Better Than a Trip to the Dentist

This is the title of Chapter 15 of Jack Welch's new book on Winning. He says that Six Sigma "can be one of business's most dreary topics." But he also says:

  • I am a huge fan of Six Sigma.
  • Nothing compares to the effectiveness of Six Sigma when it comes to improving operational efficiency.
  • The biggest but most unheralded benefit of Six Sigma is its capacity to develop a cadre of great leaders. It builds critical thinking and discipline.
  • Six Sigma is one of the great management innovations of the last quarter century and an extremely powerful way to boost a company's competitiveness.
  • You can't afford not to understand it, let alone not practice it.

Yeow! "Yet for many people, the concept of Six Sigma feels like a trip to a dentist."

Simplify and Streamline Six Sigma and Lean
As I've argued since its inception, at its heart, Six Sigma is simple. You only need to know a few key methods and tools to make huge progress in most companies. Eventually you'll need to learn more robust methods, but not right out of the gate.

The Elevator Speech
Most sales and marketing books recommend that you develop an "elevator speech" (one that can be given in a 30 second elevator ride) about your business. Jack's elevator speech about Six Sigma is: "Six Sigma is a quality program that improves your customers' experience, lowers your costs and builds better leaders." Or more simply: "the elimination of unpleasant surprises and broken promises."

Here's mine: "I work with managers who want to plug the leaks in their cash flow."

Develop one of your own: Lean Six Sigma lowers costs while boosting profits and productivity.

Get "Sticky"
Variation in defects, delay and cost make your business unpredictable and customers hate unpredictability. Americans love fast food chains for their predictable menus, quality and speed. This is part of what Welch calls "stickiness:" creating products and services that make the customer come back time after time.

Right Tool, Right Application
"Six Sigma is not for every corner of a company." Six Sigma is great for streamlining and simplifying repetitive internal processes. Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) is great for developing complex new product designs. But it's a lousy way to write advertising copy (although I have heard of people using Design of Experiments to test many different versions of a direct mail piece).

Making Six Sigma Sticky
Welch offers some insights about how to make it Teflon (how not to do it):

  • Hire statisticians to preach the gospel
  • Use complex PowerPoint slides that only an MIT professor would love
  • Present Six Sigma as a cure-all for every nook and cranny

Welch's advice: Don't drink the Kool-Aid!

Fat Cats Don't Hunt
Most companies I've consulted with are making a good living at around 3-Sigma. They have no idea how much profit they could make if they started moving toward 4- or even 5-Sigma.

And you don't need a flock of black belts and green belts to get going. All you need are the few key tools and methods you'll find in Lean Six Sigma Demystified. That's why I offer a one-day, Lean Six Sigma Workshop designed to transfer the key methods and tools while developing a company's first set of improvement projects.

But given the choice between developing excuses about why they can't improve or applying the basics of Lean Six Sigma to measure and improve defects, delay, and cost, most people get busy on the excuses.

You can make huge progress in six-to-twelve months. Wait a year and you risk letting your competition get a head start on creating a "sticky" product or service. And as the U.S. automotive industry discovered, it's hard to catch up once you're behind.

Here's my point: 
Lean Six Sigma isn't like a trip to the dentist; it's like a trip to the bank to deposit a wad of cash. Use it.

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

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