Mastering Six Sigma is a challenging undertaking. Fortunately, there are a number of books exploring the topic, and it's been added to the curriculum at some colleges. Small businesses that have been asked by important clients to provide Six Sigma quality may be able to get training in the techniques from those same clients, suggests Dolan. His own large customer is arranging for a crash-course seminar he can attend at his own expense, he says.
You can also get grounded in the subject by attending a one-day class put on by Advanced Systems Consultants that costs about $490, according to Perez-Wilson. More detailed training for a team of 20 employees may cost from $12,000 to $15,000. But payback can come in as little as six months, Perez-Wilson contends.
With its standard of near-absolute perfection, Six Sigma may sound more like a celestial vision than an earthly goal. That's not necessarily a negative thing if Six Sigma helps companies jerk themselves out of complacency, says Morehouse. "The beauty of Six Sigma," he says, "is to move us away from the toleration of failure to the idea that we're going to be as perfect as we can be."
At Dolan Industries, where the future is increasingly tied in to those of the large automotive firms, power-tool makers and telecommunications companies that are its customers, Six Sigma holds a much earthier promise: The company can either pursue Six Sigma or find other customers. "If you want to grow and be a player with the Fortune 500 companies," Dolan says, "you have to accept the Six Sigma mentality."