By Charles M. Monroe & Chuck Cox

When WC&P suggested we describe Six Sigma and discuss its application to trade shows, we did our homework by jumping on a plane and visiting the Computer Dealers Exposition (Comdex) in Las Vegas.

We found the usual number of booths that—presumably unintentionally—chose to keep their product or service a mystery to the attendee. We also talked to booth staff who never asked us any qualifying questions. Why do the attendees and exhibitors invest all of those resources if they haven’t defined the organization’s strategy and needs based on desired outcomes—and created a process to reach that outcome? And what does it mean to be effective at a trade show? Brand reinforcement, new product introductions and awareness, a 10 percent increase in the list of economic buyers? If you don’t have a target, it’s going to be hard to hit it. Finally, what methodology would help participants be more effective at trade shows?

Introducing Six Sigma
Six Sigma is defined as a business methodology for process improvement (and, therefore, profit improvement) within the framework of an organization’s strategic goals. Six Sigma is customer driven and, as such, it raises some issues—Who are the customers of the process and what are the outcome goals or targets for the process? It also addresses the amount of variability around the targets that are defined. Six Sigma literally refers to reducing the number of defects or errors in a process to six standard deviations or 3.4 occurrences per million events around the target. In other words, Six Sigma defines the targets and then reduces the variability in the outcome of the process.

In a greater sense, Six Sigma refers to the business methodology to achieve those results. The main components of the Six Sigma methodology for improving any process are define, measure, analyze, improve and control (commonly referred to as DMAIC).

  • Define—refers to defining the current process, its set of customers, and what expectations each customer set has for the outputs from the process. Often, there’s some information on how the process is failing to meet expectations; that is, the motivation for improving the process and the basis for the initial problem statement.
  • Measure—focuses the improvement effort by gathering information on the current process and benchmarking similar operations elsewhere. Measure produces baseline data on the current process, identifies problem areas and leads to a more focused problem statement.
  • Analyze—identifies root cause(s) of process non-performance or poor performance and confirms them with data. Understand the problems with the process, identify the larger effects, and link these effects to the outcomes of the process.
  • Improve—identifies and implements those changes identified by the analysis as having a positive impact on the outcome of the process by eliminating or mitigating root causes.
  • Control—refers to putting systems in place to maintain the new, improved level of process performance with a monitoring system and periodic audits.

Defining SIPOC
Since Six Sigma improves processes, let’s define a process to be a method, procedure or practice that has one or more suppliers and inputs, the core process or method, and one or more outputs (or products) and customers taken together. These five elements of any process are referred to as SIPOC.

Processes can feed other ones that are downstream and, in turn, are fed by upstream processes.

Processes may also be refined into sub-processes. An example of this is decomposing the sales process and dividing it into three processes—find, win and keep. Each of these may also be broken down into mini-processes.

DMAIC & trade shows
To apply DMAIC to trade shows, first define the goals of attending the trade show. For example, a dealer may wish to find new lines to represent. On the other hand, a manufacturer may want to obtain a certain number of leads for recruiting new resellers, and sign those that qualify, or may be seeking information on competitive products or services.

Next, measure results of previous attempts. For example, in prior years at the annual trade show, the dealer may have identified three new potential lines and actually signed to represent one of them. The manufacturer may have obtained 30 new reseller leads, qualified 15 of those, signed seven of the qualified leads, and seen revenue from three of the signed resellers. He/she may have obtained key information on three competitive products, one of which design engineering was able to address immediately. Design engineering is the department or group that provides the re-design to enhance the product and ensure it’s able to compete. The remaining two design enhancements can then be slated for introduction in the next generation of products.

Now analyze the underlying reasons for successes or failures. The dealer may not have found the desired lines because he/she didn’t plan ahead on which manufacturers’ booths to visit, or which of several manufacturers had the greatest likelihood of meeting the dealers’ criterion. Perhaps they didn’t exercise good judgment or self control by spending time only with those elements identified in their trade show “booth visiting” plan, and ran out of time before achieving their goals.

The manufacturer may not have identified enough qualified dealers because the qualification criterion was faulty, the booth staff didn’t keep complete notes on those met in the booth, and there were too few visitors coming through the booth to achieve the reseller qualification and recruitment goals.

Meeting your goals
Next, implement changes necessary to correct the process and achieve the desired results. The dealer could use an action item reminder to assure that the annual trade show attendees planned in advance which manufacturers’ booths they were going to visit on each day at what time. Therefore, they would know if they were falling behind on their goals and react accordingly.

The manufacturer could identify prospects and mail booth invitations in advance of the show; train the booth staff on the qualification criterion; require the staff to use a qualification check sheet when making notes on booth visitors, and hold daily debriefings of the booth staff to determine progress vs. prospect identification goals.

To assure that the improvements stay in the process, there should be a continuous control function implemented that monitors the changes and results of the process. For the dealer and manufacturer examples, the controls would be reports to management on the plans and goals for the trade show and the results achieved vs. defined goals and targets.

We have used trade show participation as an example application for Six Sigma’s DMAIC. In industry and commerce, Six Sigma is continually being applied to manufacturing, service and administrative processes to improve profits and customer service satisfaction. An average Six Sigma project yields a savings of $267,500. A Six Sigma practitioner, known as a “black belt,” will have four process improvement projects per year on average. That’s over $1 million of financial improvements per black belt per year. Add to that the improved customer service and Six Sigma is clearly a methodology that pays for itself.

About the authors
Charles Monroe is president of the Pegasus Organization, a management consulting firm based in Scottsdale, AZ. The company focuses on sales and marketing management, product development, strategic planning and process improvement in an effort to increase organizational performance, customer satisfaction and profits. Monroe can be reached at email: http://monroe@

Chuck Cox is a certified management consultant, certified Six Sigma Black Belt and Master Black Belt. He is a program manager for George Group, a consulting firm in Dallas that specializes in applying Lean and Six Sigma to manufacturing and transactional firms worldwide. He can be reached at email: [email protected].


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