Can Six Sigma be useful in Agile?

I think about Lean and it fits into the agile world really well and Six Sigma struggles a bit. You are a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt in that Software and Agile world. Is Six Sigma to rigorous for Software folks or where does that stand now with you? -Joe

Related Podcast and Transcription: The 3 Legs of Agile Learning

Patrick Waara: To me, the big takeaway from Six Sigma, the whole Six Sigma movement is the importance of data, to use your data, your measures, your metrics, to help you drive your decisions. From that perspective, those concepts are very valuable, right, and agile uses a lot of data, for everything from, measuring your velocity to your coat coverage for your unit tests to your defect rates. Collecting that data, collecting those measures and metrics and using them intelligently I believe is what Six Sigma brings to the table.

Six Sigma has a lot of tools in its toolbox, and some of these tools are useful to software developers. There’s a form of DOE that is highly valuable for when you’re doing testing. If you create a combinatorial, essentially the concept is most defects appear on either a single factor or a combination of factors or a pair of factors. You can construct a combinatorial test matrix that will allow you to test, you know, huge systems in a minimum number runs. I was working with one client out in India who they had this one web system that if you did like a full matrix of testing, would’ve been over a million test cases, right. So, they weren’t even testing it. They would spot test. They would try this. They would try that with no real rigor. So, the system was never really truly tested.

I taught them this Six Sigma technique of combinatorial testing, took those million combinations down to 300. They automated those tests and from that point they were doing full testing of their system for the first time and they were doing it in a minimal number of runs and they were doing it in the automated fashion and it would take under an hour for them to do a full test of their system which they had never done before. That was Six Sigma. I mean that was a valuable tool from the toolbox that we could apply to their situation.

There’re other tools that could be more useful for management or process improvement people. From my perspective, Six Sigma and Lean for that matter, they’re your tools you have in your toolbox, and you pull them out when you need them. You use the right tool for the right job, you know, and trying to force fit things where I think, you know, Six Sigma got its bad rap was, you know, everything looked like the DMAIC project. And so, they’d make everything a DMAIC project and they would go through a lot of ceremony and rigor and that often times would slow things down. I think sometimes people misapplied it or maybe applied it for the wrong purposes. And so, it started to generate a bad rap but if you just, if you use it for what it is like, you know, a good set of tools, there are some good tools there.

About: An Agile Business must have three pillars to stand on Process Agility, Technical Agility, and Personal Agility, says Patrick Waara of ResponseAgility. Patrick was the first and only Software Design for Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt in Xerox Corporation before launching ResponseAgility.

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