The primary aim of this article is to critically analyse the development of Six Sigma theory and practice within small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) using a multiple case study approach. The article also explores the subsequent development of Lean Six Sigma as a means of addressing the perceived limitations of the efficacy of Six Sigma in this context. The overarching theoretical framework is that of absorptive capacity, where Six Sigma is conceptualized as new knowledge to be absorbed by smaller firms. The findings from a multiple case study involving repeat interviews and focus groups informed the development of an analytical model demonstrating the dynamic underlying routines for the absorptive capacity process and the development of a number of summative propositions relating the characteristics of SMEs to Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma implementation.
Reference text: Achanga P, Shehab E, Roy R, Nelder G(2006) Critical success factors for lean implementation within SMEs. Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management, 17(4): 460–471.CrossRefAntony J(2008) Can Six Sigma be effectively implemented in SMEs? International Journal of Productivity and Performance Measurement 57(5): 420–423.CrossRefAntony J, Kumar M, Madu C(2005) Six-sigma in small and medium-sized UK manufacturing enterprises. International Journal of Quality and Reliability Management 22(8): 860–874.CrossRefBasu R, Wrigt J(2003) Beyond Six Sigma. London: Butterworth-Heinemann.Search Google Scholar Bendell T, Boulter L(2004) ISO 9000:2000: A survey of attitudes of certified firms. International Small Business Journal 22(3): 295–316.AbstractBenner M, Tushman M(2002) Process management and technological innovation: A longitudinal study of the photography and paint industries. Administrative Science Quarterly 47(2): 676–709.Abstract/FREE Full TextBennett R, Smith C(2004) The selection and control of management consultants by small business clients. International Small Business Journal 22(5): 435–453.AbstractBlack K, Revere L(2006) Six Sigma arises from the ashes of TQM with a twist. International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance 19(3): 259–266.CrossRefBox T(2006) Six Sigma quality: experiential learning. S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal 71(1) 20–23.Search Google Scholar Breyfogle J(2003) Implementing Six Sigma. New York: Wiley.Search Google Scholar Buch K, Tolentino A(2006) Employee perceptions of the rewards associated with Six Sigma. Journal of Organisational Change Management 19(3): 356–364.CrossRefWeb of ScienceChen J, Li Y, Shady Y(2010) From value stream mapping towards a lean/sigma continuous improvement process. International Journal of Production Research 48(4): 1069–1086.CrossRefWeb of ScienceChoo A, Linderman K, Schroeder R(2007) Method and context perspectives on learning and knowledge creation in quality management. Journal of Operations Management 25(4): 918–931.CrossRefWeb of ScienceChurchill N, Lewis V(1983) The five stages of small business growth. Harvard Business Review 3(3): 30–50.Search Google Scholar Cohen W, Levinthal D(1990) Absorptive capacity: A new perspective on learning and innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly 35(1): 128–152.CrossRefWeb of ScienceCope J(2005) Researching entrepreneurship through phenomenological inquiry. International Small Business Journal 23(2): 163–189.AbstractDaghfous A(2004) Absorptive capacity and the implementation of knowledge-intensive best practices. S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal 69(2): 21–27.Search Google Scholar Easterby-Smith M, Graca M, Antonacopoulou E, Ferdinand J(2008) Absorptive capacity: A process perspective. Management Learning 39(5): 483–501.Abstract/FREE Full TextEuropean Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) (2010) The Business Excellence Model: European Foundation for Quality Management. Brussels: EFQM Publications.Galende J(2006) Analysis of technological innovation from business economics and management. Technovation 26(8): 300–311.CrossRefWeb of ScienceGowen III, Stock G, McFadden K(2008) Simultaneous implementation of Six sigma and knowledge management in hospitals. International Journal of Production Research 46(23): 6791–6796.Search Google Scholar Jeffrey A(2005) Integrating organisation development and Six Sigma: Six Sigma as a process improvement intervention in Action Research. Organisational Development Journal 23(4): 20–45.Search Google Scholar Jones O(2006) Developing absorptive capacity in mature organisations: The change agent’s role. Management Learning 37(3): 1350–5076.Search Google Scholar Kumar M, Antony J(2008) Comparing the quality management practices in UK SMEs. Industrial Management and Data Systems 108(9): 1153–1166.CrossRefWeb of ScienceKumar M, Antony J(2009) Multiple case study analysis of quality management practices within UK Six Sigma and non-Six Sigma manufacturing SMEs. Journal of Engineering Manufacture 223(7): 925–934.CrossRefWeb of ScienceLinderman K, Schroeder R, Zaheer S, Choo A(2003) Six Sigma: A goal theoretic perspective. Journal of Operations Management 21(2): 193–203.CrossRefWeb of ScienceLinderman K, Schroeder R, Choo A(2006) Six Sigma: The role of goals in improvement teams. Journal of Operations Management 24(6): 779–790.CrossRefWeb of ScienceLlorens-Montes F, Molina L(2006) Six Sigma and management theory: Processes, content and effectiveness. Total Quality Management and Business Excellence 17(4): 485–506.CrossRefWeb of ScienceMcAdam R, Hazlett S(2010) An absorptive capacity interpretation of Six Sigma. Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management 21(5): 624–645.CrossRefMartinez-Costa M, Jimenez-Jimenez D(2009) The effectiveness of TQM: The key role of organisational learning in small business. International Small Business Journal 27(1): 98–125.Abstract/FREE Full TextMiles B, Huberman A(1994) Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Search Google Scholar Moore B, Brown A(2006) The application of TQM: organic or mechanistic? International Journal of Quality and Reliability Management 23(7): 721–742.CrossRefNonthaleerak P, Hendry L(2008) Exploring the Six Sigma phenomenon using multiple case study evidence. International Journal of Operations and Production Management 28(3): 279–303.CrossRefWeb of SciencePerren L, Ram(2004) Case-study method in small business and entrepreneurial research: Mapping boundaries and perspectives. International Small Business Journal 22(1): 83–100.AbstractRadnor Z, Boaden R(2004) Developing an understanding of corporate anorexia. International Journal of Operations and Production Management 24(4): 424–440.CrossRefWeb of ScienceSchroeder R, Linderman K, Liedtke C, Choo A(2008) Six Sigma: Definition and underlying theory. Journal of Operations Management 26(4): 536–554.CrossRefWeb of ScienceSpencer B(1994) Models of organisation and total quality management: A comparison and critical evaluation. Academy of Management Review 19(3): 446–471.Abstract/FREE Full TextThomas A, Barton R, Chuke-Okafor C(2009) Applying Lean Six Sigma in a small engineering company: A model for change. Journal of Manufacturing Technology Management 20(1): 113–129.CrossRefWeb of ScienceTodorova G, Durisin B(2007) Absorptive capacity: Valuing a reconceptualization. Academy of Management Review 32(3): 774–786.Abstract/FREE Full Textvan der Wiele T, Brown A(1998) Venturing down the TQM path for SMEs. International Small Business Journal 16(2): 50–69.Abstract/FREE Full TextWelsh J, White J(1981) A small business is not a little big business., Harvard Business Review 59(4): 18–32.Search Google Scholar Wessel G, Burcher P(2004) Six Sigma for small and medium-sized enterprises. The TQM Magazine 16(4): 264–272.CrossRefWiklund H, Wiklund P(2002) Widening the Six Sigma concept: An approach to improve organisational learning. Total Quality Management 13(2): 233–252.CrossRefWeb of ScienceYin RK(2009) Case Study Research: Design and Methods. London: Sage.Search Google Scholar Yu J, Zaheer S(2010) Building a process model of local adaption of practices: A study of Six Sigma implementation in Korean and US firms. Journal of International Business Studies 41(3): 475–500.CrossRefWeb of ScienceZahra S, George G(2002) Absorptive capacity: A review, reconceptualisation, and extension. Academy of Management Review 27(2): 185–203.Abstract/FREE Full Text