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Six Sigma vs. Agile

Instructor: Elizabeth Wamicha

Elizabeth teaches undergraduate courses in Business and Information Technology for the last 7 years. She is currently on course to completing a Doctorate in Information Systems

This lesson analyzes two very important approaches, Six Sigma and Agile, that are used in the areas of product development, project management and quality management.

What is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma has been described as a process improvement methodology that is used to measure the level of process quality. Six Sigma attempts to attain a level of quality that is near perfect. High defect levels have a correlation with low product quality. The Six Sigma methodology is a methodology that is based on pre-determined statistics. The main aim of the methodology is to eliminate defects. This means that it attempts to improve the process and by doing so ensures that the final product is of high quality.

What is Agile?

Agile, on the other hand, is a project delivery approach that is often described as iterative and incremental. Other methodologies that are used within Agile include Scrum and eXtreme Programming. Agile teams are often able to respond to unpredictable project environments. They do this by progressively and iteratively building on work parts of the project. Agile is product focused. This means that it attempts to improve the product by introducing a customer centered approach in its product development.

Basic Concepts of Six Sigma

Six Sigma comprises 5 distinct and sequential steps in its usage. These steps are often referred to as DMAIC and are as follows:

  • Define: This involves attempting to better understand the requirements of the customer. At this point the acceptable characteristics of the final product are usually defined and anything else is described as defective. For example, one would define the acceptable characteristics of a car such as its wheel size, its engine specifications and other capabilities. Anything short of these specifications would be deemed defective.
  • Measure: This involves determining the frequency of the defects or how many defects are present in the process. For example, one would determine how many cars did not meet the specifications over a given period of time.
  • Analyze: This involves investigating when, why and where the defects occur in a given process. For example, this step would involve determining at what point the car specifications are going wrong and why the process is unable to get the correct specifications
  • Improve: This involves what can be done to mitigate against the defects that have been identified and analyzed. It therefore focuses on getting to the root cause of the defects and trying to correct or eliminate these root causes.
  • Control: This involves ensuring that the process remains as it should be in order to achieve near perfection. This is done by monitoring the process including attempting to rectify any faulty activities within the process.

Basic Concepts of Agile Development

Agile comprises 5 distinct principles. These principles are as follows:

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