An absorptive capacity interpretation of Six Sigma

Rodney McAdam, Shirley-Ann Hazlett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose – The Six Sigma approach to business improvement has emerged as a phenomenon in both the practitioner and academic literature with potential for achieving increased competitiveness and contributing. However, there is a lack of critical reviews covering both theory and practice. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to critically review the literature of Six Sigma using a consistent theoretical perspective, namely absorptive capacity.

Design/methodology/approach – The literature from peer-reviewed journals has been critically reviewed using the absorptive capacity framework and dimensions of acquisition, assimilation, transformation, and exploitation.

Findings – There is evidence of emerging theoretical underpinning in relation to Six Sigma borrowing from an eclectic range of organisational theories. However, this theoretical development lags behind practice in the area. The development of Six Sigma in practice is expanding mainly through more rigorous studies and applications in service-based environments (profit and not for profit). The absorptive capacity framework is found to be a useful overarching framework within which to situate existing theoretical and practice studies.

Research limitations/implications – Agendas for further research from the critical review, in relation to both theory and practice, have been established in relation to each dimension of the absorptive capacity framework.

Practical implications – The paper shows that Six Sigma is both a strategic and operational issue and that focussing solely on define, measure, analyse, improve control-based projects can limit the strategic effectiveness of the approach within organisations.

Originality/value – Despite the increasing volume of Six Sigma literature and organisational applications, there is a paucity of critical reviews which cover both theory and practice and which suggest research agendas derived from such reviews.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)624-645
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Manufacturing Technology Management
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Software
  • Control and Systems Engineering
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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