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Six Sigma for Small Companies: Does It Work?

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/30/2011

As the owner of two small businesses, when seeking the answer is Six Sigma for small companies possible, I found many who believed it wasn’t, mostly due to expense. On the other hand, as a small business owner, I do believe Six Sigma can work in any size company.

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    Six Sigma: Not Just for Big Business

    Marketing Small Business Wikimedia Commons When I first read about Six Sigma 101 here on Bright Hub, it helped me to write the article What Is Six Sigma? and show an example of how utilizing this methodology could help a small project management team write a new company slogan for a client.

    Most Six Sigma information available on the Internet explores the use of Six Sigma in software IT projects rather than small or medium size projects. However, are there not small software developers and other small firms out there that could benefit from Six Sigma? Of course.

    Naysayers will say Six Sigma for small companies won’t work due to training expense, the lack of a Six Sigma Black Belt mentor or the ability to follow the process correctly.

    I, however, believe you can take almost any project and utilize the Six Sigma process regardless of the size of your company or your project.

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    How Six Sigma In Small Companies Is Possible

    Handshake by Spring Stone Beyond my own Six Sigma experience, there are small to medium size companies that could benefit from the methodology. If we consider my main elements of Six Sigma for a small company: Quality, Defect, Process, Variations, Operation, and Design, the methodology could be utilized in many projects. When I originally wrote my article, What Is Six Sigma?, I used the example of a Six Sigma team coming up with a new slogan for a client. What if we use a different example using my same Six Sigma elements:

    Building a Better Box

    Say a small design firm is asked to come up with a more attractive container for a client’s product. If we utilize the elements of Six Sigma, a small design company might follow this process:

    • Quality – Examine the original container and obtain client input on why they want or need a change. Part of the Six Sigma team could analyze past sales from the original container to determine its attractiveness.
    • Defect – Define and identify problems with the original container, why isn’t it working and what needs to be changed? What are the measurable defects in the original container?
    • Process – The quality and defect outcomes will help you design a new container. The process part of Six Sigma is your most important element and should include quality and risk management.
    • Variations – Here, the client or test groups may offer suggestions on variations to the new container or approve it.
    • Operation – Once the new container is approved, does it have a shelf life limit? Does the Six Sigma team need to plan for future variations of the new container?
    • Design – The Six Sigma team can now produce the approved and tested new container at this stage. If Six Sigma steps were followed correctly, production should go easily with a container the client and the target market will be happy with.
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    So That’s One Example, But It’s Vague You Say!

    Six Sigma by Share Alike Wikimedia Commons Our new client container is just one example on how Six Sigma for small companies can work. It’s a simplistic in it’s offering and most Six Sigma users are now shouting, “Where’s the black belt leadership and the DMAIC process?" or “Where’s the DFSS (Design for Six Sigma) training?" or “Where are the tools needed for Six Sigma?" If the new client container example is too vague for you, consider the following when determining the use of Six Sigma for small companies

    Taking our same example of a new product container, the DMAIC is present:

    • Define (Quality) – This stage of Six Sigma includes the project goal (the new container), working with the client, determining specifications and requirements, using quality management tools, and creating the project scope including choosing team members.
    • Measure (Defect) – Measure unacceptable defects of the current container design and implement risk controls in advance for the new container per client wants and needs.
    • Analyze (Process) – At this stage, larger companies who employ Six Sigma black belts will have them analyze unacceptable defects to determine if implemented processes are acceptable. A dedicated Six Sigma team member could do the same in smaller firms.
    • Improve (Variations) – Here, the black belt (or a trained team member) utilizes outcomes from defining, measuring and analyzing to identify acceptable risk ranges and variations of the new container design and production along with project implementation process.
    • Control (Operation) – This is basically monitoring and controlling the production of the Six Sigma team and ensuring the project processes for the new client container flow smoothly and as desired; the group effort if you will no matter the company size.

    But wait you say! What about the final “design" stage in the first example? Although larger companies who utilize Six Sigma rely only upon the DMAIC phases, the Design stage is especially important when using Six Sigma for small companies.

    The design stage allows the Six Sigma team in smaller companies to intertwine the control and design phase. Is the customer happy? Is the new client container effective? Were controls followed and implemented correctly? The design stage for smaller companies often allows a Six Sigma wrap up or analysis phase if you will, especially because there is usually no black belt Six Sigma person present. The design stage is often an evaluation stage for smaller firms on how well the Six Sigma process worked.

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    Six Sigma for Small Companies Is Too Expensive

    Logo Dollar by Migdejong Wikimedia Commons Here again, expert Six Sigma users will say that small companies who want to utilize the Six Sigma process can’t afford it. That, however, is simply not true. If Six Sigma is a quality-based project management methodology, couldn’t small company team members be trained to?

    1. Understand the DMAIC process and how it works as the simplest form of the Six Sigma Process
    2. Learn Six Sigma roles, responsibilities, and effective communication
    3. How to streamline processes and implement Six Sigma tools
    4. Learn cross-training in every area of the DMAIC process
    5. Be taught DSFF training and offered Six Sigma tools
    6. Learn to be effective decision makers with good presentational skills

    The answer to all of these training questions is yes, a project management team within a small company could learn how to utilize the Six Sigma methodology. What it will take, however, is a commitment from everyone that the company will utilize Six Sigma on every project and stick with it. The ability to use Six Sigma for small companies is possible with training and commitment and to those who say it’s not possible, consider where you started when you began using the methodology.

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