3M using Six Sigma, e-Productivity in cohesive strategy

3M is looking at the Six Sigma process and "e-Productivity" along with other current business initiatives-such as supply-chain management, lean manufacturing, acquisitions, and customer satisfaction-with a desire to pull them together into a cohesive strategy.


Six Sigma at 3M

As the Six Sigma process is adopted at 3M, some of the milestones are or will include:

  • Improved sharing of process information;

  • Enhanced communication of best practices;

  • Extension of Six Sigma from internal process to external suppliers and their suppliers; and

  • Migration of Six Sigma across the supply chain to further reduce costs and improve quality and customer satisfaction.

E xpect 3M (Maplewood, Minn.) to use its tools and resources to push "e-Productivity" and Six Sigma efforts, according to James McNerney, 3M's new board chairman and ceo. Mr. McNerney joined 3M in January, 2001, after 18 years at GE, most recently as president and ceo of GE Aircraft Engines.

Shortly after joining 3M, Mr. McNerney introduced 3M to two initiatives, the Six Sigma process and what 3M is calling e-Productivity. When these initiatives are examined along with other current business initiatives, such as supply chain management, lean manufacturing, acquisitions, and customer satisfaction, it seems like a daunting challenge to pull them together into one cohesive strategy.

As the first "outsider" chosen to head 3M in its 98-year-history, Mr. McNerney plans to infuse GE-style decisiveness and profit-centered management philosophies into 3M's culture of innovation and its consistent stream of new products.

Six Sigma forms the core

Coming from GE, Mr. McNerney already understands the benefits the Six Sigma process can deliver in efficiency and productivity. However, because he's new at 3M, certain cultural hurdles had to be overcome to successfully launch Six Sigma and garner 3M employees' buy-in.

e-Productivity at 3M

Main aspects of 3M's e-Productivity initiative include:

  • Requiring that technology investments demonstrate ROI as other asset investments;

  • Developing the discipline to stop operating the "old way" once capability using the "new way" is implemented to limit costly parallel systems; and

  • Questioning whether initiatives are stifling creativity or providing added creative time.on

Mr. McNerney views Six Sigma as the nucleus that enables all other strategic initiatives facing 3M, and says he has already seen how 3M's innovative, yet data-driven, culture has embraced the Six Sigma process.

Mr. McNerney says he is seeing signs that Six Sigma is improving the sharing of processes and best practices across the company. He also envisions the day when 3M will extend the Six Sigma process across the supply chain to further reduce costs and improve quality and customer satisfaction.

Mr. McNerney says that as confidence in the Six Sigma process grows internally it begins to naturally extend outward. "That's exactly what the automotive industry has done," says Mr. McNerney. "As they improved their internal processes, they started extending to their immediate suppliers, and those suppliers eventually extended it to their suppliers, and so on. That's very similar to what 3M's customers are asking us to do."


Like so many of us, Mr. McNerney has witnessed companies throwing money at technology investments without understanding how those investments would provide a quantifiable return. Similar to what he did while at GE, Mr. McNerney insists that all 3M technology investments undergo the same return on investment (ROI) disciplines used for any other business asset investment.

Mr. McNerney believes, and rightfully so, that a key success factor in 3M's e-Productivity initiative is to have the discipline to stop doing things the old way once technology has been implemented to provide the same capability using a new way. Mr. McNerney is adamant when he says, "This lack of discipline is what permits parallel systems to exist for longer than they should, and this adds, rather than reduces, costs."

While the Six Sigma process forms the core of 3M's strategic initiatives, Mr. McNerney is insistent that 3M employees ask every month, "Are our initiatives stifling creativity, or are they providing us an additional 15% of creative time?"

GE has long been know for making hard decisions fast and is no stranger to delivering innovation to the marketplace. Year-after-year, Wall Street has favorably rewarded GE for doing so. That's pretty much the same vision Mr. McNerney expounds for 3M: creative, quick, and profitable.

Control Engineering senior editor Dave Harrold interviews James McNerney as part of the SupplyChainLinkExpo, Oct. 17-18. Additional insights of how Mr. McNerney intends to lead 3M into the 21st century can be experienced by visiting the SupplyChainLinkExpo web site at www.supplychainlinkexpo.com .

Dave Harrold, senior editor

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