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Is Six Sigma Worth the Investment For a Small or Medium Sized Business?

By Eric Gurr

First let's define Six Sigma in terms we can all understand. It's a quality control process that is data driven What that means is the result is measured in numbers, in particular, numbers of defects . To achieve Six Sigma you should have less than 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Opportunities for what? I guess a million opportunities to screw up.

The list of big companies that are utilizing Six Sigma is huge. But is it right for the small and medium business? GE and Motorola will find it hard to gain any more market share thany they already have. The best way for them to increase profits is to decrease costs. But is that really true for a small or medium sized manufacturer? Anything that strives to reduce the number of defects and increase customer satisfaction is a positive for your business. That's a no brainer. The issue is more how deeply do you immerse your business, and your employees in to a process that can take the focus off of what they enjoy doing.

Let me state that in another way. Many of your employees are employees because that's what they want to do. They don't want the headache or the associated risk of running a business, or being a manager or director. Six Sigma is a very disciplined and detail oriented process. Because of this it can drastically alter the nature of an employees task. In some cases, this will be a positive. The employee may feel energized by the change and the challenge. Others will boost productivity simply due to the Hawthorne effect. A significant number will however see this as an unwelcome change to the job they want to do.THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS!

We simply must accept the fact that not everyone is dedicated to advancing his or her career and embracing all challenges and changes. Most people work because they have to. They work so that they can support their families and enjoy time away from work with other pursuits. This is not a character flaw or a sign of laziness. It's just the decision they've made, nothing more and nothing less. When we try to impose radical change on the work portion of thier lives they have the freedom to move on to another company. And that's the best case scenario. Generally what happens is the employee becomes disenfranchised and productivity suffers.

Obviously our goal isn't to decrease productivity so what's a small business to do? Like everything else you need to take it slow at first. The best advice is to decide what you want out of it before you even begin. Then you can make a better decision about using a Six Sigma consultant, and whether or not you need one. You should also set a realistic goal for what an acceptable defect rate should be and what the cost is for a given range of defects. Six Sigma has this process as part of it but many of the Black belt consultants seem to get caught up in reaching that magic number of zero defects. That's a nice goal but if the cost of reaching it is ten times the cost of the defects, who cares? Go with the defect rate you have and keep cashing the checks. In short, don't fix what isn't broken. Fine tuning to keep or gain market share is one thing, reorganzing your entire business in a risky pursuit of a 1.5% profit increase is quite another.

Eric Gurr Senior Editor SMBresource To contact Mr. Gurr

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