By Wendy Leibowitz. "Six Sigma is kind of like getting a diagnosis at the doctor's office," explains Joyce Mason, Pardee's vice president of marketing. "You see where your areas of weakness are and how you can get healthier. I don't think we're a sick company, but we can always work on wellness."

Detailed process mapping revealed that architectural changes were communicated well throughout the company but sometimes not to the customer. "For example, a room option might come standard as a bedroom but might also come as a master bedroom retreat," explains Mason. "If that latter option is chosen, an architect needs to draw it, and the price change needs to be communicated to all." The company was not consistent in how it communicated the changes, notes Mason, and some issues were not communicated to the customer before the change was made. Six Sigma's process mapping helped the Pardee team perceive how and where each department touches the flow of work.

It's important that the analysis be done together, she emphasizes. "You find that some people working in one area affect another. Say we're getting ready to change one area, and architecture goes and makes that change. Options is working on the plans as they have them, but they haven't been told that a change is pending." If the variations in the process can be reduced, everyone's job becomes a little easier. "You're getting right down to the nuts and bolts level," says Mason.

The most complicated Six Sigma project that Mason is overseeing involves improving the model home process. While the project is still in its infancy, Mason says the possibilities for improvement are already apparent, causing people to think more creatively.

"We may discover that we need to start earlier so we don't have to make changes in how we merchandise the home," she says. "If we need to change a space, can we target our buyer a bit better? We can identify all the glitches in the process. If we're continuing to experience difficulties around landscape improvement, for example, how do we address those?"

The best thing about Six Sigma, says Mason, is the involvement of many people in every aspect of the problem identification and (eventually, one hopes) the solutions. "Everyone gets together in the same room and you identify the problems the same way," she says.

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