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Six Sigma - The Historical Perspective

Aug 17, 2007
The quest for perfection is second only to human survival instincts. These are the two reasons that were solely responsible for civilizations to flourish. That we are wearing clothes today as a symbol of the quest for perfection and innovation should reinforce this statement.

Was There A Conscious Effort To Develop Six Sigma Into A Competitor To Existing Systems?

This is a na´ve and unfounded question, as Six Sigma was developed as independently as any other school of quality management systems. If we value the famous quote of M.K. Gandhi that the end result justifies the means, then it clarifies the need to have more than one quality system.

Evolution Of Six Sigma

Six Sigma has its roots in the early industrial era of Europe during the 18th century and was introduced with just one conceptual normal curve metric by Carl Frederick Gauss. In the 1920s Walter Shewhart showed how 3 sigma deviations from the mean required process correction. Later, a Motorola engineer, Bill Smith, coined the term Six Sigma, which was then copyrighted by Motorola.

The Japanese Mark

The ever quality-conscious Japanese perfected the Six Sigma concept when they took over a Motorola factory in 1970, which manufactured TV sets. The new Japanese management set out on a mission to change the way activities were going on in the factory, placing high emphasis on all activities leading to production. With their zealous approach they later begin producing TV sets with just a 5% number of defects in comparison to the original records under Motorola.

Motorola's Contribution

Mikel Harry, who is regarded as the godfather of Six Sigma, along with Bill Smith, the father of Six Sigma, wrote and codified a research report on the quality management system, which highlighted the correlation between the performance of a product in the market with the amount of adjustment required at the point of manufacturing. This report clearly established that the lesser the number of nonconformities at each stage of manufacturing, the better the performance. The report paved for implementation of "logical filters", a key approach to problem solving. With the then Motorola CEO, Bob Galvin, playing a key role, later this four stage logical filter came to be known as the skeleton of the present Six Sigma. The four stages, then identified, were Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control (MAIC).

A New Road Map

With the results of the efforts of Mikel Harry and Bill Smith paying rich dividends, Motorola's Corporate Policy Committee had set goals for further improvisation of the system by declaring (in 1989) that they would achieve ten times better quality in service and products, with further improvement to 1/10th by 1991.

Galvin was instrumental in spreading the sense of quality in every sphere of business activity until total customer satisfaction was achieved. Until now, Motorola's approach was limited to a disciplined statistical approach to problem solving. This approach still got Motorola the coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Major Contributors On Its Journey To Perfection

We can't forget the contributions made by Unisys Corp in 1988. Asea Brown Boveri in 1993 developed Six Sigma into its current form, which places importance on bottom lines and customer satisfaction. The current form of Six Sigma has implementation being carried out by key role players: Champions, Master Black Belts, Black Belts, and Green Belts.

Since then, the Six Sigma methodology has been and is applicable to different industries. The evolution of Six Sigma continues.
About the Author
Tony Jacowski is a quality analyst for The MBA Journal. Aveta Solution's Six Sigma Online offers online six sigma training and certification classes for lean six sigma, black belts, green belts, and yellow belts.
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