SIX SIGMA IN DISTANCE EDUCATION: A ROADMAP FOR BREAKTHROUGH
ICDE International Conference
November 19 – 23, 2005, New Delhi
SIX SIGMA IN DISTANCE EDUCATION: A ROADMAP FOR
Laxma Reddy Gaddam and Sreedhar Amancha
Globalisation, growing competition among institutions, emergence of new technologies, changing
socio-economic profiles of nations and knowledge driven economies have created a scenario where
quality in distance education (DE) is beginning to occupy centre stage. Now the quality is no more a
desirable strategy – it has become a survival strategy. In developing countries like India where there is
a resource crunch, maintaining quality at lower cost becomes a challenge. In such a scenario, Distance
Education Institutions (DEIs) require an innovative supporting tool which helps in improving the
quality of processes pertaining to the important functions such as design, development and delivery of
study materials. Six Sigma is one such powerful tool which is widely used in industrial and service
organisations to enhance quality and to reduce costs. As DEIs possess the features of service sector
and industrial sectors, the adoption of Six Sigma will pave the way for success in distance education.
Six Sigma is a breakthrough management strategy which is revolutionising the world’s top companies
with proven results of success. Six Sigma methodology was invented at Motorola, perfected at
General Electric (GE) and is now practiced by most of the organisations throughout the world. It is a
comprehensive and flexible system for achieving, sustaining and maximising business success. Six
Sigma is uniquely driven by close understanding of customer needs, disciplined use of facts, data and
statistical analysis and diligent attention to managing, improving and reinventing business process.
This paper is a modest attempt to understand Six Sigma in the context of distance education. The
paper explains the what, why and how of Six-Sigma which can play an important role in DE.
Globalization, growing competition among institutions, emergence of new technologies, changing
socio-economic profiles of nations and knowledge-driven economics have created a scenario where
quality is no more a desirable strategy – it has become a survival strategy. In developing countries like
India where there is a resource crunch, maintaining quality at lower cost becomes a challenge.
In such a scenario, the open and distance learning (ODL) system requires an innovative support tool
which helps in improving the quality. Six Sigma (6σ) is one such tool which is widely used in
industrial and service organizations to enhance quality and reduce costs. As the ODL system
possesses the features of service and industrial organizations, the application of the Six Sigma tool
The present study has made an attempt to understand the Six Sigma tool in the context of distance
education. In this paper three aspects of Six Sigma were dealt with: What is sigma, why Six Sigma for
distance education and how Six Sigma is applied? Lastly the success factors for implementing Six
Sigma have also dealt with:
What is Six Sigma
Mikel J. Harry who is an engineer at Motorolla Company has introduced the concept of Six Sigma.
Until 1994, Six Sigma, the quality tool was remained a closely-guarded secret at Motorola. In 1995,
when the source code was thrown open, the earliest to pick it up was Allied Signal. But the Six
Sigma tool was popularized only when General Electric’s CEO, Jack Welch introduced it across the
length and breadth of his organization and earned profits for the company. Now throughout the world
many companies are using the Six Sigma tool in order to enhance quality. In India companies like
Wipro, Maruti Udyog, Modi Xerox, Godrej – GE, Bajaj Auto and Hero Motors were applying this
tool to different processes in the companies.
Six Sigma is a process which helps to create and deliver high quality products and services to
customers. Six Sigma is a comprehensive and flexible system for achieving, sustaining and
maximizing business success. Six Sigma is uniquely driven by close understanding of customer needs,
disciplined use of facts, data and statistical analysis and diligent attention to managing, improving and
reinventing business process. This is a rigorous, data-driven method for dealing with defects, waste
and quality problems in manufacturing, service delivery and other business activities. Six Sigma is a
management philosophy focused on eliminating mistakes, waste and rework.
It is a strategic problem – solving method based on simple statistics and it provides structure and
discipline for decision making. It is not just a simple statistical tool. It is a revolution in quality
culture. It is a tool for ensuring total customer satisfaction, minimizing cost of poor quality, gaining
extra revenues and adding a competitive edge in the fiercely competitive market.
As for reducing defects, the philosophy of all the quality approaches are the same. What differentiates
Six Sigma from other quality approaches are its practical orientation, process centricity and
measurement orientation, rigorous training scheme and stakeholder involvement. The tools in Six
Sigma are not new but its direct linkage to business objectives and priorities makes it a powerful
strategy in business. (See Case - I & Case - II)
Six Sigma is used to designate standard deviation. Standard deviation is a measure of variation within
a process. Sigma is a measurement used to determine the performance of a process. It tells how good
or bad the quality levels of the companies are and what progress they are making on that journey. In
Six Sigma process we see systematic application of statistical tools which measures the processes and
analyses them to reduce variations in output.
Why Six Sigma
In the contest of globalization the societal attitudes towards education have gone through radical
changes. Today higher education has become commercial enterprise and is treated as marketable
commodity. Many countries and universities throughout the world are preparing for marketing their
education products and services in India. Day by day the competition from foreign universities is
mounting up. Quality of education is going to be of foremost importance in all further higher
education development in India. Apart from quality there are other challenges which the ODL
Institutions are facing:
• Access has remained one of the biggest challenges before the ODL system. The ODL system
has to address a wider audience from remote areas and from disadvantaged sections of the
• Operations and structural arrangements are to be widened in order to meet the diversified
needs and learning styles of distance learners.
The other challenges before the ODL system are to converge the developments in media and
technology for teaching –learning and institutional management. Thus technology enabled learning
would lead to community-based education and individual-based education.
In the resource scarce environment introducing technology, maintaining quality and increasing access
is the biggest problem which needs serious attention by ODL systems. Unless we re-organize and
reorient our ODL system, we would not be able to overcome them. Serious re-thinking on every task
and improving the educational process in terms of measurable and definable criteria of ODL systems
is urgently needed. Innovative supporting too which help in improving the quality of process and
structures pertaining to planning, designing, developing and delivery of instructional materials are
urgently needed. One such powerful quality tool is the Six Sigma tool which is widely used in
manufacturing and service organizations. Six Sigma is a methodology that offers the ODL system
with a change in paradigm thinking, culture and performance. Six Sigma methodology with its
understanding, training and implementation will help ODL institutions in reducing costs, improving
productivity and services, reducing defects and improving work culture. Such ODL institutions would
definitely meet the challenges of quality and access to education.
How is Six Sigma Applied
The core of Six Sigma is a simple equation. i.e. Y= f(x), where Y is the product or service that has to
be improved and ‘x’ is a set of factors that influence Y. ‘f’ is the function that defines the relationship
between ‘Y’ and ‘x’. Six Sigma is all about finding the critical ‘x’ which affect the ‘Y’ or output of
the process (Product or service). Traditionally quality professionals have focused on output of the
process (Y) to improve the process. But Six Sigma focuses on the ‘x’ rather than the ‘Y’ to improve
the process and reduce the defects or errors. Ultimately the influencing factors are honed to a level so
as to produce not only a defect-free product, but a completely different and superior one.
Six Sigma counts the number of defects per million Opportunities (DPMO) at six levels. If a company
works at one sigma level it is making about 7,00,000 defects per million Opportunities (DPMO) i.e.
the company is doing the right things only 30% of the time. Sigma level of two would mean that a
process has the chance for 308,500 DPMO. The process at Six Sigma level allows only 3.4 DPMO.
Charles Loew, Managing consultant, Motorola University, says that “Companies that have not begun
their quality journey are usually at one or two sigma levels. The world wide average is about three
sigma.” i.e. 66800 DPMO. According to S.C. Bajaj, a GE (General Electric) veteran, the companies in
India are at two sigma level. At 3.8 sigma level 99% of the process goes right. But 1% of the error
also adds for lot of mistakes. Subir Chowdhury says that getting it right 99% of the time is the
equivalent of 20,000 lost articles of mail every hour. It is 5000 botched surgical procedures every
week. It’s four accidents per day at major airports.” (See Table: 1 & Appendix : 1)
Table – 1 : The Sigma Scale Of Defects
SIGMA DEFECT COST OF POOR QUALITY COMPETITIVE LEVEL
RATE (PPM) (% OF SALES)
233 10% - 15%
6,210 15% - 20%
3σ INDUSTRY AVERAGE
66,807 20% - 30%
308,537 30% - 40%
(Source : Jaideep Lahiri, 1999)
Six Sigma offers two approaches. One is to change the design of the product. The second approach is
to make improvements in the process itself so that the chances of defects are lowered. To take a
process to Six Sigma level two approaches should be adopted: changing the design to increase the
range of acceptability in the critical to quality (CTQ) and improving the process to reduce its chances
of variance. In other words, it means that Six Sigma is a tool that must be wielded both at the design
stage and at the process stage.
DMAIC Process: DMAIC, refers to a data-driven quality strategy for improving processes, and is an
integral part of the Six Sigma quality initiative. DMAIC is an acronym used for five interconnected
phases – Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control (Figure 1).
• What is important?
• What problem need to be solved
• How are we doing?
• What is the capability of the Process
• What is wrong?
• Where do defects occur?
• What do we need to do?
• What are important factors?
• How do we assure performance
• What controls can sustain the gain?
Fig 1: DMAIC Process
Define : This is the first step of the Six Sigma methodology which aims at defining the problems
while scripting clear cut goals. This phase includes:
• Presentation of project charter which comprises of problem statement, primary quality
characteristics (CTQ), definition of defect, project milestones and its scope.
• Mapping the process in order to easily recognize the links between the steps.
• Preparation of project plan and formation of project team.
• Identification of types of resources required for the project.
Measure: Second step would help in establishing the capability of given process and ascertaining
current performance levels. The objective of the measurement stage is to find out the extent of the
problem and collect data to ascertain the few vital root causes. At this stage cause and effect
relationship should be established. During the measurement process the critical to quality (CTQ)
characteristics which have an impact on the outcome would be selected.
Analyze: Here the data is analyzed to find out the potential sources of variation and reduce the
number of process variables to be acted on in the improvement phase. This is the stage at which new
goals are set, and the route maps created for closing the gap between current and target performance
levels. Here the big question is why the error is being committed and how to fix it. The process of
analysis also includes identifying root causes and prioritized areas for improvement. At this stage the
statistical tools like analysis of variance (ANOVA), regression analysis, root cause analysis, and fish
bone diagrams are used.
Improve : This is the stage where the root cause of the problem is removed and the solution is
standardized. The proposed solutions are confirmed and implementation strategy is worked out. To
ensure that the solutions are effective, they are tried out in a prototype before commencing on a full –
fledged improvement. This is the stage where the ground work is translated into action. The output is
measured continuously to monitor the extent of improvement along the CTQ parameters.
Control : In the control stage, the new process – conditions are documented and incorporated into
systems so that the improvements remain sustained. Process control tools are used in order to
ascertain whether the improvements are being sustained or not. In other words the control charts are
used to monitor the process.
The whole process of DMAIC can also be said as “Defining the problem, Measure current
performance levels, Analyse where the problem is, Improve the situation and Control the new process
to confirm that it is fixed. (See Fig.1)
It is important to ensure that all the steps in a DMAIC are taken proper care. At every stage regular
reviews are to be taken up in order to ensure the project progress is as per timelines. A detailed check
list which includes all the steps has to be prepared in order help during reviews.
The first step towards the implementation of Six Sigma is to build a deployment platoon who is
trained with varying levels of proficiency in the art of Six Sigma. The measure of proficiency in the
tools of Six Sigma is denoted by the colour of one’s belts as in karate (Martial arts). The deployment
platoon of Six Sigma consists of Champions. Master Black Belts (MBB), Black Belts (BB), and
Green Belts (GB).
Champions : Champion is a senior manager who is working at a level or two below the CEO. The
deployment Champions provide leadership and commitment and work to implement Six Sigma
throughout their business and leads to success of Six Sigma. They help the Black Belts by breaking
down corporate barriers, creating support system and making sure money is available for project.
They are responsible for increasing the internal capabilities to carry out Six Sigma projects. A
Champion is like “Sutradhar” and approves all Six Sigma projects, review progress on a regular basis
and ensure that the improvements are sustained.
The Champion is important for two reasons – Six Sigma often needs additional resources and
management support. Secondly the demands of Six Sigma often confuse people (who are working on
the project) about their operational priorities. Here the Champions extend necessary support and leads
to success of the project.
Master Black Belts (MBB): They act as internal coaches to Black Belts to reach their project goals.
They provide Six Sigma training sessions for everyone in the company. They are generally a
statistical and change management experts who regularly deal with resistance to change and resolve
team conflicts. At the top end, they help the Champions select good projects and the people to run
them. They are the people most responsible for creating, lasting, fundamental changes in the way the
company operates from top to bottom. They not only have the knowledge of advance tools and
business, but also leadership training.
Black Belts (BB): Black Belts are the key functionaries who work on Six Sigma projects. They are
the project leaders and posses both management and technical skills. Black Belts are fast trackers who
have credentials for accomplishments. They are the people who turn Six Sigma vision into reality. To
get certified as a Black Belt a candidate needs to complete the class room training for three to four
months followed by an examination and should complete a project mentored by Master Black Belt.
Green Belts (GB): The Green Belts are the supporters of Black Belts in a Six Sigma project. Their
role is to assist and follow the Black Belt while implementing the tools of Six Sigma within the
confines of their project. They are the employees who carry on with improvements together with their
regular work. They are the project team members and do not spend all their time on projects. They
receive training on participation similar to that of Black Belts, but for lesser time.
Irrespective of the organization, the Champion is a must in a Six Sigma deployment. The other
hierarchies such as Master Black Belts, Black Belts, and Green Belts are created on the basis of
company requirement. The Champions a top the structure represent the top Management, while the
actual responsibility for applying the tool rests with the head of each business. The Master Black Belts
usually report directly to Champion, and supervise the work of the Black Belts, who also report to the
Line Manager of the function concerned. And the Green Belts report to the Black Belts. In the Whole
Six Sigma projects, the Black Belts and Master Black Belts are the only persons in the chain who
works for full time.
Success Factors for Implementing Six Sigma Programme
Mark D. Goldstein has identified the following success factors for implementing Six Sigma process.
Deployment Plan : The culture of a company should provide an environment and foundation to
encourage problem solving, excellence and continuous improvement through Six Sigma deployment.
The key to designing a foundation is to know or anticipate the needs of the organization. The
organisational assessment helps in scripting a deployment strategy and unfurling the underlying
culture. If the organizations culture is not suitable to Six Sigma, the culture must be changed before a
Six Sigma process is introduced. The Six Sigma requires support from the top brass of the
organization. It includes restructuring of the organization to provide supporting infrastructure,
training, rewards and communications.
Active Participation of the Senior Executives : Six Sigma programme will not survive for a long
period without support from senior executives. The senior executives should provide leadership and
create a vision, provide necessary resources, give time and review the progress. He should take the
responsibility to ensure that everyone gets involved in the implementation effort.
Project Reviews : Reviews are an integral part of Six Sigma process and plays a critical role in Six
Sigma project management. The main purpose of reviews is to check achievement against plan, check
timelines and decide actions to meet gaps. It provides an opportunity to understand and support cross
functional activity and remove barriers in implementation.
Technical Support : Often the Black Belts need support from senior executives or Champions on
organizational issues and technical issues. The Master Black Belt (MBB), who is teacher and coach,
provide all the required technical support to Black Belts (BB’s). The MBB provide course correction
and extends help in the problems encountered by the team. The MBB’s regularly meet BB’s inorder to
evaluate the status of the current project.
Full - Time Vs Part - Time Resources : Using resources on full time basis or part-time basis for Six
Sigma project is a business decision to be made on individual basis. Depending on the seriousness of
the problem one has to decide, whether to go for full - time or part - time resources.
Training : The first step towards implementation of Six Sigma is building a team of professionals
who are trained with varying levels of proficiency in the art of Six Sigma. There are five core phases
of training, which match the five main points of the Six Sigma process: how to define, measure,
analyse, improve and control the processes that produce increased customer satisfaction and company
savings. These five phases consists of statistics, quantitative bench markings, and design of
experiments. The training lasts for about four weeks in different spells. After each training session,
the person goes back and applies what they have learnt in that training session.
Communications : A plan should be developed to communicate the Six Sigma programme to entire
organization. The plan should be communicated to all the employees of the organization in order to
get support and ideas. The initial plan should include:
• What Six Sigma is
• Why the organization wants to adopt Six Sigma
• What are the business goals
• What the deployment plan is
• How each employee has to participate
The later stage of plan should include
• Training plans
• Projects selected, Projects in progress and projects completed
• Benefits from projects
• Customer impact
Project Selection : One of the most important aspect for an organization in the journey of Six Sigma
is selection of project. The first year of deployment is extremely critical for Six Sigma success. If the
projects failed in first year, the persons involved in the projects gets demotivated. Organisations
should consciously treat the first year projects as pilot projects. It is extremely important that only a
few projects are taken up and that the focus should be on the impact of the project rather than volume
of the projects. The impact of the project should be felt by customers and stakeholders. The selected
projects should have high probability of success and should get completed within the short period of
four to six months. For the identification of projects – field data should be collected, comprehensive
process map should be developed, bench marking critical processes and determining the cost of poor
quality is needed.
Project Tracking : A system should be established in the organizations to track all projects. This
should include the projects submitted for consideration, projects accepted for implementation, projects
in progress and projects completed. A good tracking system is a management tool that help
organization is tracking the cumulative results of completed projects, alerts organization to projects
that are stalled and serves as library information source.
Incentive Program: Rewards and recognition should be an integral part of an organizations Six
Sigma process. The goal of incentives should be to reinforce the desired behaviour which drives
improvement and pushes the cause of Six Sigma. Rewards and Recognition can be catogorised non –
monetory based rewards and monetory based rewards. Non – Monetory based rewards involves the
feelings of accomplishment or self – worth an employee drives from doing a good job. They are given
in the form of publicity, tokens, team awards, quality based promotions, CEO’s award, and paid
holiday etc. The monetory based reward practices will have strong motivational impact than the non-
monetary based rewards. They can be in the form of profit sharing and variable pay.
A Safe Environment : Real problem will not surface if persons are afraid of repercussions. Safe
environment has to be created in the organization where persons should feel free to express their
problems. The environment in the organization should encourage persons to communicate freely,
should provide required processess or equipment, should provide necessary tools and training.
Develop a Supplier Plan : Poor quality supplier becomes a weak partner for an organization. In
today’s world of specialization, where orgnisations are focusing on core competencies, the suppliers
became strategic partners. Organizations should help suppliers in order to improve their capabilities
and should also involve them in training programmes (if it is necessary).
Customer ‘WOWS’ : Organisations make profits only when they fulfill customer needs. The
organization should choose the projects which have direct impact on customers. When an
organization define a Six Sigma project should define defects with customer dissatisfaction in mind.
An effective Six Sigma deployment requires a holistic mechanism and different tools to capture the
voice of the customers. Voice of the customer is important in identifying the customer needs.
All the above said factors would help in successful implementation of Six Sigma projects. Six Sigma
philosophy says that key input variables in a process have to be determined in order to manage and
optimize the process output. Likewise these success factors will also act as key input variables.
Very few educational Institutions have applied Six Sigma tool for improving the quality. The
application of this tool requires lot of dedication and commitment on the part of top management. Six
Sigma tool should be introduced with lot of caution because it may solve many problems but not all
Dasgupta, A. (2003). Going the Six Sigma way. Indian Management, 42(3), 24-31.
Lahiri, J. (1999). The Enigma of Six Sigma. Business Today, 8(18), 60-69.
Chowdhury, S. (2004). You can get to the power of Six Sigma. New Delhi: Pearson Education.
Sarkar, D. (2004). Lessons in Six Sigma : 72 must – know truths for managers. New Delhi: Response
Mark, D., Goldstein. (2001). Six Sigma program success factors. http://www.asq.org / pub / Six
Sigma / past / vol 1-issue1 / sucess.html.
Kaliym, A., Islam. (2003): Developing Learning the Six Sigma way. http:// www.
Case – I
Godrej appliances faced a problem with glass-sealed terminal, a key component in a refrigerator’s
compressor. The error rate was over 50 percent and defective components were in lakhs. As local
supplier could not meet the quality specifications, one of the component was being imported. Through
the application of Six Sigma the problem was defined and various factors that contributed to the
making of a glass sealed terminal were measured and analysed. After the identification of problem,
the process was redesigned and quality variations reduced. A local supplier was trained to meet the
quality specifications all he replaced the foreign supplier, resulting in huge savings. The total amount
saved was nearly ten times the initial project and savings as the number of rejections came down to a
few thousand a year. (Source: Arundhuti Dasgupta, 2003)
Case – II
The Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation (DTCC) is the largest financial services post trade
infrastructure in the world, with operating facilities in multiple locations in the US and overseas. The
company has adopted E- learning strategies for training the staff. The company faced the following
problems with E – learning programmes i) the time taken and rework associated with developing E –
learning was high ii) the cost of E- learning development was high and iii) the quality of E – learning
programmes was low.
In view of the above problems the DTCC has applied Six Sigma methodology to its E – learning
development and as a result, validated and exceeded critical customer and business requirements for
E – learning :
• Reduced E – learning development rework by 81 percent
• Reduced the annual cost of developing E – learning by 30 percent out.
• Saved the company $ 2,82,000
(Source : Kaliym A. Islam, 2003)
Appendix - I
Defects per Million Opportunities (DPMO)
The DPMO is the expected number of defects found per million Opportunities. A DPMO Gives
additional insight into a process by including the element of Opportunities for failure. The institutions
which are associated with Six Sigma process should be familiar with the calculation of Sigma levels.
To understand the caliculations of DPMO, the following question – answer steps involved in filling of
an admission form would be helpful.
Q) Which Process are you working on ?
A) Process of filling an admission form.
Q) What is the principal output of the process also called ‘Unit’ or the object on which a measurement
is being made?
A) Correctly filled admission form.
Q) What are the defects you will be looking at in a single ‘Unit’?
A) i) Incorrect name (ii) Incorrect date of Birth (iii) Incorrect qualifications.
Q) What are the number of defects that you can find on one single Unit (these are the Opportunities
Q) At the end of the process, how many Units were counted (U)?
A) U = 250 admission forms.
Q) At the end of the process, What are the total number of defects (D)?
A) D = 50
Q) What is the total number of Opportunities (TOP)?
A) TOP = U x OP i.e. 250 x 3 = 750
Q) What are the defects per Unit (DPU)?
A) DPU = D/U i.e. 50/250 = .20
Q) What are the defects per total Opportunities (DPO)?
A) DPO = D/TOP i.e. 50/750 = .066667
Q) What are defects per Million Opportunities (DPMO)?
A) DPMO = DPO x 1000000 i.e. .066667 x 1000000 = 66666.67
Q) What is the Sigma level corresponding to the above DPMO levels?
A) According to Sigma conversion table it is around 3 Sigma (3σ).
(Source : Debashis Sarkar, 2004 – Modified version)
LAXMA REDDY GADDAM, is a Dy. Director, Student Support Services, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Open
University, Andhra Pradesh, India. His research interests are on Student Support Services and New
Technologies. His doctoral thesis was on “Student Support Services For Science Graduate Programme
– A Case Study of Dr. BRAOU”. E-mail Address: laxma reddy firstname.lastname@example.org.
SREEDHAR AMANCHA, is working for Wipro Technologies at Hyderabad Office. His research
interests are on Computer Applications, Exploring and Innovating New Technologies. Currently
working in the area related to “Knowledge Oriented Progamming – A Paradigm”.
E- mail Address : sreedhar 18 @ yahoo.com