Model Mania

CIOs are faced with a confusing array of quality frameworks. Here's a guide to their strengths and weaknesses.

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LSI Logic Corp. has been applying Six Sigma for about three years and this year will begin using Design for Six Sigma, a variant it feels is a better fit for IT environments. "Traditional Six Sigma does apply to some areas of software development, like testing. It was developed in a manufacturing environment, where there's a high volume of product," says Terry Gowin, director of quality at Milpitas, Calif.-based LSI Logic Storage Systems. "But software development varies with each project and has much longer cycle times."

Design for Six Sigma is especially powerful early in projects, Gowin says. "A lot of its focus is getting the requirements correct upfront. It helps to really tighten down the specifications, so there aren't surprises later on."

Design for Six Sigma and CMM could complement each other nicely, says Ron Engelbrecht, an operations general manager at LSI Logic. "CMM is more of an assessment tool and an assessment guide, whereas Design for Six Sigma is a set of tools designed to help you improve your scores, improve your assessments."

At J.P. Morgan Chase, Six Sigma isn't applied directly to IT processes, but it is an essential starting point for most IT projects, Ashworth says. "We look at business processes we wish to improve and do the various steps in Six Sigma to come up with a new business process model. Once you know what it is you are trying to do, that's when CMM comes into play."

Six Sigma could be applied to IT operations and services, he says. The bank is using a homegrown quality framework in that area but is considering using ITIL. "Just as we brought the naming conventions and the assets that are created in Six Sigma and CMM together into a single list that everyone can understand, we'd add ITIL onto that," Ashworth says.

ISO 9000

Sponsor: International Standards Organization

What it is: A set of high-level, customer-oriented, auditable standards (ISO 9000, 9001 and 9004) for quality management systems. Intended to ensure control, repeatability and good documentation of processes (not products).

Strengths: Well established, mature. Enjoys global prestige. Can be applied enterprisewide. Can cover software development and IT operations and services.

Limitations: Requires considerable adaptation when used in IT organizations. Focuses on repeatability and consistency of processes, not directly on the quality of those processes. Not good for analyzing a process and finding root causes of problems.

LSI Logic has been certified in ISO 9000 since 1992. It also uses Six Sigma and Design for Six Sigma. "But ISO is the broadest quality system that we use," Engelbrecht says. "It applies to manufacturing, engineering, marketing, sales and IT."

Design for Six Sigma focuses on individual projects and tries to fix the problems it spotlights, and it can "make breakthrough improvements," Engelbrecht says. ISO 9000, on the other hand, aims to make broad, incremental, year-to-year quality improvements across IT, he says. These improvements come via annual ISO 9000 audits by both internal and external auditors, he adds.

"ISO 9000 requires you to define and document your processes, get them measurable and monitor them for compliance to a quality standard," says LSI's Gowin. "Six Sigma gives you the tools, once you have a process defined, to go in and remove the variation in the process to make the output very consistent."

Nortel Networks Ltd. adheres to TL 9000, a version of ISO 9000 tailored to the telecommunications industry. Its TL 9000 certification applies to the company as a whole, but quality initiatives within IT support the certification, says Chris Ashwood, vice president for product development solutions. "TL 9000 has taken ISO 9000 a step further in really recognizing the importance of IT to the development of products," he says.

The Brampton, Ontario-based company's IT shop has a well-defined set of priorities that's updated every six months, a scorecard for every project and a strict management process for tracking accountability, says Nortel CIO Albert Hitchcock. "That very clearly aligns with the ISO approach—doing what you say you are going to do, tracking accountability and documenting the process," he says.

Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program

Sponsor: National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce

What it is: A high-level framework for quality in seven areas: company leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, information and analysis, human resources, process management and business results. Rates each of these, in terms of approach, execution and results, on a scale from 0 to 100.

Strengths: Very broad, holistic scope. Can be used by any organization. Can sit on top of other, more focused IT quality programs.

Limitations: Doesn't address process details; doesn't say how to achieve quality. Doesn't directly address IT processes and issues.

Motorola is a big user of CMM, and it invented Six Sigma 20 years ago. But more recently, it has embraced the Baldrige quality program. The company won a Baldrige award in 1988, and in 2002, its Commercial, Government and Industrial Solutions Sector (CGISS) unit won the award in the manufacturing category.

In 1999, CGISS did a self-assessment against the Baldrige criteria and scored just 399 out of 1,000 possible points. "It was a huge opportunity," says Mark Hurlbert, director of business processes in CGISS's Office of Business Excellence. "We established this office to really tie what are the right things to do [in the Baldrige program] with doing them the right way [Six Sigma]."

The company assigned each of the Baldrige domains to a senior manager. For example, process management went to a supply chain manager, customer and market focus went to a sales and marketing manager, and information and analysis went to the CGISS division's CIO. Each of these managers has his own "balanced scorecard" with strategic objectives and annual initiatives to support those objectives. For example, the CIO this year has a strategic objective, "to serve customers better," and a specific project aimed at that: to standardize the tools and databases in call centers.

Having chartered a course via Baldrige, CGISS is using Six Sigma to drive the ship, Hurlbert says. In 2002, CGISS boosted its Baldrige score from 399 to between 650 and 750, more than enough to win the prize.

Process Model Selection Framework

Process Model Selection Framework
Source: Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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