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Six sigma ITIL – how to reconcile?

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Six Sigma is a methodology used in quality management, that was created in the early 80’s of the twentieth century by Bob Galvin and Bill Smith from Motorola.


Nowadays, Six Sigma can be seen at three different levels:

  1. the level of metrics – that is 3.4 defects per million opportunities (DPMO).
  2. the level of methodology: DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control – Define the objective of an improvement, Measure actual performance, Analyze the factors affecting the process, Implement the change, Control over whether the effect of changes is consistent with the objectives)
  3. the level of philosophy – Reduce the variation in a process and take decisions based on the results of measurements carried out from the customer point of view.

But what does Six Sigma have to do with IT management?

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I think it has a lot to do with IT management. As we know, IT management can be presented by using a set of processes (e.g. such as described in ITIL, COBIT), and Six Sigma is a methodology that, among other things, can serve to improve the process.

Since the introduction of Six Sigma is a decision that most concerns the whole company, and the scope of application of IT frameworks such as ITIL are practically limited to IT organizations, there is often situation in which you must adapt ITIL (or another it framework), to the requirements of Six Sigma (required by Management). Fortunately, Six Sigma and ITIL are not opposed to, and they are even supplementary.

In a nutshell: ITIL suggests which processes should be defined in IT organization; once these processes are defined, Six Sigma is a great way to improve these processes. What is more, Six Sigma can be a wonderful window to the world of business for IT.

While ITIL is already very popular among IT managers, it is still lacks recognition in the business world. By contrast, Six Sigma is already a recognized method by the business. IT organization, which wants to gain quickly recognition in the eyes of business can use Six Sigma as a method to improve the processes that have been previously defined by the application of ITIL.

However, one often raises the question how to integrate ITIL (Deming’s model – PDCA) with Six Sigma (DMAIC model), below I present the proposal to answer this question.

Before we go further, it is necessary to clarify a few concepts that are directly related to the Six Sigma, which may be unfamiliar to ITIL practitioners.

  • External CTQ (Critical To Quality) – ‘external values critical to quality’, E-CTQ describes the business purpose of the project, such as shortening the time of ticket handling or increasing the reliability of the service.


  • Internal CTQ – ‘internal values critical to quality’, I-CTQ describes how you can measure E-CTQ, for example, you can define that the time it takes to support the ticket is equal to the period from the registration of a ticket in the system until the information from the user that the thicket can be closed. So, the goal of our project can be defined in measurable terms, for example, as ‘a reduction in the average time of ticket support by 10%, compared to the average from the last month’.
  • Defects and Capacities (Defects and Opportunities) – Six Sigma uses the language of defects and opportunities. A defect cannot exist without an opportunity. In our example, the opportunity will be every ticket from user registered in a system, while exceeding the assumed time of ticket support will be considered as a defect.

The integration of Six Sigma and ITIL may have occurred in many places, for example: Six Sigma may serve as a tool for searching for the source of problems in problem management, six sigma tools such as FMEA (Failure Mode and Effect Analysis) can be used in the risk analysis in many ITIL processes. The most interesting, is the integration ITIL PDCA cycle with Six Sigma DMAIC


There are three points of process integration between PDCA and DMAIC: Plan with Define, Check with Measure, Act with Improve.


P – Plan

The PDCA Planning phase is responsible for planning the way in which we intend to improve the action (process). In defining what should be improved DMAIC Define phase may help us with defining external and internal CTQs. You can also use VOC philosophy – Voice of Customer that is looking at the process from the point of view of the customer.

D – Do

The phase implements actions planned in the earlier phase (implementation on a small scale).

C – Check whether the changes have taken planned effect – Six Sigma can show here its strong sides by providing tools that enable measurement.

ITIL suggests what should be measured (giving us a sample set of metrics), and Six Sigma (Phase Measure) gives us a tool to measure a process (e.g. run chart). The measurements can determine for example process capability in DPMO.

Analyze – this phase goal is to find the cause of defects and for those found to determine which of them will have the most significant impact on the defect. Statistical approach offered by Six Sigma is recognized as one of the most efficient in the world.


A – Act

Make your changes on a larger scale. Six Sigma tools can help to identify actions that need to be done to improve performance (e.g. DOE tool – Design of Experiments).

DMAIC Control phase can be treated as completion to PDCA cycle. It’s very common, that the entire organizational effort associated with the introduction of changes being lost because no one has control over whether the process is not returned to the former, well known and less effective path.

As you can see, ITIL PDCA and the Six Sigma DMAIC are complementary to each other. ITIL says what should be done in the IT organization (suggests how to organize these processes), while Six Sigma tells us how to improve them and make them even more effective.

The following links maybe interesting for you:

Comments (5)

  • Plan-Do-Check-Act is “The Deming Cycle” from the 1930s and is referenced by ITIL’s Continual Service Improvement phase of the service lifecycle. So, I would suggest replacing “ITIL PDCA” in this article with “The Deming Cycle” or with “ITIL CSI” where appropriate. (just giving credit where credit is due and clarifying that PDCA is not ITIL-specific)

  • Nice,

    Dont know much about ITIL, It is nice to know that you have provided a good information to be reviewed. Six sigma training system allow the peoples to improve their knowledge in various stages. Different types of training are available for six sigma, according to the learners knowledge level.

    Green Belt Six Sigma Training,

  • Ciekawy artykuł i ciekawa kwestia. Chyba jednak nie jestem optymistą, bo uważam, że z samą Six Sigma polskie firmy wciąż mają naprawdę sporo kłopotów.

  • Moje podejście do zarządzania procesowego uległo zmianie, 2 lata temu był fanatykiem ITILa, Six Sigma, itp.
    Moje spojrzenie zmieniło się znacznie na studiach podyplomych i teraz postrzegam te metodyki / zbiory dobrych praktyk, etc. jako coś bardzo fajnego i przydatnego, jednak coś co nie zastąpi myślenia systemowego i strategicznego o organizacji. Jak dla mnie przenikanie się wielu metodyk ma bardzo duży sens i jestem co raz większym zwolennikiem szycia rozwiązań na miarę (oczywiście w oparciu o dobre praktyki).

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