One of the common complaints I hear about Six Sigma is that it is only for big businesses who can afford to invest in getting started. They hear stories about the cost to train a Green or Black Belt, and assume that it would not work in their own business because they are “too small.”
I was intrigued by the book, “Six Sigma for Small Business” by Greg Brue (involved with GE’s Six Sigma initiative). I was looking for ways to communicate with all businesses how Six Sigma concepts apply to everyone, not just Fortune 500 companies. If you’ve studied Six Sigma for any length of time, you’ll hear all the reasons why it won’t work in certain processes, businesses, organizations and industries. All of these reasons are completely false, and I often spend significant time trying to give examples of how it does apply to what they do.
Brue provides a list of common myths about Six Sigma, and his response to them:
- Only applies to large companies
- Only applies to manufacturing
- Requires outside consultants and experts (Black Belts)
- It is a complicated methodology that ordinary people do not understand
- It overlooks customer requirements
- It is a repackage of Total Quality Management (TQM)
- It is an accounting game with no real savings
- It is only about training
- It is a “magic pill” to fix problems with no effort
Once companies are able to get past these myths, then they are willing to see the value it can provide.
There are a couple quotes about Six Sigma that can be used with small businesses, to help them understand why they need to implement a program.
Six Sigma is about “using science and an established set of steps that will give you the bottom-line results you and your employees want.”
“Six Sigma is all about identifying and fixing problems that lower costs, improve quality, and raise your bottom line.”
What company could argue with that logic? I would add that the customer wants and needs should also be included in these quotes, but I think it’s a good way to summarize how Six Sigma can be beneficial to any business.
One reason small businesses NEED to have an improvement program is that they are competing with larger companies, and most likely are more expensive (due to scale and volume pricing). Therefore, small businesses cannot afford to have quality and customer satisfaction issues, whereas larger companies can afford more issues because they can still retain customers with lower prices.
He also provides an interesting Sigma level scale that relates to employee empowerment, that is another key benefit of an improvement initiative.
He also provides a table for different sized companies, showing who should fill certain key Six Sigma roles, and how many people based on your employee size. For example, a business with $3-7 million in revenue with 10-50 employees should have the following roles:
- Champion: President/owner
- Master Black Belts: Outside expert, or experienced Six Sigma employee
- Black Belts: 2-3 employees 100% dedicated
- Green Belts: 1-5 employees 20% dedicated
- Project Team members: 6 member project team
Brue also gives some real-world examples of Six Sigma tools and ways to simplify them, such as:
- Quality Function Deployment (QFD): It can be a complicated tool to use, so he provides a simplified template (provided in book) to help businesses clearly understand their customer needs, without making it too complex.
- Gage Repeatability and Reproducibility (R&R): Checking the accuracy of grocery check-out lines to see if each cashier gets the same total
- Correlation Analysis: Without calculating an actual correlation coefficient, you can use his technique for outlining the shape of the pattern on a scatter plot, and using the ratio of length and width to estimate correlation. The formula is provided in the book.
- Design of Experiments (DOE): He provides a simple example of DOE using shower water temperature based on hot and cold knob settings.
There were a few tips that were provided that work well for small businesses:
- Balance the amount of training and projects with the need for results. It doesn’t have to be a full immersion, but letting projects drag out and not freeing up time to work on them will quickly kill your Six Sigma program. Do as much as you can afford to do, with the idea that you’ll recoup that investment, since that is what you are doing, investing in your people.
- To reduce training costs, piggyback your training with larger companies in your area. Many are willing to help the community, and if they have an internal course, there is no extra cost to them. They might also offer some of the experts to help your business get started. Local community or technical colleges offer less expensive training. There are many inexpensive online Green and Black Belt training courses to choose from. A last resort should be to build your own training material.
- Use Excel add-in programs, such as Snap Sheets or SigmaXL, instead of starting with Minitab or another more expensive software. This might depend on your training curriculum and what package they use.
I was hoping for more tips and tricks specifically for small businesses, but I still feel this is an excellent book on Six Sigma. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good comprehensive Six Sigma book for beginners, and especially for those working with or inside a small business.
Learn more about the ‘Six Sigma for Small Business’ book on Amazon >>>
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