Most CEOs of small and mid-sized businesses are aware of Six Sigma and what it has done for other companies. But some think the quality improvement program only works in larger companies. Of course, that is not true. Six Sigma can help grow any company by giving it the all-important competitive edge. For the majority of small business CEOs, the only thing that holds them back from seriously exploring Six Sigma is not knowing how to get started.
Six Sigma is basically a common sense approach to solving problems within a disciplined and structured methodology. Most people would agree that it is only common sense to understand a problem before trying to resolve it. The Six Sigma approach includes understanding the problem, collecting and analyzing the data, identifying the root cause, implementing the corrective action/solution, and making sure that the process cannot revert back to its old ways. It is a data-driven methodology, meaning that decisions are based on facts and data, not gut feelings or how it is done somewhere else.
Since most functions in business, or in life for that matter, can be seen as processes, Six Sigma aims to understand, analyze and improve processes via projects. The projects take on one process at a time with the goal of improving the results of the process.
As people become familiar with the basic methodology, they wonder why anyone would not use it. Why spend time and money implementing a solution to a problem without understanding what caused the problem in the first place? How can anyone be sure that the problem will not reoccur, even after implementing a solution, if they are not exactly sure what caused the problem to begin with? How many solutions have to be implemented (and how much time and money spent) to solve the same problem over and over before the "right" solution, the one that addresses the root cause, is implemented?
Using the Six Sigma approach will enable any business to improve customer satisfaction, product and service quality and on-time delivery, and shorten development time. It provides the tools to identify and reduce or eliminate defects, non-conformances and disconnects; to streamline and optimize processes resulting in reductions in cycle time, work in process, inventory turns and costs; and to improve productivity and efficiencies. It can be used to drive improvement in manufacturing, engineering, service, transactional and any other environment.
Because Six Sigma empowers employees by involving them in process improvement, morale and satisfaction increase. The methodology mandates that successes are recognized throughout the business, generating enthusiasm and excitement and more successes. As employees experience these successes, they bring a fresh approach to their work. All this adds up to providing more value to the customer and the business.
In addition to driving improvements in customer satisfaction, quality, cycle time and cost, the key to improving the long-term health of a business is to increase the value of its products and services in the marketplace. Six Sigma's "voice of the customer" focus and associated tools enable the business to identify what the customer values and then translate those things into defined requirements. The business can use those requirements to increase the value of its products and services, which then positions the business for continued success.
To be successful, Six Sigma needs more from the CEO than a go/no-go decision and the delegation of program responsibilities to company executives. Six Sigma works best with a top-down approach – when the CEO and senior leaders own it, support it and drive it. What comes after the initial deployment depends on how far into the business, how ingrained into the everyday thinking and approach, the CEO wants to drive it.
Some businesses may be content with having a small core group of Black Belts who work on difficult problems. Some may want the Six Sigma concepts and tools permeated throughout the business and so ingrained in the thinking that there is no other way to do business. Others may be somewhere in between. Each business, regardless of its size, has to learn what works and what does not in its particular culture.
Whatever the degree of implementation, all will benefit from embracing Six Sigma philosophies, concepts, tools and methodologies. There are no losers when a business refines and optimizes a continuous improvement program while constantly focusing on the customer and the drive to increase the value of it products and services.
That is what Six Sigma does for a business – no matter
what its size.
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