Small businesses are under just as much pressure as large enterprises to improve quality, reduce errors in their operations and achieve profitability within a specific time. This has led to the emergence of strategic and methodical approaches to thoroughly transforming business operations.
As a result, quality management is now imperative for entrepreneurs and executives alike in improving efficiency and increasing revenue without additional costs. Dr. Frank Barsi was kind enough to give us a masterclass based on his wealth of experience in the application of Six Sigma to enhance successful production processes.
He is a renowned writer, an Aerospace Quality Engineer, and one of the top pioneers of quality engineering in the United States. He has a Master’s Degree in Metallurgy, two PhDs in Materials Science and Engineering, and Theoretical Particle Physics.
This article recaps the lessons Dr. Barsi shared with Equilibria Founder, Alicia Butler Pierre on the Business Infrastructure Podcast. He gives an explanation of Six Sigma principles and how you as a small business owner can apply them to dramatically transform your operations.
What is Six Sigma?
Six Sigma is a customer-centric, quality framework for reducing the probability of creating defective products or delivering erroneous services down to less than 0.1%. Perhaps its most enduring tenet is that of continuous improvement – the idea that the constant striving to make things operate better drives customer satisfaction and innovation.
Contrary to popular belief, Six Sigma has a broad application and is not limited to just manufacturing companies. Service-based companies and organizations can also greatly benefit from the rigor of Six Sigma thanks in part to the data-driven DMAIC cycle for optimizing and improving processes.
DMAIC is an acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control). Processes are broadly categorized as manufacturing (production of physical goods) or transactional (delivery of services). Transactional processes are also known as business processes.
With business processes being a critical element of business infrastructure, it might shock you to learn that even large, seemingly successful companies are unable to achieve Six Sigma status despite their best efforts.
Quality and Process Control
As a disciple and early adopter of quality pioneer W. Edwards Deming, Dr. Barsi learned and applied Deming’s Total Quality Management (TQM) techniques to various production processes throughout his impressive careers both in the military and aviation.
During his tenure at Boeing, Dr. Barsi designed and engineered a new titanium casting process for manufacturing pieces of equipment. This helped to reduce the amount of additional manpower required to produce the machinery.
The previous process was riddled with an excessive amount of defective pieces of equipment and a lot of money was lost due to pre-casting. However, by applying Six Sigma and TQM he streamlined production with his invention, effectively revolutionizing the casting industry and earning a patent in the process.
His invention sped up mass production, reduced the cost of production within the same time, and boosted profitability with increased revenue.
Dr. Barsi believes that whatever variation you have when you are providing a product or service, makes that process unpredictable. You simply cannot manage or control quality for an unpredictable process in your business operations. Therefore one of the ways to reduce variation and improve an unstable or unpredictable process is through standardization.
In your operations, every process has to be under control even if the final outcome is not what you desire. You can always seek ways to fix the defective product or service by standardizing your process. This is why standardization is very important in a business environment. It helps to eliminate unpredictability in your processes. Standardization can be achieved via the DMAIC cycle:
Define: identify and document the unstable or unpredictable process that you’d like to standardize and improve.
Measure: measure the average amount of time it takes to perform each step of the process.
Analyze: study the measurement results. Wildly different measurements of the same steps are an indication of where variation or inconsistency may exist.
Improve: discuss the ideal way to perform the steps where variation exists. This could mean a change in technology, equipment, or even software. Invest in the required changes and document the process updates.
Control: train everyone on the new, standard way of performing the process. Assign metrics to monitor each person’s performance in executing the process.
When you identify, develop and standardize a process that works for your business, you need to constantly review it to ascertain its efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity. Though Six Sigma can take a long time to implement, leveraging it gives even small businesses a serious competitive advantage due to its emphasis on customer satisfaction, quality, and continuous improvement.