Striving for Six Sigma

The most exciting aspect of total quality management is that bettering your business is an ongoing journey, never a destination.

March 31, 2002

GE's Six Sigma Glossary
  • CTQ, Critical to Quality or Critical “Y”: element of a process or practice with a direct impact on its quality.
  • Defect: Failing to deliver what the customer wants.
  • DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control. This is the process used to foster continuous improvement.
  • Pareto Diagram: A descending bar graph that shows the problems or efforts that will have the greatest return on investment if addressed or exerted.
  • Process Mapping: An illustrated description of how things are accomplished, allowing employees to visualize the process and identify strengths and weaknesses.
  • Six Sigma: A data-driven quality approach that strives for zero defects. Statistically speaking, Six Sigma allows 3.4 defects per million product or service transactions. That translates to 99.99966% accuracy — as close to perfection as possible.
  • General Electric’s Six Sigma Revolution: How General Electric and Others Turned Process Into Profits (John Wiley & Sons), by George Eckes
  • International Society of Six Sigma Professionals,, phone: 480/368-7083, e-mail:
  • American Society for Quality, or, phone: 800/248-1946, e-mail:
  • 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 ( 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."

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