Is Six Sigma just as valid for service providers as it is for manufacturers?

So as to better appreciate the spirit and intent of our ensuing discussion, we must call upon the nature and purpose of two recognized entities – the US Postal Service and Ford Motor Company.  If we were to contrast these organizations, how would they appear to be similar? How would they appear to be dissimilar?  If they are mostly similar, is it possible to effectively share a common form of improvement (such as Six Sigma)?

To better focus our discussion, let us first acknowledge that the US Postal Service employs people – not machines or assembly lines, but people.  By design, these people do things, run things, fix things, think of things, move things, communicate things, and so on.  They “do” all kinds of “things” to meet certain “needs.”  Of course, Ford Motor Company also employs people.  Just like the Postal employees, the Ford people do things, run things, fix things, think of things, move things, communicate things, and so on.

By pondering the latter reasoning, we are likely to be struck by two ideas.  First, the term “thing” is a noun, not a verb.  Second, we cannot directly improve the “nouns of business” – we can only enhance the “verbs of transformation.”  For example, consider the phrase “make money.”  The idea of “make” constitutes the verb and “money” is the noun.  We cannot take direct action on money, but we can improve the ways and means of making money.  In short, we cannot take direct action on a deliverable (the product or service) – we can only work to improve the process by which that deliverable is realized.

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From this perspective, we strive to apply Six Sigma so that we can better define, measure, analyze, improve, and control the “critical verbs of transformation,” not the “nouns of business.”  While the symptomatic “nouns of business” will vary within and between organizations, the problematic “verbs of transformation” tend to remain common (within and between organizations).  In this sense, all businesses are fundamentally the same (to a large extent).  Only when dissimilar businesses are viewed from common ground is it possible to harness and deploy the power of generic knowledge – such as statistics and economics.  Until this time, the unenlightened generally say: “I do not see how this applies.”

In business, we seek to improve the “capability” and “capacity” of our verbs, not our nouns.  We look to the nouns to see if the capability and capacity of our verbs is acceptable.  In this sense, we monitor the behavior of our nouns to see if the verbs need to be improved.  Consequently, we come to understand that Six Sigma is largely about the quantum improvement of process capacity and capability.

Therefore, we must look to solve for the verbs of transformation, not account for the nouns of business.  Owing to such reasoning, we can now see the verb’s point-of-view – all corporations are inherently the same because they share a common universal set of verbs.  By acquiring and maintaining such a “verb oriented perspective,” it is far easier to learn and apply the core ideas, principles, and methods of Six Sigma – to any business – of any size, form, or orientation.

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