Six Sigma for small organizations

Why is Six Sigma deployment considered to be largely restricted to large organizations? Why are small and medium sized businesses reluctant to implement Lean and/or Six Sigma techniques to cut costs and inflate their bottom-line? Why do process improvement consultants regularly fail to convince the experts that Six Sigma is just for business owners with fat pockets?

These are the few questions I often ask myself, and so do several other industry professionals in Quality. After all, small to medium sized businesses form approximately 75% of business activity in most regions of the world. That, to me, is too large a percentage to let go off. However, it is common perception that most quality management methods will fall flat on their face because the smaller firms won’t have the cash or the will to streamline their processes.

From personal experience, I can assure you that small business owners experience considerable frustration due to time and capital wastage. Inefficient processes drive up the Cost of Poor Quality (COPQ) which could cost the business sometimes millions of dollars because problem-solving is largely done on an ad-hoc basis. These business owners and senior managers do not have either the discipline or the time (or both) to appreciate the direct and indirect savings that can result from establishing permanent parameters and measurement systems that will ensure one or all of time, cost and effort reduction.

Moreover, it is also unwise to just limit Six Sigma to… well, just Six Sigma. The term is usually a generalization of several integrated process improvement (PI) techniques such as Lean, Kaizen, Total Quality Management (TQM), Process Excellence (PE), etc. The end-goal is to achieve genuine improvement how an organization conducts business. This would inevitably result in savings that would allow resources to be re-positioned into another business activity to generate additional profit.

Some typical ‘small-company’ projects would include: splitting journal entries in the financial wing of a manufacturing company, lead time reduction in delivery of automotive spare parts, improving the plant layout to optimize workers’ movements that would save time increase production of more units, are some of the few examples that six sigma consultants would potentially work on in under-sized companies.

A keen eye is required to identify typical ‘pain-areas’ within the value stream flow of the organization. One also needs understanding of the various business activities that are targeted for improvement. An appreciation of the corporate culture, management priorities and improvement expectations should also be made prior to any comprehensive implementation of Six Sigma or other PI procedures.

For a typical small-to-medium sized firm, a three-pronged initial strategy should be a good starting point to potential success in implementation of Six Sigma:

  1. A Six Sigma Lite strategy needs to be employed. While, all essential statistical and process analysis tools and metrics need to be utilized, emphasis should primarily be on shorter projects of six months or less that will achieve quantitative results in hard dollars.
  1. The teams should be heavy on Green Belts and Yellow Belts, with only a single Black Belt in the team or none! Yes, you heard me right. Green Belts are the typical ‘worker bees’ of Six Sigma projects and are well-grounded in basic statistical analysis and project management tools utilization. Thus, a senior Green Belt is quite capable of acting as Process Owners.
  1. Training of company personnel should typically be at one’s own time with a pair of instructor workshops at each end of the self-study training for orientation and course-review, respectively. This will ensure considerable savings in cash that would have otherwise been doled out to trainers for anywhere between 20-100 educational hours.

There are various other aspects of project planning, mentorship, training and cost-statistical analysis that need to be studied further based on the specific requirements of the business. However, the idea of Six Sigma/PI implementation in small and medium sized organizations is genuinely achievable if the right individuals steer the decision-making process.


This column brings back fond memories

It was the most well-read article I ever wrote. During a short span of 2 and a half years, I visited Karachi and Dubai three times. As I reminisce those days, I am engulfed nostalgia. After a hiatus of several years, these trips re-linked me with my roots. I was fascinated by how, over the years, I developed a keen observational eye that experienced daily life in the orient with a completely different outlook.

Have a read… it may take you down on a memory lane of your own.



The fine art of calligraphy

It can be safely said that the most visually appealing form of calligraphy is in the Persian-Arabic language. There are several drawing styles that date back to 4 A.D.

But it wasn’t until Abbasid rule when calligraphy was formalized as an art form by a high-ranking public servant from Persia, whose heightened interest in calligraphy prompted the government to adapt its various forms across all official documents, including publication of the Holy Qur’an, on currency and on architecture.

The short-listed aqalaam-al-sitta were:

These widely exist till today, along with some variants from Persian and Turkish traditions.

Forward to 2015 – you don’t need to be a professional calligrapher to write and/or print calligraphic art. You can do it from the comfort of your handheld device. is one such online service that allows you  to create personalized calligraphic artwork. You won’t achieve the results of an artist, just like with everything, but you’d still be able create calligraphy you can call your own.


Wiki on Islamic calligraphy

Elisabeth Kvernen’s weblink on Islamic calligraphy


Egypt’s museum of calligraphy

Istanbul and antiquity


Reliving twentieth century Canada

We stopped by at the Westfield Heritage Village in the north-western side of Hamilton, in the town of Rockton. Rockton is generally known for its annual Rockton World’s Fair, a festival which showcases cattle, animal races, display, rides, food and more. I have already made the pledge to be there next Thanksgiving!

Back to The Village.. it is a collection of houses preserved and/or transplanted from the yesteryear. They capture the charm of a much younger Canada, and how life was in a typical Ontario town.

We relived an era that was much simpler and honest to its tradition. The library, the bungalow, the press, the train station, the steam engine, the furnace room, the doctor’s office and more.. it was an enchanting experience that all such historic sites usually are. To top it off we were treated to a Charlie Chaplin movie in a quaint little theater.

It ended with a buggy ride and “home-made” pancakes. I would recommend it for all parents with school-going children.


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I frequent the bookstore a few times every month. Never did I felt any urge to pick up this Malcolm Gladwell classic. Despite raving reviews and friend recommendations, I just did not want to pick it up. I think it was the name itself, Outliers, that generated negative vibes in my mind. As humans, we do judge books by their cover, and it wasn’t until I bumped into its audiobook, did I decide to give it a go.

It talks about many factors which influence success. The most prominent for me was the 10,000 hour rule. It mapped the lives of IT giants like Bill Gates and Bill Joy, physicist Robert Oppenheimer, and The Beatles among others. The rule simply underscores the value in honing a talent for several thousands of hour. It provides an intrinsic explanation of people who have broken through the barrier of failure and dejection that it is easy to overlook it. However, when you look at most of the success stories in all walks of life, it boils down to how long you’ve been married to your skill and the time he have spent polishing it.

It didn’t just talk about hard work, a great deal of time was also devoted to “timing” or simply being lucky. The cut-off dates for junior football leagues, school year eligibility, etc. were examples of some incidental aspects that one has not control over, but which play could potentially be decisive in defining your success.

The fact that Bill Gates, Bill Joy and Steve Jobs were all born within close vicinity allowed them to explore their passion for computers. The technology was first introduced academically when they were teenagers, an age that would prove to be ripe for such free-wheeling exploration and spending thousands of hours on. Of course, timing wasn’t everything. They also benefited from social generosity. Both Gates and Joy were recipients of several lab hours granted by a university or school either willingly or otherwise! That brings The Outliers to its next defining factor, how others help shape one’s success.

It smacks down the notion of a “self-made” man. Gladwell argues there are people who help in immeasurable ways and in most cases make the difference between success and failure.

He also talks about practical intelligence, cultural practices, upbringing, etc. He ends with a last delightful story, of himself, and his grandmother as an outlier. He is entirely courageous in informing his viewers how his background shaped who his success – his life in rural Ontario and his family tracing back to a demeaning wedlock between an African slave and a British slave-master.


The intrigue behind maple making


We’ve grown to known poutine and bacon as iconic Canadian food items, but I rate the maple syrup as the staple I most readily identifiable with Canada. Maybe one reason is because almost all of the global supply (>80%) is derived from Canada.

Witnessing how maple tree sap is transformed into the classic breakfast supplement was among my highest priorities in an effort to rediscover things that we, as Canadians, tend to ignore because of their ubiquity.

My first experience witnessing maple making was at the Westfield Heritage Village, where they did it the traditional way with pales hanging by each tree and maple sap dripping from the “taps” ever so slightly. It is a labor intensive process, and also explains why maple syrup is an expensive shelf-item in grocery stores, most of the “Pure Maple Syrup” labels are true. It is boiled to the extent that only a very small percentage of the extract is actually left over, it depends on the maple syrup concentrate that needs to be derived.

What was particularly engrossing was how the First Nations produced maple syrup when they discovered in the 1600’s. They would literally cut off the tree trunks, open them up and put hot stones in it to bring the mixture to a boil. The clear syrup would float at the the top which would be removed and stored for  use throughout the year.

I enjoy finding out about how things work or how they’re made. This trip was one of those, and I’ll be sure to bring my son over when he’s old enough to understand the nuances behind this great Canadian tradition.

Too much TED

I’ve watched a few dozen TED talks: the inspirational kind, creative, path-breaking, courageous et al. I enjoy them, they’re good entertainment and often have bits of new information and ideas that I take home with me.

But is the hype overdone? Are they billed too high? Does Generation Y really fancy neat articulation and perceived innovation a little too much? I’m afraid yes. Again, I’m not anti-TED, I love the stories, they way they’re put together, the presentation (or sometimes speech!), the visuals etc.

But it should not be a must-have app on your iPhone, a social symbol for creative aptitude and forward thinking. There are several more relatable examples of motivation, positivity, courage etc. that are also readily available across media platforms.

People enter into dangerous territory when they start considering smooth talks similar to the TED ones as their primary social or professional guide. Real people and real events around you are what leaves the greatest mark on a person, and should always be drawn from… TED and TED wana-bees can be a good supporting cast.

What makes them happier

Yesterday I talked about the several daily challenges an average person in the mostly under-developed world has to contend with on a daily basis. Those reasons and more compound the living hardships forcing people to look elsewhere for work and raising a family.

However, on several other counts these countries trump the the rich nations in. For one, the society is much more tightly knit due to the social the institutions of family and marriage which are more revered and prevalent there. This brings two very important blessings to a community.

The social support structure lends itself to cooperation and sacrifice. Living with big families and many friends and colleagues brings out more compassion then otherwise. It also forces one to be more accommodating and tolerant. More relationships also mean a social safety net for individuals protecting them for external negative influences and reducing the chances of them straying from their life goals.

Loneliness and depression can also be warded off by having several people around you. All of this does not mean psychological issue that not prevalent in those regions, it just tells us those levels are a fair bit lower then in Western countries.

Due to the rougher nature of life in general, people tend to be more expectant of problems. Their brains are dialed into troubleshooting and a lot of band-aid solutions. Theyère usually more street-smart and do not tend to be procrastinators. They also tend to be more appreciative of lifes blessings.

The above factors help in everything: employment, business, school, home, neighborhood, etc. They are more primed for success if they are lucky enough to struggle in the right environment (like moving abroad).

We have it easy

Inhabitants of the developed world enjoy a much more stable, less random lifestyle. No regular power outages, outrageous traffic jams, gang wars. No consistent terror attacks, strikes, protests and revolutions to contend with either.

An average citizen would do his usual nine to five, followed by roughly an hour long of commute, supper and then family or bachelor time depending on his/her marital status, although the two may not be mutually exclusive.

After five supposedly strenous work-days, comes Friday (the best day of the week, you have the whole weekend to look forward to!), Saturday (usually the most exciting day) and Sunday (Monday blues making an early appearance in the evening).

Compare this to a commoner in the underdeveloped world. His work hours tend to be more haphazard. His commute is usually overcrowded to the point of falling off or stuck in never-ending traffic jams (could simply be waiting for the all powerful President’s caravan to pass through), protests, bomb explosions et al. Unpaved roads, potholes the size of a buffalo, open sewers, etc. All add to the “fun”. At work employee rights are minimal, business is inconsistent not just due to market forces but due to political, social dynamics.

Home is by far the biggest struggle. Incomes not growing proportional to cost of living is much more life-impacting as in a developed world household. Accommodation, food, clothing, schooling, and especially medical expenses leave little to no room for savings. Public healthcare is often mediocre causing even the lower income groups to seek private care which is a rip-off even in the developed world.

I have seen lifelong savings wiped out in a year due to a serious or terminal illness in the family. Education is the next biggest drag on the budget with ever increasing competition the education bar pushed higher with time, degrees becoming expensive, etc.

Despite all that the resolute nature of the masses empowers them to overcome obstacles and many are move up the social ladder within a generation while some go on to achieve greatness from humble backgrounds.

The next blog will talk to the social, emotional and habitual positives that living in such challenging environments brings to an individual and why the citizenry of the under developed and developed is on average still as happy or happier then there first world counterparts.

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