Talking to owners of small businesses about Six Sigma, one can almost hear them thinking that this is too expensive for them and is something that only applies to the very well known big businesses like Motorola, GE, Sony, Dow Chemicals etc. It is only when they hear about the philosophy that underpins Six Sigma that they start to get an idea that it is an improvement methodology that works for organisations of all sizes.

The target of Six Sigma is to reduce variation. This reduction in variation provides for a far more certain process, resulting in less waste and more reliability which ultimately improves profit. For many years people have thought waste is a natural part of any process, now this basic tenet is in question. Why should a certain level of waste be accepted as a natural part of the process?

It is easy to understand why people are at first somewhat confused about Six Sigma. Many associate the methodology with high level statistical modeling. Although it is true that some of the tools are statistical there are certainly others that are not. Great benefits can be achieved through the use of some of the other tools such as Pareto Chart analysis, Fishbone Diagrams and Process Mapping. To the uninitiated these tools sound complex but once demonstrated, people are surprised how powerful and intuitive these techniques are.

One of the key facets of the Six Sigma process is the logical way that it goes about problem solving. The DMAIC model (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control) provides a structure that leads practitioners through a thorough and rigorous process that focuses efforts on the things that really matter. Of course with Six Sigma, as with many other processes, it can be easy to spend a lot of money on very little gain. Conversely, excellent savings can be made by organisations that implement wisely. The difference between success and failure is in having people who know which tool to use for the particular job at hand. This is no different in having a tradesman being able to select the right tool for the job or a surgeon knowing which way to tackle a complex medical problem.

Training of Six Sigma practitioners can be an expensive exercise and this is what causes some small business owners to avoid adopting it. Owners of small businesses typically can’t afford the extensive time it takes for training as well as the training cost. Additionally, developing good skills takes time. Time is something of which owners of smaller business have precious little. The great news is that they don’t have to! Outsourcing is a very cost effective option. Use the resources of a trained Six Sigma Black Belt who can assist with all of the phases of initiating an improvement project. This is the best of both worlds because the business owner can get moving quickly on an improvement project while still being focused on daily activities. Small business owners already have enough to do so it makes sense to seek out expert help just as they would an accountant or a lawyer.

Organisations can find that it is cost effective to bring in a skilled Six Sigma practitioner to lead and assist an initial project. In this way an organisation is able to develop a Six Sigma mindset which will become part of the organisation’s character and continuous improvement will become a self perpetuating activity. Once people learn the Six Sigma philosophy, opportunities for further business process improvement will start to become obvious.

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Business process modeling