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Can a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Help a Distributor?

Six Sigma can be an important part of distributors' ability to survive and thrive.
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Think back five or more years ago and Six Sigma Black Belts were all the rage. Everyone wanted one, and management was willing to take some of its best people offline so they could study and get their certifications. Today, it seems like the luster has started to fade.

Was this just a flash in the pan? Was it another management fad that lasted a very brief time? Well, yes and no. For those who do not understand Six Sigma, it may seem like a passing fad. For those who understand, it continues to be an important part of their ability to survive and thrive.

So what do Black Belts do that can help distributors? I am glad you asked. Please meet Kristin Parshay. She is a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and is accomplished in process improvement (one of my favorite topics). She has been consulting with public and private companies of all sizes, focusing on distribution, healthcare and retail.

I asked her to give me a few short paragraphs that would explain to the average business owner what is really going on and how companies are making use of the Six Sigma principles. Here is what she sent me:


Lean Six Sigma has been proven to reduce cost, increase customer satisfaction, and develop motivated and effective employees in companies of all sizes and industries. Lean Six Sigma is also called BPM, or Business Process Management. This is all about making sure that everything you do adds value and that it is done effectively.

At its simplest, these concepts become the guiding principles for how your organization operates on a day-to-day basis. Done right, your efforts will never be looked on as over-complicated, impractical or ineffective fads.

The businesses that get the most out of their efforts remember at the core that Lean Six Sigma is:

Customer-focused: Every process a business performs has a customer, whether internal (Accounting/Finance, IT, etc.) or external (the basic definition of a customer). Simply speaking, your employees need to understand they have a responsibility to understand who their customers are and what they require. Then a significant shift begins to occur in how everyone in your company treats each other and how they approach their day-to-day activities.

Data-driven: When we understand who our customers are and what they require, we can then translate those requirements into metrics. This gives us the ability to know how we are performing. With the technology available to us today, your staff can manage themselves by watching their metrics and understanding how their actions affect the numbers.

Value-creating: Once we are able to measure how we are performing against our customers’ requirements, we now have a basis to know how we are doing. Our goals become a laser focus on doing it right the first time. Wasteful activities can be identified and eliminated throughout your organization.

Focused on perfection: The statistical definition of Six Sigma (an accuracy rate of 99.9997 percent) is a lofty goal. Six Sigma is a culture of striving for perfection in all that we do. Continuous improvement is at the core of being able to survive and thrive in business today.


I like Kristin’s attitude. It is focused on adding value in a way your staff can understand. By the way, most Americans get the wakeup call when they realized that in the past we strove for 99 percent accuracy. That means 10,000 errors per million transactions. It means the following: Loss of power for seven hours each month; 24 problem landings or takeoffs at O’Hare airport each day; more than 30 million incorrect drug prescriptions annually; unsafe drinking water for 15 minutes each day.

Six Sigma strives for 3 errors per million transactions. It really does make a big difference. You can – and should – do much better than 99 percent accuracy. A Black Belt can help you learn to use the tools to make it a reality.

Get more information on distribution and manufacturing software options from the Brown Smith Wallace Consulting Group’s Software Guides, available here.

Steve Epner is principal in the Brown Smith Wallace Consulting firm based in St. Louis. He has been advising distributors for over 30 years. Epner also teaches Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Graduate School of Business at Saint Louis University.

Epner is the author of Simplify Everything: Get Your Team from Do-Do to Done-Done with One Surefire Process, available from MDM.

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