Implementing Six Sigma in service-providing companies

Of all process improvement metrics, Six Sigma is one of the most implemented in the United States. Effectively reducing the variability of an organization’s processes, as well as eliminating defects or failures in delivering a product or service to the customer are goals that every company desires, and Six Sigma is an excellent method to achieve them. With Six Sigma companies aim to reach a maximum of 3.4 defects per million events or opportunities, which is quite decent in terms of supply chain management.

Typically, this methodology is used in manufacturing companies (food, appliances, vehicles, clothing, etc.), but it is not very common to hear about Six Sigma in terms of service companies. Because providing services is a trend in the market (for example, stop selling CDs and, instead, sell subscriptions to streaming companies,) the content of this post may be interesting for you.

The important thing here is not to forget the essential thing about this methodology: the elimination of defects or failures in the delivery of a product, which can be that key factor that will make it possible to reach the quality standards that customers are looking for to satisfy their needs. How do you achieve that? First off, eliminating any event where the service offered fails to meet customer requirements. For example, a slow Wi-Fi connection or outdated date phones. In consequence, you can get certain benefits, which Six Sigma includes as a methodology for continuous improvement: increased profitability and productivity.

Recall the tools that the Six Sigma system offers for solving problems, dealing with undesired variations and reaching customer satisfaction. First of all, decreasing defects, until they almost disappear in an estimated period. Second, the needed mechanisms to reach what has been achieved. Third, setting performance targets for all sectors. Fourth, the increase in added value, since it brings to light those defects caused by bad processes and / or developments. Fifth, the speed increase of improvements, as it promotes interdisciplinary learning. Finally, improving the ability to make strategic changes.

All the above principles are easily applicable to the service industry. The important thing is to ask the right questions:

How can defects be reduced? For this, it is necessary to identify the common problems that arise during the provision of a service (for example, returns of goods because of address mistakes while delivering merchandise.) You can get some surveys from your clients, review complaint websites in which the name of your company is mentioned or make an inventory of all the problems you can remember for a long time.

What steps do I have to take to start improving my company’s services? Before this, it is important to make a list of possible solutions for each problem, raised in the previous point. Once problems have been defined, finding solutions is much simpler. In this step, you can hire a logistics expert to evaluate each problem and come up with a practical and easy way to find and implement solutions.

Related: The Fourth Industrial Revolution and Six Sigma, by David Kiger

How do I want to see my company at the end of the year? What you can do to answer this question is to set goals for each sector of your organization. How do you want to see your customer service? Your accounting? Your marketing strategies? Your technical team? The image of your brand in the social media? Make a list and write as much as you can.

Think about your competition: How can you highlight the services you provide? Are they faster? Cheaper? More efficient? More personalized? Think about what others lack and be the first to do so, but think of small differences, a large set of small differences: there is your added value.

How long will it take you to achieve the goals you have set for each sector of your organization? Keep it real. Although it is important that it does not take an eternity, each modification will demand a timeshare. Be organized, efficient and persevering here.

The Six Sigma method is not only applicable to the Service Industry but also necessary and simple to understand.

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Image courtesy of Dave Dugdale at

Remember the following steps:

1 . Define: Identify possible Six Sigma projects, which must be evaluated by management to avoid the inadequate use of resources.

2. Measure: Characterize each process by identifying key customer requirements, key product characteristics (or outcome variables), and parameters (input variables) that affect process performance and key characteristics or variables.

3. Analyze: Evaluate current and historical results data. Develop and test hypotheses on possible cause-and-effect relationships using relevant statistical tools.

4. Improve: Determine the cause-effect relationship (the mathematical relationship between the input variables and the response variable of interest) to predict, improve and optimize the operation of the entire process.

5. Control: Design and document the controls to ensure that what is achieved through the Six Sigma project is maintained once the changes are implemented.

I hope this post has been helpful to you.

Recommended: Common challenges when implementing six sigma


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