by John L. Ware - December 24th, 2012

One of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my 35-plus year Operations career was to get Lean and Six Sigma certified. In this two-part article, I want to make a case why every small business owner needs to at least investigate both the Lean and Six Sigma methodologies and disciplines for use in their business, if not get certified themselves (if not, a least a trusted key employee). Part One will consist of my reasoning why Lean and Six Sigma should be used, while Part Two will delve into more of the nuts and bolts of these disciplines, the information they generate, and how to utilize it. And finally, Part Three will go into some detail for how to get these programs started in your company.

One of the constant themes I hear all the time regarding small business owners is that they do not know how to run a business – how to start it up, secure financing, do the accounting, and so on – primarily everything other than how to produce the product or service they want to sell. I know that sounds like I am painting all small business owners with a broad brush, but I think many would agree with me that I’m not that far off the mark. At the very least, many small businesses know they need much more assistance – if not intervention! – than they thought they’d need when they started their venture.

As many of you know, Lean Principles come from the Toyota best business practices of over thirty years ago. I was lucky to have been one of the first people to learn them and bring them over to the United States from Japan, where I was taught by the best – my sensei – Taiichi Ono, the father of Lean Manufacturing. Although I became imbued with Six Sigma later in my career (mid-1990’s), I found that Lean and Six Sigma principles compliment each other – to the point that many companies have totally integrated both disciplines into one, which they call (naturally enough) Lean Six Sigma. (Note: for this series, I have chosen to keep both disciplines separate, as there are nuances between them that could confuse the novice – more on this later.)

So why do I believe so heavily in both these disciplines? I want to put forward three reasons why I believe they are so necessary to incorporate into your business – big or small, troubled, static or growing. The first reason is that EVERY business needs to incorporate some type of quality assurance management. In the old days, quality was “manufactured into” a product or service; i.e., if the product or service didn’t meet some etched-in-stone parameters, it was rejected or retooled (remember the person in the smock at the end of the production line?). This was costly to the business in terms of not only rejected materials and delivery commitments, but in machine and employee time, as well. I don’t know any business that does it that way anymore. At the very least, most businesses have some sort of process and product control built into their overall infrastructure to root out problems.

And that’s just the point I want to make with my first reason – there needs to be a universal process built into a company at every level and at every point in the business to identify, investigate, analyze and fix problems. What I call a “root cause and corrective action” program needs to be built into the core fabric, if not the entire culture, of a company. And this is not just for the departments producing the products and/or services, but for EVERY department and process, and every employee – from the CEO or President down to the janitor. And truly committed Lean and Six Sigma companies will extend these programs all through the supply chain, including suppliers, customers and other stakeholders in the bargain.

The second reason is that Lean and Six Sigma rely on empirical data collection to make decisions and improve the thing you’re working on, whether it is a manufacturing process, an accounting program, an engineering model, or how to create a succession plan within the company. In other words, Lean and Six Sigma can be incorporated into EVERY process and department within your company to make it better. A manager or an employee need not rely on “gut feel,” hearsay or concocted belief to make sound business decisions.

And thirdly, Lean and Six Sigma allow the business owner to incorporate the changes and improvements into his or her processes immediately, and reap the benefits therein immediately, as well. Cost savings, profitability enhancements, margin increases, efficiency improvements, bottom-line results – they all can take effect as soon as they are implemented (unlike many other so-called “quality improvement” programs).

As with all other subjects, I am just scratching the surface of this topic. There are many books, web sites and companies out there which talk about Lean and Six Sigma in more detail – feel free to perform a Google search. I look forward to bringing you Part Two, where I’ll delve into how Lean and Six Sigma work from the perspective of a certified Master Black Belt practitioner.

John L. Ware

John has accumulated over 35 years of experience and expertise within all types of business operations management – including manufacturing, supply chain, distribution, engineering and quality/compliance operations. Companies he has worked for include U.S. Surgical Corporation, Sun Microsystems, nVidia Corporation and Domino Lasers, Inc.

Tags: , , , , ,

  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Digg
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • RSS
  • FriendFeed

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.