI India

What is Six Sigma?
  • Sigma is a statistical unit of measurement reflective of
    • Process capability.
    • Process performance, i.e. variation.
  • The higher the Sigma value, the lesser the chance of a defect.
  • Six Sigma level—A process produces less than 3.4 defects in a million opportunities.
  • Five Sigma level—233 defects in a million opportunities.
  • Four Sigma level—6,210 defects in a million opportunities.
  • Three Sigma level—66,807 defects in a million opportunities.
  • Two Sigma level—3,08,537 defects in a million opportunities.
  • One Sigma level—6,97,672 defects in a million opportunities.
Six Sigma Belts

There are three levels (or Belts) of Six Sigma practitioners based upon the level of competence in understanding and applying related tools.

  • Green Belt – Basic analytical tools; works on less complex projects.
  • Black Belt – Emphasis on application and analysis; works on projects with help from Green Belts.
  • Master Black Belt – Understands application and statistical theory behind application; trains other belts; leads project reviews.

Actual definition and competencies for each belt can vary by organisation and training institutions

History of Six Sigma

Bill Smith, an engineer and a scientist at Motorola came up with the concept of Six Sigma in 1986. He introduced it with an aim to standardise the way defects are counted. The roots of Six Sigma as a measurement standard can be traced back to Carl Frederick Gauss (1777-1885) who introduced the concept of the normal curve. Six Sigma as a measurement standard in product variation can be traced back to the 1920s when Walter Shewhart showed that three Sigma from the mean is the point where a process requires correction.

Six Sigma provided Motorola the key to addressing quality concerns throughout the organisation, from manufacturing to support functions. Under the chairmanship of Bob Galvin, in the mid 1980s Motorola engineers decided that the traditional quality levels measuring defects in thousands of opportunities didn’t provide enough granularity. Instead, they wanted to measure the defects per million opportunities. Motorola developed this new standard and created the methodology. Six Sigma helped Motorola realise powerful bottom line results; it documented more than $16 billion in savings as a result of its Six Sigma efforts. The application of Six Sigma also contributed to Motorola winning the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality award in 1988. Since then, hundreds of companies around the world have adopted Six Sigma as a way of doing business. Six Sigma has evolved into something that’s more than a quality system like Total Quality Management or ISO. It’s also a way of doing business. Since then Six Sigma has been adopted by organisations such as General Electric, Allied Signal and Citibank. In India, TCS for instance has taken the help of the Motorola University to adopt the Six Sigma concept.

Some adopters of Six Sigma in India
Company Initiatives Benefits
Wipro One of the earliest Indian IT companies to adopt Six Sigma in India in 1996. Has put in substantial effort into it as no management review can start without the Six Sigma practice. Has covered almost 35 percent of its employees under the Six Sigma initiative. Has successfully undertaken around 2,000 projects on Six Sigma so far. It also has a Six Sigma consulting practice running. It has 15 Master Black Belts, 160 Black Belts and 800 Green Belts. Has become a lot more efficient, improved its overall productivity and reduced cycle time. Baseline productivity has improved.
Tata Consultancy Services Started the Six Sigma initiative in 1999 due to its close relationship with GE, which was one of the early adopters and propagators of the Six Sigma practice in the world. TCS has spread the practice across the organisation worldwide. Even today GE reviews some of its projects. In 2003 GE and TCS started their own Six Sigma self-assessment certification. Has carried out about 300 projects using Six Sigma practice. It has 15 Master Black Belts, 190 Black Belts and 700 Green Belts. Has resulted in more business for the company, even from the existing customers. Has also resulted in the enhancement of the process capability baseline.
iGATE Global Solutions Started the Six Sigma practice in early 2002. iGATE decided to go in for Six Sigma as GE is one of its major customers. It has executed around 150 projects using Six Sigma practice. The company has 3 Master Black Belts, 32 Black Belts and 85 Green Belts. Has helped it develop an analytical approach in problem solving and for fine-tuning delivery processes.
EXL Services (BPO) Started the Six Sigma initiative in 2001 and spread it across the organisation. Its Process Excellence programme based on Six Sigma influences each stage of the client process, to offer quality service delivery geared towards the creation of an exceptional customer experience. It is a continuous programme, which has led to improved customer satisfaction, and long-term competitive advantage, focusing on cost, speed and accuracy. EXL has 2 Master Black Belts, 15 Black Belts and 30 Green Belts. Has made its quality management processes more robust.
After adopting to Six Sigma the company has been successful in exceeding its client service agreements. It has also been able to demonstrate direct savings to its clients.
ICICI OneSource (BPO) Launched the Six Sigma initiative in Jan 2003, has now spread it across processes in the organisation. Has 1 Master Black Belt. Has been able to influence its clients and has acted as a value accelerator to its services.
24/7 Customer (BPO) Initiated the process in 2001 and has 1 Master Black Belt and 20 Black Belts who are working for continuous improvement throughout the organisation. The company has worked on close to 20 projects on Six Sigma.

Six Sigma has changed the employee mindset and has inculcated a sense of discipline amongst them. It has also helped the organisation in getting better business for the company.

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