BSS: Can you tell us about the organizational structure at WIPRO and your roles and responsibilities?
Ramesh Akella: I work as the Mission Head for Quality in the Consumer Care and Lighting division. I report to the President who in turn reports to the CEO, Mr. Azim Premji. The other major divisions at WIPRO are Information Technology, and Infrastructure Services. Consumer Care and Lighting division is a FMCG sector which makes Furniture, Consumer Care products (like soaps), Lighting products, fixtures, and switches. There are 6 main factories across India and some abroad in China, Singapore etc. I joined WIPRO about 4 years ago and some of my responsibilities include coaching, mentoring, and training Six Sigma resources.
BSS: When did WIPRO start Six Sigma and what has been your deployment approach?
Ramesh Akella: WIPRO started Six Sigma deployment in 1997-1998. A team from Motorola provided the initial training to a select set of participants in the manufacturing area. The initial reaction from our workforce was "WIPRO has been doing well and growing nicely, why do we need Six Sigma?" Hence, our goal was to start small, see some initial benefits and then expand into other areas. We wanted to create pull from the users rather than force it on them.
BSS: What other quality initiatives, are followed within the company?
Ramesh Akella: Six Sigma is the overarching methodology we follow. We don't want to confuse people with too many methodologies - otherwise people will perceive it as a flavour of the month; hence lean practices are embedded within Six Sigma. Within Lean, we use 5S, Kaizen, TPM, SMED etc. We have a 5-step approach to attack problems. At the foundation is 5S, the next level is Kaizen projects, internally called Pragati, the next level is comprised of fast track projects, internally called turbo projects, that are less than 2 months duration. When root cause/solution is not known, we launch Lean Six Sigma projects at the next level. At the very top is an end-to-end BPR type projects, internally called the Wipro Way, that are massive in scope.
BSS: How many people are engaged in Six Sigma?
Ramesh Akella: We currently have about 18 black belts and 40 green belts out of a total of 2000 people working in Consumer Care and Lighting. The black belts are embedded in the organization with a dotted line reporting to me. The black belts work part time on Six Sigma projects and also have other line responsibilities.
We have projects in all areas of Mission Quality including Customer Service, Procurement, Logistics etc. Overall, 10% of the projects are in the non-manufacturing areas.
BSS: What training do the Six Sigma resources go through?
Ramesh Akella: All our training is handled internally. Green belts go through a 2 day intensive training, complete an exam and finish 2 projects to get certified. Black belts go through a 5 day intensive training, complete a longer 3 hour exam, teach some green belt modules, and complete 2 projects in order to get certified.
BSS: How committed are the senior leadership to Six Sigma?
Ramesh Akella: We have a very good engagement of leadership to quality initiatives. We have a Six Sigma effectiveness and engagement index that is tracked on the scorecard at the top level. All quarterly reviews with top management start with quality review and the general viewpoint is that "if quality is going okay, then the business is doing okay". The location champions used to have monthly review of Six Sigma projects but now that is being replaced by daily meetings.
BSS: Is Six Sigma methodology rigorously followed? What tools are used most often?
Ramesh Akella: The reviews happen locally with management. There is a toll-gate review for all projects at the end of the project. The most common Six Sigma tools are Pareto chart, C&E, FMEA, Process Capability, and Control Charts. There is some usage of DOE but we ask all project leaders to not retrofit advanced tools on their projects unless it is really required.
BSS: How do you ensure that Six Sigma projects get completed on time?
Ramesh Akella: There are no hard and fast rules for project timelines. We do track the number of projects carried forward at the end of the year. So, if a project is started and not completed by the end of the year, we include them in the list of unfinished projects. If a black belt is not active for more than 2 years, then they get delisted as an active black belt.
BSS: How do you incentivize your people towards Six Sigma?
Ramesh Akella: We really don't believe in providing financial rewards for completed projects. However, there are a lot of other types of recognition that happens. For example, recognition at quality council level, being sent to universities for higher learning etc. We also promote black belts to more senior positions such as factory managers etc. For example, most of our department heads are green belts. So, just knowing that they have a good career prospects by being a black belt is good incentive for them to do well. We also are working with HR on providing other incentives which I am not able to comment at this moment.
BSS: What are some significant Six Sigma accomplishments for your company?
Ramesh Akella: I feel that as a result of Six Sigma, we have moved to a data oriented culture. Everyone now asks to look at the data before making important decisions. This is the single biggest achievement and I believe we are the best in class in this regard. This would not have been possible without the facts & data focus of Six Sigma.
BSS: What are some of the challenges to Six Sigma within your company?
Ramesh Akella: The biggest challenge I face is to keep up the momentum of the program. We need to derive value from the program and continue to keep the interest alive especially with other business pressures or production issues constantly facing management. In addition, with the passage of time, people may feel that there is not much new in the program and may lose focus on Six Sigma with a "been there, done that" attitude.
BSS: What are your thoughts on applicability of Six Sigma in the current business climate?
Ramesh Akella: Now is the right time for leveraging Six Sigma in any organization. With the current economic situation, there is tremendous pressure on top-line, so the only way a company can remain profitable is to cut the bottom-line costs. I foresee a huge increase in demand for Six Sigma skills in order to help companies tread through the current business climate.
BSS: On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate Six Sigma within your company?
Ramesh Akella: That is a tough question to answer. From an external perspective, we are usually rated as Good (7). I personally feel that there is a lot of opportunity for improvement and that we have only scratched the surface. Hence, I would rate us as a 5. Of course, for any big organization, we are our own internal benchmark.
BSS: Thank you for your time and willingness to share your practises with the rest of the Six Sigma community.