Daddy what is Six Sigma?

“Daddy what is Six Sigma?” I hear my 11 year old daughter ask from the passenger seat as we get ready to leave the bookstore where I had purchased a Six Sigma book. I thought of what to say and for some reason the definition that follows just did not seem appropriate.

Six Sigma Textbook Definition : The Six Sigma methodology is a business-management strategy designed to improve the quality of process outputs by minimizing variation and causes of defects in processes. It is a subset of the TQM methodology with a heavy focus on statistical applications used to reduce costs and improve quality. It sets up a special infrastructure within the organization that is specifically trained in statistical methods and problem solution approaches that serve as the experts in these approaches.

Even I have a hard time with that definition sometimes. I knew if I explained it to my child in that manner I would get the glossed over look you sometimes get from an employee that has never heard of Six Sigma when you are trying to explain to them what you do as a Black Belt.

So I paused for a second collected my thoughts and came up with a simple explanation. I told my daughter to imagine that her daddy ran a bicycle manufacturing plant. In this case we will call it “Potter Bicycles”.

I then said the first thing we needed to know was what the customer wanted. So I asked her what are some of the features she would like in a bicycle. She replied with a basket, bell and comfortable seat. I then prodded her a little bit and asked if she wanted the bicycle to be affordable as well and she replied “yes”.

I told her that the desire to have a basket, bell, comfortable seat and affordable price are what we call the VOC or Voice of the Customer. I then explained that now that we have the VOC we could start making or manufacturing bicycles.

I told her that based upon the amount of bicycle parts I had on hand I figured my employees could put out about ten bicycles a day. She agreed that seemed like a feasible number as well.

So now we have a running factory outputting ten bicycles a day, but there is an issue though. “The factory is putting out ten bicycles a day but for some odd reason four of them are missing that comfortable seat you requested. ” I told her. “What do you think we should do with those four missing seats?” I asked her.

“Fix them of course.” she replied.

“Ok so we will send those four bicycles back into the factory and we will push them through the line to the seat department and get four nice new seats on them.” I explained knowing she was keeping up with everything.

I then proceeded to explain to her “Those bicycles going back in and getting worked on again are what we call re-work. And the unfortunate thing about re-work is that it still costs money, because I have to still pay that employee to attach that seat.” She looked at me agreeing that it was the right thing to do.

Having her set up I leaned over and looked her in the eye and asked her “Who do you think pays for that re-work?”

She smiled big looked back at me “Well you do daddy!” certain she had the answer. I smiled looking at her and said “Well, I would but I cannot afford it because I just started making these bicycles so I guess that affordable price that you liked will have to be raised.” She cocked an eyebrow and soaked up what I just said.

I then proceeded to ask her “What if there was a way to make sure the seat always gets installed and we eliminate that rework and keep our costs low. Would that be good news for you and daddy’s bicycle factory?” She shook her head in agreement.

I went on to explain to her that is what Six Sigma is and that when something is important to the customer like a bicycle seat that Six Sigma makes certain it gets to the customer in the fastest and most affordable way. In a nutshell it strives to reduce defects and re-work. I laughed to myself at this point I was certain she had a white-belt understanding of Six Sigma and at least felt like she knew what her daddy did for a living.

Daddy Definition: When something is important to the customer like a bicycle seat Six Sigma makes certain it gets to the customer in the fastest and most affordable way. In a nutshell it strives to reduce defects and re-work.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article as much as I loved sharing it. We live in an environment where companies that don’t adapt to the VOC will find themselves DOA. Until next time remember that without metrics you have nothing and you cannot gemba from your computer screen. Peace and God Bless!

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