Background -

I work for a ~100 person sized genetics company that is newly owned by an ~8000+ person corporation. Over the last 2 years I've been our software development project manager and have learned how to do this job and the best practices based purely on experience I've gained here, my own mistakes, books, blogs, webinars, etc. No "formal" training; but I have a MS in Biochem so for whatever reason I was seen as a good fit for this role.

Recently we've had a couple of our staff members (laboratory staff not part of a PM dept) attend a 2-week corporate sponsored green belt training program for their own personal development. Now these folks have returned and they have a project to complete and have all these green belt tools ready to use. One of the projects is focused on our in-house lab software that is really quite a small change. If I were gathering requirements I would not plan on taking more than 1 month. However, through the use of the DMAIC model, my colleague has managed to make this small software change take 4 months and countless meetings, and we're only just starting the Analyze step. I'm sitting back, watching this happen and just baffled about the seemingly convoluted process. (Not to mention I'm somewhat...confused about why someone else is doing my job.)

So the crux of my question is - Can anyone speak to the utility of green belt techniques for small or medium sized software projects? Based on my experience and common sense this seems like a much too powerful tool for the project at hand. But without any real experience with green belt training myself, and only a couple years of software PM experience, I'm apprehensive to say 'THIS IS GARBAGE!!' to my senior management (who of course thinks green belt is great because corporate does it.)

Thoughts?

Welcome to PMSE! All depends on what you want out of it. Often, the benefits of approaches like six sigma are seen in better governance and the development of repeatable workflows. It may not translate into faster and cheaper software development in the near term. But it has benefits for corporate stakeholders.

welcome to PMSE! Great to see around managers from outside IT industry.

I believe the word here is tailoring. It's not something exclusive for a green belt techniques in a ~100 company, it also applies to apply every PMBoK rule in a project with 5 people or manage a project with a paper notebook to build up a space shuttle.

Methodologies are supposed to help, are means to a goal. When they provide more harm than benefit (as it seems to be the case), they should be reviewed and... tailored.

If you want some sound arguments to use on this discussion, I believe the project tailoring is mentioned on the early chapters of PMBoK.

I work for a large IT company on my 9-5 where Six Sigma is introduced as a must-have quality strategy for every project, be it large or small (I am green belt certified myself). Also, I take consultancy gigs every now and then for small development agencies where I have advised and run successful Six Sigma projects.

As you point out, a DMAIC project can take too long to actually be completed and it can actually stop making sense along the way. In my company, projects that take more than 3 months to be implemented are marked as 'failed' or are not considered as impactful (one of the reasons behind this is the thought that the IT industry changes too fast in order to wait for 3 month-improvements). Another reason to prevent lengthy 6s projects is that at some point the actual improvement can sometimes be more expensive than the problem (if the meetings are weekly and involve 10 employees + 5 managers for just for some penny-saving project, then you might as well want to check if this is reasonable to continue).

As for your actual question:

Can anyone speak to the utility of green belt techniques for small or medium sized software projects?

For me, 6s projects - asides from reducing defects - are just a way to put quality improvements in numbers, so I say it totally depends if this is just a one-thing-wonder in your company or are actually starting to get into a continuous improvement strategy. Probably these people who are running these projects will later become the green/black belts and lead other improvement projects within the company, and in my experience, you have to start with something and not all 6s projects you come across will be a breakthrough in the company. So as suggested above, the project at hand needs some tailoring or perhaps not use such a complex solution such as DFSS.

On one 6s course, one instructor said to us, "In theory, a Six Sigma / quality department could shut itself down if it's proved that the time/effort put into projects for building solutions and improvements is actually more expensive than the actual solutions implemented.". The point was that 6s can actually turn into a defect in your company, rather than a solution.

So my say goes that 6s is a very interesting, useful and powerful set of tools, however, on my personal experience not every single 6s project suggested is useful nor should be pursuit - SMART goals and a clear scope of the project should always be present, BUT that's the work of the champion to identify, in this case you shouldn't approach the management saying 'THIS IS GARBAGE!!', but to the champion(s) of the project.

Also, remember the improvements suggested in 6s are not exclusive for large corporations / projects, the whole idea is to reduce defects, and these can be found in any project - regardless of it's size.

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