Ellie Kemp admits she is a sports addict, so it's not surprising she says the same elements needed for successful sports teams -- talent, good coaching, a firm grasp of the fundamentals -- are also the keys to success with Six Sigma. Conversely, says the Master Black Belt at machine tool manufacturer MAG Giddings & Lewis, headquartered in Fond du Lac, Wis., companies that fail with Six Sigma likely do so because they pick the wrong people for Black Belts, don't follow the define, measure, analyze, improve, control (DMAIC) process and don't have the necessary executive leadership and commitment.
That hasn't been the case at MAG G&L. Since 2002, the company has documented $9 million in savings from its Six Sigma projects, which Kemp calls "just the tip of the iceberg" since savings from projects are only tracked for one year.
Kemp notes that her company operates in an environment where "you have to offer something to your customer that is different and better. Otherwise, they'll go somewhere else." When the company took Caterpillar's offer to train employees on Six Sigma in 2002, the lead times on MAG G&L's products -- large machine tools such as horizontal boring mills, vertical turning centers and horizontal milling machines -- could be 12 to 18 months. Four employees, including Kemp, were selected for black belt training to kick off the program. Through a series of Six Sigma and lean projects, the company worked to develop modular designs that would allow it to build products more quickly while permitting the customization that buyers sought. The company has also worked to reduce the number of parts required to build its products, standardize on certain parts and improve material presentation and flow. As a result, lead times on boring mills, for example, have been cut to five months.
Ellie Kemp says Six Sigma has saved her company $9 million.
Kemp believes Six Sigma projects may be the single most important way a company can improve its competitive position. She explains that having employees work full time on continuous improvement focuses the business on implementing change. "A person would be crazy not to want to do this," she contends. "How many times in your career can you say you were put on the one of the most important projects in your business?"