January  2003

Vol. 5, No. 1

Six Sigma and More: 
Beyond profits

by David R. Schwinn

Recently, my wife, Carole, and I spent a long weekend with a wonderful group of friends. The group has come together over an extended period of time to study our inner lives of mind and spirit and their relationships to our outer lives of action and service. These friends are some of the real heroes of our time. One man works to develop his inner city neighborhood. Others help physicians care for patients in more holistic ways. One woman helps K-12 students make their learning environment safe and secure without the need for metal detectors and security guards. Others work to care for our larger environment so that it can be healthier for us, our children, and our childrenís children.

Yet another man travels the world encouraging and supporting peacemakers. One woman helps K-12 teachers and administrators take student learning to a whole new level, while another encourages those in higher education to more fully include spirituality in the classroom. Others seek to heal the wounds caused by racism. One woman works with the media to help us all get a more balanced and holistic view of the world. Yet another travels the globe to give women and the feminine in all of us a voice. The last simply helps the children. She goes wherever there has been war, finds the children of that conflict, and arranges to get them the help they need to begin to restore their devastated lives.

So what does all this have to do with Six Sigma?

Six Sigmaís popularity has come from its ability to positively impact profit - the bottom line for business. But it does that primarily because it reduces waste.

The sectors represented by our community of friends donít care much about profit, but they do care about waste. As a matter of fact, many non-business organizations and communities over the years have used Six Sigma-related approaches to improvement, whether they called them Six Sigma, continuous improvement, TQM, or something else. The common denominators of these approaches has been an action-reflection process, the use of analytic statistics, and an appreciation for the inherent desire and ability of everyone to make things better.

We have helped schools improve attendance and retention. Goodwill agencies have analyzed and reduced the waste going to landfills. Hospitals have reduced the time and errors associated with medication delivery and accounts receivable. They have decreased wait time in their emergency rooms. We have guided the use of Six Sigma techniques in the reduction of staff absenteeism in patient rehabilitation centers and in educational institutions.

Local, county, state, and federal government agencies have improved equipment availability for community maintenance, snow removal, and defense. They have made police more available to be on the streets and in neighborhoods. They have improved the quality of 911 emergency responses as they have improved the placement of at-risk juveniles in new environments that can be nurturing and helpful rather than destructive. They even saved enough public building toilet paper to pay for Six Sigma Simplified training, in less than a year!

Institutions of higher education have improved student retention and recruitment. They have streamlined the financial assistance systems. They have reduced the cost of janitorial supplies. They have improved academic counseling processes and even revised their systems for answering the phone, scheduling classrooms, and providing parking. Other social service agencies have improved client intake processes and report writing. These changes made more high quality service available to clients.

So, if any organization or community has waste or any opportunity to better serve a stakeholder that can be responsibly quantified, a Six Sigma approach is likely to be helpful. There are many non-business organizations and communities out there doing good work that could use Six Sigma approaches to help improve performance and reduce waste. Call your favorite and give them a hand!

As always, please send me your reactions, comments, and questions. And have a most joyous new year! Iím at support@pqsystems.com

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