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Striving for Six Sigma
The most exciting aspect of total quality management is that bettering your business is an ongoing journey, never a destination.
The most exciting aspect of total quality management is that bettering your business is an ongoing journey, never a destination. Even winning a National Housing Quality Award (formerly the National Remodeling Quality Awards) is only a milestone, not an end goal.
That’s why Deck America Inc., an NRQA Gold Award winner in 1999-2000, rang in 2002 by launching a Six Sigma program with the help of its representative at GE Capital Fleet Services.
Six Sigma is a quality management philosophy and methodology that has taken corporate America by storm. Adopted by General Electric in 1995, Six Sigma (www.ge.com/sixsigma) employs measurement-based analysis to achieve statistical perfection: just 3.4 mistakes per million transactions, products, phone calls, etc.
Promotion at GE requires in-depth quality training, which starts by becoming a Six Sigma green belt (and then a black belt, master black belt and champion). The process includes helping a customer implement a Six Sigma program.
GE approached Deck America president Dan Betts, who was thrilled. “They chose me. I was like, “Send me to Crotonville [N.Y., the site of GE’s campus]. I’ll be your guinea pig,’” he says with a laugh. “These guys know how to do it. It’s top-shelf stuff.”
Betts began by deciding what element of his business could best benefit from Six Sigma. As a single-line remodeling company, Deck America might naturally have turned to production, the area most similar to manufacturing. Instead, he chose marketing, specifically training programs for marketing employees.
Of Deck America’s 300 full- and part-time employees, about 80 make up the marketing team. This includes three type of positions: “brochure droppers,” who travel in vans each day to targeted neighborhoods and work from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; the “eagle force,” which visits these neighborhoods in the afternoons and evenings to knock on doors; and “callers,” who make what Betts refers to as “warm” calls, not “boiler-room” calls.
Deck America already has training materials for each of its departments, plus four different training rooms and an employee center. But Betts wanted something more, something that would create “a lead-generation machine you can turn on and off like a faucet.”
With GE’s help — which includes a workbook and an accompanying CD-ROM as well as in-person visits — Betts has taken the first step in the Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control process. First he had to define what area to target for improvement and to set objectives — what Six Sigma calls the “Big Y.” With the help of an administrator on his staff, he has developed a team charter to define the case for improvement to the marketing team.
In mid-March, Betts was looking forward avidly to the second segment of his Six Sigma journey.
“These types of programs really bring all the employees into it,” he says. “I’m such a believer in the concept of bringing it down to the line."