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How Do I Get Started With Six Sigma?

Production facilities, warehouses, and sometimes even office environments can benefit from the cost-savings and efficiency improvements realized by a well-planned Six Sigma project.

Initial research on the subject can be overwhelming and consultants can sometimes be expensive, but if your executive team has determined that profitability is on the line, Six Sigma could be your knight in shining armor.

Strengths and weaknesses

This program isn’t a silver bullet that can solve every problem, but there are some distinct ways Six Sigma can help your business. Some projects utilize time studies to determine where and how your workforce can be redeployed, retrained, or utilized differently to enhance productivity.

Lean manufacturing helps you identify what is being wasted, whether it’s time, supplies, raw materials, or even money. It can also help your process become more agile and responsive, enabling your sales team to win new business that your production line can deliver on-time, in-spec, and on-budget.

Implementing the results of the findings into new cost-saving practices requires buy-in across the board, cooperation, and management of the process. This means the biggest variable in implementation is people rather than processes. It can throw a wrench in the works when managers and employees refuse to cooperate, so obtain feedback upfront from all departments to make sure the lead project manager understands how parts and processes affect the entire operation.

Lack of thorough investigation or a poorly thought-out plan may have a positive impact in one department but a negative impact in another. Keep the lines of communication open throughout the planning stages, but empower your project manager or team with the authority to make critical decisions so they aren’t hampered by multiple differing opinions.


Process engineers, quality engineers, and project managers are excellent choices for a point-person on your project. If you do have a full-time employee ready and able to spearhead the effort, then investigate getting them certified in lean manufacturing, as having an in-house consultant can potentially save money.

If you don’t have a dedicated employee to be your lead right from the start, consider hiring a project manager or process engineer from one of your local engineering staffing agencies to help you get the ball rolling. It’s possible your Six Sigma projects could save enough money to justify the addition of a full-time staff member to maintain efficiency. But it’s also possible that some projects will be self-sustaining after implementation, and all that’s needed is a temporary manager to get the ball rolling.

Consultants are extremely valuable in that they’ve worked through the Six Sigma process in a variety of settings and provide a wealth of experience to bring to bear on your project. They can anticipate and avoid common pitfalls that might escape a greenhorn fresh out of certification. Plus, they typically have access to a wider network of specific information and resources that can help them overcome obstacles.

Getting started

In the very initial stages of the process, your management team should spend some time brainstorming after a basic Six Sigma overview.

This will help determine how much in potential savings and new business completion of the project could earn, which will provide a guideline for how much time and staff they want to dedicate moving forward. Your initial team should include executives, sales managers, production managers, and supply chain managers at the very least to make sure your initial ideas are robust and well-informed.

Discuss pain points, customer complaints, reasons for lost business in the past, and current situations that could be hampering the company’s growth. Assuage common fears that this process might end in layoffs, and encourage your entire team to bring their best ideas to the table for the benefit of the entire company.

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