Six Sigma and Your Business
The Six Sigma framework comprises a full set of roles, tools, management techniques and project methodologies. It was originally designed for use in the manufacturing environment in the 1980s. It has since evolved and now is a very popular program throughout manufacturing and service industries.
As a sole proprietor or other small business owner, you will not have the capability nor the need to implement a full-scale Six Sigma program. Devoting the time and human resources to DMAIC process improvement projects may not be an option, and you should not expect to employ full-time Black Belts. But many of the foundational Six Sigma principles can be readily used in the small business setting to improve your operations efficiency and your results.
Clarify customer requirements: Six Sigma focuses on aligning process performance with customers' requirements for quality. Whether you are dealing with your end users and retail customers or your internal customers such as employees, be sure not to make assumptions about what matters to your customers. Let them tell you what matters to them, and how well your business delivers relative to their expectations.
Measure performance: As a business owner you have no doubt heard the phrase, "You can't manage what you can't measure." To maximize your success you need to be continually aware of your business performance in key areas. Determine how you define success for your business, and how you will measure your performance relative to that goal. Establish a method of obtaining data regularly so you can assess your progress and make adjustments as needed.
Understand processes: In one corporation that used Six Sigma we had a saying: "It's the process, not the people." This saying served to remind business leaders that while the tendency may be to place blame on individuals when performance is not up to par, in most cases people will perform well as long as they are provided with the right tools and processes. If performance is below your expectations, start by assuming that there is a problem with the process and systems in place, rather than assuming that people are causing the issue. Look for technological limitations, process bottlenecks, or other process problems that may be limiting what your employees and business partners can deliver, and continually improve your processes.
Address root causes: Before implementing changes to fix a problem, do some digging to be sure you are not just applying a bandaid or temporarily alleviating symptoms of the problem. Use the "5 Whys" technique to get to the root cause of a problem. Don't settle for superficial answers to the question, "Why is this happening?" Instead keep asking "why?" until you get to the true source of the issue, then address that root cause. In this way you can create sustainable improvements and reduce the likelihood that the same issue will arise again.