Six Sigma: the very term reminds notions of clinical, stringent quality standards. Much hyped and in-demand, Six Sigma techniques have brought about in savings across business process and product lifecycles for companies across the world.
Read on, as we trace out a brief history of Six Sigma, dig into its humble beginnings, and chart out its evolution.
Brief Overview of Six Sigma
The set of principles that include Six Sigma has its roots in the mission for quality in mass production, beginning in the late 18th century, though the arena of statistics itself upon which many of Sigma’s tools are based has been around for much extended.
The central leader of statistical theory, as applied in Six Sigma, is German mathematician Friedrich Gauss’ Normal Distribution curve (also called a ‘Bell Curve’). The outliers on the normal distribution lie multiples of one standard deviation, signified by the Greek alphabet ‘σ’ (‘sigma’), away from the mean. In the setting of statistical quality control, processes and products are stately and assessed to regulate variation from acceptable standards, and the extent of the distribution signifies variability.
Ford, Shewhart, and American progress
With the summary of the assembly line and Ford’s adaptation of it to the automobile industry, profitable mass manufacturing became a certainty. This meant that the need for measurement of parts against pre-determined standards became more acute. A large number of parts involved had rendered manual measurement against go and no-go gauges, as was the prevalent practice, unfeasible. The obligation thus shifted to the size of the consistency of the process in place to produce substitutable parts, so that the end products were within satisfactory lenience limits for quality.
An associated development was the general adoption of rudimentary statistical techniques such as sampling. Deployment of statistical tools in the management of quality had become ordinary. It was in this productive climate for statistics that Dr. Walter Shewhart, statistician, and engineer, was transported in to recover the quality of manufacturing processes at the Western Electric Company, in 1924. One of Shewhart’s first and eventually most important contributions was the Process Control chart, which was to become a staple of quality management in the periods to come.
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The Motorola Story
In keeping with the spirit of the times and to encourage enterprise, the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award was instituted in the United States, won by the Motorola Corporation first time out, in 1988. Motorola’s assignation with quality began when the company was looking to face-lift its pocket pager business, in the early 1980s. Under the leadership of Bob Galvin and Bill Smith, former executives who had first mooted the idea of continuous quality improvement, Motorola instituted a policy of applying statistical quality control to measure not just process competence, but to product specifications as well. The idea was to drawback product design to process quality and safeguard a product only went into design when the specifications were up to the standards predictable by process control.
To ease this new paradigm, Motorola extended upon the older notion of three sigma by three additional standard deviations from the mean to comprise product specifications as well, thus birthing the term ‘Six Sigma’. Statistically speaking, an extent of six standard deviations six sigmas about the mean would include 99.99% of all output, resulting in a minuscule 0.02 faults per million opportunities effectively zero.
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Motorola’s also began to use statistical methods of control widely. Data tools such as Cp (process possible index) and CpK (process capability index) began, for the first time in the history of quality management, to order and inform policy at the highest levels. Setting exact quality targets, such as 3.4 DPMO (Defects per Million Opportunities), now shadowed by organizations worldwide, was a preparation first perfected by Motorola.
Their huge success encouraged IBM to adopt Six Sigma practices, which better upon the Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (MAIC) cycle and extra the Define dimension (DMAIC). In 1989, Motorola made Six Sigma its flagship method to quality, and Xerox, GE, and Kodak followed suit.
Harry Mikel and the Six Sigma Academy
Harry Mikel, an ex-Motorola employee, teamed up with coworker Richard Schroeder to found the Six Sigma Academy in the early 1990s. Like his quality management refrains, Mikel’s aim was to teach and train employees in Six Sigma tools such as Lean Six Sigma and to leade businesses in successfully applying Six Sigma principles in the business.
Mikel’s first client was AlliedSignal’s Lawrence Bossidy, who functional Six Sigma to turn his ailing business around. Bossidy later also introduced a close friend and CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch, to the procedure, who applied it comprehensively at General Electric and attained much-documented success as a result. The Academy’s other distinguished clients included DuPont and Merrill Lynch.
While at Unisys, in 1987, Harry Mikel borrowed motivation from Eastern martial arts to apply the belt idiom to Six Sigma practitioners, category professionals Green, Yellow, Black and Master Black Belt