January 17, 2007

Hackett: Six Sigma Not a Silver Bullet for Back-Office Improvements; Research Identifies Key Factors Impacting Success and Failure

ATLANTA, January 17, 2007 - Six Sigma is far from a "silver bullet," for executives seeking to reduce cost and improve overall quality of back office operations, according to research from The Hackett Group, a strategic advisory firm and an Answerthink company (NASDAQ: ANSR).

Many executives use Six Sigma, or other continuous improvement programs, to successfully drive enhancements in finance, information technology (IT), procurement, human resources (HR), and other Selling, General, & Administrative (SG&A) functions. But according to Hackett research, many executives fail to realize the benefits of Six Sigma initiatives. Six Sigma, which by definition is an incremental process improvement methodology, is not appropriate for situations that require significant transformational change.

According to Hackett research, executives can reduce annual SG&A costs by $60 million per billion in revenue by achieving world-class performance in four core SG&A areas of finance, IT, procurement, and HR. At the same time, these world-class performers show superior effectiveness, delivering higher quality services, increased economic returns, and reduced risk.

Many Hackett clients find Six Sigma to be a powerful tool for incremental improvement. Using a combination of Six Sigma and LEAN, one U.S. client was able to achieve major progress in accounts payable, including a 50% reduction in payment processing time, largely by identifying errors and eliminating non-value-added activities. At another Hackett client, Six Sigma played a key role in their ability to decrease cycle times and reduce costs as they built a global shared services organization. Overall, Hackett's research shows that 86% of all finance shared services organizations have a strong commitment to continuous improvement programs such as Six Sigma.

"Six Sigma can enable companies to generate incremental improvement spanning both efficiency and effectiveness performance across the back office. But it's not a silver bullet, and only works in the right circumstances. It is a demanding discipline that must be used carefully," explained Hackett President of Global Enterprise Solutions Richard T. Roth. "While Six Sigma is useful for making incremental improvements, it's not the best tool when the goal is broad transformational change. It's like using a screwdriver to make a structure more stable when a hammer is required. Increasing efficiency by $60 million per billion in revenue does not take place through small, incremental improvements. Some executives will find that their problems are simply too endemic to be addressed by Six Sigma alone."

Hackett Senior Business Advisor Penny Weller, who also holds the titles of PhD, CMA and Motorola Certified Black Belt, elaborated on several factors that often lead companies to fail at their Six Sigma initiatives. "Six Sigma is great, particularly for companies seeking to streamline operations and eliminate variation in processes. But like any tool, it can be used properly or improperly, to varying results. The goal is to create a continuous improvement mindset that is embraced at all levels of the organization.

"Some companies fail at Six Sigma because they don't personalize the program, ignoring their company's unique culture. They can take an approach which is too theoretical, trying to do 'pure' Six Sigma, and in the process ignore the human side of the equation. It's critical that companies which embark on these initiatives be prepared to address the tremendous change management challenges that are likely to arise. That takes planning and preparation, along with strong support from senior management," said Weller.

"Other companies fail because they take a piecemeal approach," Weller explained. "If a company is already using Six Sigma in one area, even if it's unrelated, they should probably strive to use their in-house expertise as a starting point, rather than select another continuous improvement approach. Finally, some companies simply fail to take the appropriate customer-centered outlook. Particularly when implementing Six Sigma in a shared services environment, it's critical for companies to understand the needs of their internal customers, and to factor that into any changes they are considering."

About The Hackett Group

The Hackett Group (www.thehackettgroup.com), a strategic advisory firm and an Answerthink company, is a global leader in best practice research, benchmarking and business transformation services that enable world-class performance across selling, general & administrative (SG&A) and supply chain activities. Hackett provides strategic insight, best practice advice and implementation services grounded in performance metrics obtained through 14 years and 3,500 benchmark studies.

Through the acquisition of REL Consultancy Group, the world's largest firm dedicated to generating cash improvement from working capital and operations, The Hackett Group has deepened its advisory capabilities in the area of working capital optimization. For more than 30 years, REL Total Working Capital advisors have helped clients in over 60 countries liberate billions of dollars in working capital ($25 billion in the last ten years alone), creating the financial freedom to fund their strategic objectives including acquisitions, product development, debt reduction and share buy-back programs.

Executives use Hackett's unique, empirically-based approach to prioritize initiatives, execute faster, reduce risk and deliver sustainable results. Our clients comprise 97 percent of the Dow Jones Industrials, 77 percent of the Fortune 100 and 50 percent of the FTSE 100.

More information on The Hackett Group is available: by phone at (770) 225-7300; by e-mail at info@thehackettgroup.com; or on the Web at www.thehackettgroup.com.