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Applying six sigma to your organization: benefits and considerations: six sigma looks forward by constantly defining, measuring, analyzing, improving and controlling opportunities and performance.

American Express. Ford Motor Company. General Electric. Motorola. Sony. There is no doubt this list reads like a who's who of global commerce. So what do these blockbuster brands have in common? Well beyond knowing how to succeed, these companies have made it their mission to know how to stay successful. And this is due in great part to a highly disciplined process known as Six Sigma.

Born in 1987 out of Motorola's Communications Sector, this innovative business improvement concept has since revitalized organizations like no other quality management blueprint. Some define it as the goal of near perfection in meeting customer needs. Others make sure to note the cultural change that must be embraced when implementing Six Sigma into the organization. In other words, this system is by no means another program du jour. Rather, it is a way of life that companies either approach full force or not at all.

No Restrictions

Six Sigma is not restricted to tangible products industries. While it did originate in the manufacturing and electronics sectors, it can be applied to any type of business from banking and financial services to chemicals, pharmaceuticals and health care. You may find it working for the entertainment industry and franchise-based organizations. In fact, ServiceMaster adopted the process in late 2001 and has since enjoyed tremendous gross savings enterprise-wide.

And when you get down to it, the goal of Six Sigma is to generate bottom line results. This profitability is achieved by raising the organization's capabilities so that it can operate at a new standard for doing business. And make no mistake about it, the room for error is quite small. So much so, that in order to reach Six Sigma quality, a process must produce no more than 3.4 variances--defects--per million opportunities or 99.9997 percent success. It's a goal that many find difficult to reach. However, such standards can produce huge payoffs in terms of product or service quality and competitiveness.

But you're probably wondering is Six Sigma really different from all of the other TQM approaches of the last 20 years? Granted, while certain elements of the process sound familiar, there has never been an approach to business so singularly focused on the voice of the customer. Specifically, Six Sigma is squarely focused on methodologies and objectives that center upon your customers' (franchisees) profitability. By taking this perspective into every project, companies are realizing substantial returns because the Six Sigma process forces leaders to acknowledge that their organizations' success is derived from the success enjoyed by the customers they serve.

New Levels of Decision-Making

Additionally, Six Sigma's unparalleled use of statistics takes us to levels of decision-making we've never seen before. It forces a look at data and the true root causes of problems as opposed to gut feelings and subjective opinions. Beyond the data analysis each project, whether it's reducing vehicle and equipment operating costs in our TruGreen service line or a product loyalty project at ServiceMaster Clean, is benchmarked against the "best in class." Once processes are improved, the new process is monitored at the most granular levels to produce the most accurate snapshots of success. We have found such fact-gathering to generate more proactive management team approaches, thereby accelerating the rate of improvement across all of our divisions.

But as alluded to earlier, the implementation of Six Sigma into the corporate culture requires a clear understanding of change management. This system is in no way of the turnkey variety, as it requires businesses to adopt entirely new habits. Buy-in from organizational leaders is essential to get the process off the ground. And as long as you can show your franchisees the types of results that positively influence their business and ultimately their customers' experiences, the system will steadily weave itself into the fabric of the company.

For instance, when the ServiceMaster Clean unit was ready to launch its Six Sigma projects, management knew immediately that it had to set an example by improving procedures at the home office before it could ask its franchisees to jump on board. So it set out to reduce the number of late shipments of its cleaning products to franchisees. When headquarters was in fact able to improve its product fulfillment rate from 70 percent arrival within two days to 95 percent arrival within two days, franchisees took notice. Needless to say, positive results yield positive reception among the targets you're trying to influence, and the long-term benefits can be staggering.

Your Biggest Advocates

Now at ServiceMaster, we're enjoying levels of creative thinking never seen before. Many franchisees who have taken the initiative to their own businesses are finding new tools to improve their performance. In turn, these people become your biggest advocates to late adapters. Six Sigma has set the bar higher and people are rising to meet the challenges.

If you find yourself in a work environment that is more reactionary in nature and considers 90 percent success as "good enough," you now know that there is a system for maximizing and sustaining business output that does not look at past track records in a vacuum. Instead, Six Sigma looks forward by constantly defining, measuring, analyzing, improving and controlling opportunities and performance. Begin by identifying your core processes and key customers and make sure to get management's full commitment to the journey. By doing so, you can ensure a solid start toward steady, future returns.

Mike Isakson is president and chief operating officer of ServiceMaster Clean. He can be reached at 901-597-8160.
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Title Annotation:Management & Operations
Author:Isakson, Mike
Publication:Franchising World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
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