Targeting Perfection

Von Tracy Mayor

"IT always gets caught up in insatiable demands and lost ROI. Six Sigma solves both those problems," says Charles P. Costa, executive vice president and CIO at Chase Financial Services, which assigns a Six Sigma team to most IT projects worth more than $1 million. "Six Sigma gives us a very precise way to demonstrate the real value of technology, and it helps us improve the way we deliver that value."

Six Sigma has a lot of normally staid CIOs excited for a good reason: Quality is back on the corporate radar in a big way. "We've cut so far into IT in the past couple of years that we're starting to see some quality problems," says Val Sribar, a Meta Group senior vice president. "If you're smart about where you apply [Six Sigma], if you apply it to your core disciplines, it makes a lot of sense right now."

Still, wary and weary CIOs, especially those who have endured both the 1990s flavor-of-the-month management mania and the apparently endless post-bubble budget crises, are justified in wondering if Six Sigma is right for them.

Six Sigma users insist it works for all types of companies and in all functions, but they do admit there are a few times when the methodology won't take. If your resources have truly been cut beyond the point of pain, now isn't the time--not because you don't need Six Sigma's benefits (you probably do, more than ever) but because burned-out staffers and stressed-out managers aren't likely to be able to give the regimen its due.

While very small IT shops can benefit from Six Sigma's approach to error reduction, they'll have to wait to see quantifiable benefits. "There's still applicability, but it will take a small shop a long time to know whether they've reduced their defects to three in a million, just because it's going to take longer to get to that first million," observes Matt Light, a research director at Gartner.

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