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Introducing Six Sigma Approach into the Enterprise Architecture Practice: Why it is Needed for Optimal Business Success

Today, more than ever before, enterprises are increasingly being faced with unparalleled competitive and regulatory demands, along with elevated levels of business uncertainty as they wade through the upsetting waters of contemporary global economy. On yet another front, the convergence of technology witnessed in the 21st century has made many enterprises increasingly concerned with how to productively transition to an enterprise exploiting information technology to its fullest strategic potential (Morganwalp & Sage, 2003). In the light of these concerns, it is obvious that executives must embrace a paradigm shift from the traditional enterprise management approaches to more market-oriented approaches, which underlines the need to balance capabilities, manage risks, improve processes and systems, and engage in agile decision-making with a view to achieve the desired business end-states (Mykityshyn & Rouse, 2007).
As has been witnessed in the company, the organization’s Enterprise Architecture (EA) plays a critical role in this transition, particularly in integrating key processes and systems to enable the organization to easily evolve and productively adapt to recurrent technology and business shifts as they occur in the market place (Morganwalp & Sage, 2003). To retain competitiveness amid the rapidly changing technology and business discourses, therefore, it is fundamental for managers to sample and integrate other management approaches into the EA practice. Consequently, it is the purpose of this white paper to explicitly detail how one such management approach, known as the Six Sigma approach, can be introduced into the organization’s EA practice with a view to maintain productivity and sustain competitiveness
Brief Overview of the Six Sigma Approach
Over the last couple of decades, the discourse on the need for, and capacity to deliver, continuous improvement of organizational processes and systems has slowly but steadily gained momentum within the business field. As reported by van Iwaarden et al (2008), this organizational outlook necessitated Motorola to develop the “…concept of Six Sigma in the mid-1980s to improve the performance of key processes, productivity and quality and at the same time reduce costs” (p. 6739). Mainstream business commentators are of the opinion that the Six Sigma approach was a by-product of internal as well as external drivers of change; not only was Motorola under pressure to undertake continuous improvement in the development of intricate devices involving a multitude of parts with a high prospect of deficiencies in the end product (internal driver), but its customers were demanding that the company improve quality in their final product offerings (external driver).
Sanders (2010) notes that although the Six Sigma approach is defined in multi-faceted dimensions, it is primarily a business philosophy that lays much focus on continuous improvement by, among other things, addressing customer needs and expectations, evaluating business processes and systems, and establishing effective measurement techniques to curtail process variation. This approach differs from preceding productivity improvement methodologies in that it accentuates the need to focus on quality as defined through the prism of the customer, reduced defects and variations in the end product, and thorough statistical techniques. The main objective of Six Sigma, according to van Iwaarden et al (2008), is value creation through actively undertaking quality improvement processes. Consequently, the process by which this important facet is achieved, it seems, would involve training of human resources in tools and methods, as well as in problem solving
Available literature (e.g., Lee & Choi, 2006; Sanders, 2010; Johnson, 2006; Hwang, 2006) demonstrates that “DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control)” is not only the most frequently used application of the Six Sigma approach, but also one of the most practical initiatives through which enterprises are able to take active steps towards streamlining their business initiatives and reducing unnecessary waste. Indeed, as postulated by Sanders (2010), “…this five-step method structures an approach for clearly identifying the desired level of improvement, measuring current performance, identifying the root cause of deviations from the ideal state, eliminating the root causes, and implementing control systems to maintain improvements” (p. 42). In this perspective, the Six Sigma methodology employs a dominant quality and statistics toolset to enhance process improvement and performance, relative to customer needs and expectations, to a level of 99.99997 percent (Saunders, 2010).
It is important to note that the well documented bottom-line benefits attained by Motorola upon implementing the Six Sigma paradigm to guide the company’s business processes led to the adoption of the approach by other blue-chip companies such as Honeywell (former AlliedSignal), 3M, Sony, ABB and General Electric (Iwaarden at al, 2008). Today, interest in the adoption of the Six Sigma approach is at an all-time high as concerns on process improvement initiatives for organizations reach an instantiation stage.
Roles of Six Sigma Approach within the Scope of the Enterprise Architecture Practice
Despite increasing awareness of the Enterprise Architecture (EA) in the business arena, and in spite of its elevated importance, scholars and practitioners are yet to develop a standard definition of the concept (Ka-Yin et al, 2009). According to extant research in organizational development (OD) and strategy implementation, however, the genesis of the acknowledgment of the role of an Enterprise Architecture (EA) as a major contributor to organizational success and competitiveness can be traced back to the seminal works of J.A. Zachman, particularly his landmark publication in 1987 titled ‘A framework for information system’s architecture.’ Upon further synthesis of this new concept, Zachman, quoted in Mathee et al (2006), defined EA as “…descriptive representations (i.e. models) that are relevant for describing an enterprise such that it can be produced to management’s requirements (quality) and maintained over the period of its useful life (change)” (p. 11). Zachman was categorical that the framework for EA was not ‘the answer’ to the challenges facing the organization; on the contrary, it is to be used as a tool for thinking through the challenges, implying that if the EA practice is applied with understanding, it would be of immense importance to technical and non-technical management equally in dealing with the complications and dynamics of the information age enterprise (Mathee et al, 2006).
Spewak (1992), quoted in Mathee et al (2006), took the perspective of employing EA to, among other things, “…present a conceptual map of an organization from many perspectives – from business, applications, information and technological points of view” (p. 12). Van der Klashorst (2001), also quoted in Mathee et al (2006), postulated that EA “…typically consists of current and future state models of key components, namely enterprise business architecture, enterprise information architecture, enterprise application architecture, and enterprise-wide technical architecture” (p. 12). Of course there exists many other definitions of EA, but the stated definitions will inarguably assist in determining the scope of EA practice and, by extension, assist in analyzing the role of Six Sigma approach within such a scope.
From the above definitions, it can be deduced that every organization – public or public – has an EA, whether it is consciously aware of it or not. From the definitions, it also becomes obvious that EA is expansive in scope, though it was initially concerned with information and communication systems and processes. Currently, the EA framework extends to cover business, information and communication, application, and the technology entities within an organization (Mathee et al, 2006). Although organizations are increasingly using the EA framework as a means to enhance the efficiency, effectiveness, and agility of the enterprise, particularly in the entities discussed above, it has come to the attention of scholars and practitioners that many EA programs to date remain detached from the business entity of the framework, and are indeed viewed primarily as technical endeavours (Burton, 2011). This being the case, it is suggested that the Six Sigma approach, through constant evaluation of business process and systems, can function to move EA beyond the scope of information technology (IT) and, in conjunction with the basic tenets of EA, assist the enterprise to unify the planning, optimization, and designing of its most fundamental business initiatives with the technology environment that enable them.
Many organizational-wide EA programs are led by enterprise architects, who must possess unique capabilities and competencies for the programs to be a success. The Six Sigma approach, owing to its overemphasis on measuring current performance and discovering the root cause of variations from the ideal state (Johnson, 2006), can be used by enterprise consultants to develop a community of experts who maps for the organization, not only what can or cannot work to achieve optimal performance among and across the entities, but also what can be effectively and efficiently applied to unique and novel situations (Lee & Choi, 2006). Consequently, the enterprise architects, through Six Sigma-oriented training, must possess the human competencies to align strategic and operational views of business, drive the technology vision, transform and automate operations, facilitate and govern organizational change, mitigate risk and, lastly, integrate people, processes, and technology (CAEP, 2010).
In line with the above, it is a well known fact that the Six Sigma approach, through its DMAIC methodology, concerns itself with implementing lean organization-wide control systems charged with the responsibility of reducing waste and maintaining improvements (Hwang, 2006). This role can be critical in assisting the EA practice, in its broader context, to design the System of System (SOS) hierarchical levels and in deciding what is best for the enterprise-wide SOS rather that having to rely on disjointed, localized considerations that may not only be time consuming, but also resource depleting (Morganwalp & Sage, 2003). This implies that the Six Sigma approach have a central role in selecting and streamlining the business processes that the EA practice may wish to synchronize for optimal business results and competitiveness.
Lastly, it should be remembered that the EA practice originally dealt with the implementation of enterprise-wide technology projects. However, the knowledge that a multitude of organizations utilize technology ineptly and/or inefficiently and therefore end up producing too many defective products is in the public domain (Hwang, 2006). In such a such a scenario, the Six Sigma approach can be incorporated into the EA practice with a view to introduce its powerful toolset that will not only enhance levels of accuracy and quality, but will also introduce aspects of job management, cost reduction, and speed increment to make the end product much more efficient and effective (Johnson, 2006). Such a disposition will go a long way to enhance and sustain customer satisfaction levels, implying more profits for the enterprise.
Relationship between the Six Sigma Approach & Enterprise Architecture Practice
Two apparently independent paradigms that are capturing the attention of scholars and practitioners in recent years are Six Sigma and the Enterprise Architecture. Both approaches, according to Ravischandran (2006), are largely considered to be powerful management disciplines, but EA has a much broader scope than the Six Sigma approach. In the light of this discussion, therefore, it can be deduced that both EA and Six Sigma are business-improvement approaches with many overlaps, but also with some dissimilarities (Nash et al, 2006). Although it is outside the scope of this paper to engage in comparative analysis of the two approaches, it is worthwhile to note that both are guided by different principles but aim to accomplish similar outcomes in terms of contributing to organizational success and competitiveness.
To establish relationships, it can be argued that the EA practice is fundamental when considering the design and development of complex systems within organizations (Long, 2009), but it is the Six Sigma approach that provides the methodology through which such complex business and technology system can be maintained efficiently and effectively within organizations (Hwang, 2006). While the EA practice strives to achieve alignment of components under common standards that aids change management and guarantee integrated and effective operation, it is the task of the Six Sigma approach to provide the common standards that are used to eliminate defects and avoid wastage (Moosa & Sajid, 2010). Both approaches, according to Lee & Choi (2006), aim to develop more customer-focussed paradigms that simplify processes and unify efforts across the various hierarchies of the organization, not mentioning that both approaches have been predominantly used to drive technology enablement. Consequently, these two approaches can be said to be two sides of the same side, only that one side – the EA practice – is larger in scope than the other side, which represents the Six Sigma approach.
Introducing Six Sigma into EA Practice: Management & Technical Activities Involved
To successfully introduce the Six Sigma methodology into the EA practice, a multitude of management and technology activities must not only be present, but must also be harnessed, aligned and directed towards the achievement of effective and efficient systems and processes in the management as well as in the technical fronts (Jochem, 2009). Aligning the activities involved, according to (Long, 2010), is particularly important if both of these approaches are to be used in complimentary terms as tools for management innovation and growth.
The management’s activities involved in introducing the Six Sigma approach into the EA practice revolves around aspects of “Process Innovation”, “Quality Improvement”, and “Corporate Competitiveness Improvement” (Lee & Choi, 2006). While process innovation implies the development and implementation of a new or appreciably enhanced production or delivery methodology, quality improvement implies the systematic approach to lessening or eradication of waste, rework, and losses in any business enterprise (Wiklund & Wiklund, 2002). Corporate competitiveness improvement, on its part, denotes a management activity that emphasizes the capability of an enterprise to offer end-products or services that meet the needs, demands, and expectations of customers (Morganwalp & Sage, 2003). When put under careful analysis, it is revealed that the discussed management activities, in large part determine the direction of Six Sigma initiatives at the organizational level.
The technology activities involved in introducing the Six Sigma Approach into the EA practice revolves around issues of information system, communication channels, policy issues, and education and training (Wiklund & Wiklund, 2002). For instance, when the information system is improved under the Six Sigma initiative, the ability to respond to the needs, demands, and expectations of customers is also improved. Equally, it is a well known fact that education and training through the various Six Sigma accreditations, such as the green belt accreditation (training for two weeks) and the black belt accreditation (training for two years), goes a long way to not only influence other processes in the organization, but also the personnel involved are up to the task, particularly in ensuring the availability of critical data for analysis as well as in keeping time for sustainable application of the Six Sigma activity (Sanders 2010).
Some consequences may present when attempting to introduce the Six Sigma approach into the EA practice. However, these consequences cannot possibly outmanoeuvre the sublime benefits of engaging in this alignment. Upon introducing the Six Sigma approach, it is expected that employees and management must under extensive training to learn the new language of Six Sigma (Sanders, 2010). Such training, if not well directed and implemented, may drain scarce organizational resources. Second, it is known Six Sigma is about streamlining processes aimed at achieving business improvement. In the process of such streamlining, some management levels may become redundant, while some employees may have to be dismissed from service. Such a situation, if not well controlled and guided, may lead to resistance from management and loss of motivation from employees (Long, 2009). Governance and leadership challenges may also present as the organization takes a new turn towards enacting a leaner system and leaner structure of authority and command (Jochem, 2009). Adequate preparation and professionalism in implementing such an initiative therefore becomes a prerogative rather than an exception.
Through a critical evaluation of existing literature, this paper has demonstrated the many benefits that the company stands to gain in introducing the Six Sigma approach into the EA practice. The Six Sigma approach will greatly assist the EA practice to understand business processes, actively eliminate the root causes of problems or defects instead of waiting for them to happen before action is taken, improve business processes and systems, and identify tailor-made requirements for organization-wide technology adoption (van Iwaarden et al, 2008). It has been demonstrated that at present, the EA framework extends to cover business, information and communication, application, and the technology entities within an organization (Mathee et al, 2006). The company will therefore benefit immensely by introducing this business-improvement approach into yet another broad-based business and technology improvement program that has come to be known as Enterprise Architecture.

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