It is not surprising that some people may perceive Six Sigma as being only for large corporations. Major corporations such as Allied Signal, Black & Decker, Dow Chemical, Dupont, Federal Express, General Electric, Johnson and Johnson, Kodak, Motorola, Sony, and Toshiba have all rolled out Six Sigma efforts and achieved outstanding results. Yet, it is incorrect to think that Six Sigma process improvement results can only be achieved by huge organizations. Small businesses can also succeed in implementing Six Sigma and reap the process improvement benefits that Six Sigma provides.
Certainly, there are factors that can be disadvantageous for implementing Six Sigma in a small business rather than a large business, such as lack of resources and expertise in change initiatives. However, there are also characteristics inherent in small businesses that can speed up the effective implementation of Six Sigma more than in large businesses, such as flexible process flows, a shorter decision-making chain, and higher visibility of senior management.
Six Sigma can work in any size business because the nature of Six Sigma is dependent upon characteristics inherent to any business, not on the size of a business. Six Sigma MAIC (measure, analyze, improve, and control) disciplines work no matter the size of the organization or even the size of the Six Sigma project.
Small businesses do have constraints that limit their ability to initiate a large scale Six Sigma implementation. However, there are ways to overcome these limitations. Small businesses don’t have large reserves of excess cash to earmark for the massive training programs employed by the large corporations in implementing their Six Sigma programs. Small businesses generally can’t afford to have full-time Master Black Belts on staff and may not have the personnel with the skills and expertise to step into the role of Black Belts without extensive training. A certified Six Sigma consultant can act as your Black Belt for the initial projects until you have generated sufficient savings to be able to provide some of those savings for training your own people. Training happens at a slower scale for smaller companies but it still happens. Financially, savings realized from the first set of projects usually justifies the entire cost of the Six Sigma training.
Once some members of the organization have been trained as Green Belts, Six Sigma projects proceed with Green Belts executing Six Sigma processes. Incrementally, Green Belts are developed into Black Belts and new Green Belts are trained. Using a more gradual training approach addresses many of the constraints of smaller companies and allows them to implement Six Sigma at a pace a small business can more easily manage.
There is a benefit to implementing Six Sigma in a smaller business. Because of the size of a small business, the financial results and cultural transformation that stem from Six Sigma will propagate more quickly through a smaller organization. Focusing the Six Sigma tools at virtually any properly scoped project will drive savings to your bottom line and achieve breakthrough change in your organization.