Competitive evolution of the Six Sigma method

The roots of Six Sigma can be traced back to the early industrial era, during the eighteenth century in Europe, when Carl Friedrich Gauss introduced the concept of the normal curve (often used in the natural and social sciences to represent real-valued random variables whose distributions are not know). Ford’s moving automobile assembly line in 1913, presented the need for predetermined part consistency became more acute. It was critical that only good parts be available for use so the production assembly line would not be forced to slow down or stop while a worker sorted through piles of parts to find one that fit. The measurement standard in product variation, started in 1920’s when Walter Shewhart (American physicist, engineer and statistician, sometimes known as the father of statistical quality control) showed that three sigma difference, is the point where a process requires correction.

Later in 1980, Motorola’s engineers decided that the traditional quality levels didn’t provide enough granularity. They developed this new standard and created the methodology and needed cultural change associated with it. Six Sigma helped Motorola realize powerful bottom-line results in their organization. Six Sigma has evolved over time and it is more than just a quality system like TQM or ISO. It’s a way of doing business. The quality in Motorola began to rise when the company was looking to revamp 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 gauge not just process capability, but to product specifications as well. The idea was to hitch product design to process quality, and ensure a product only went into design when the specifications were up to the standards expected of by process control.

Before you continue reading, David Kiger reminds you that in this blog you can find more valuable information regarding Six Sigma. For example, you can go to Are Kaizen and Six Sigma good together? Blog post and learn about those two methods working together.

In 1993, they realized that high level executives only focused on clear and quantifiable gains and recognized that it should not be quality first, but business first which will lead to the realization of quality. In addition, they understood the importance of tactics. To exploit the full power of Six Sigma by focusing on bottom-line results, Six Sigma was refined with deployment tactics which included: Champion, Master Black Belt, Black Belt, and Green Belt.

Harry Mikel, an ex-Motorola employee, teamed up with colleague Richard Schroeder to found the Six Sigma Academy in the early 1990s. Like his quality management forbears, Mikel’s aim was to teach and train employees in Six Sigma tools such as Lean Six Sigma, and to guide businesses in successfully implementing Six Sigma principles in the organization.  

Related: Lean Six Sigma Academy is labelled as Universal Certification Organization and Scheme Owner for lean Six Sigma. They have been running certification in association with the University of Twente (the Netherlands), with the ECQA (Europe), and with APMG International and iSQI to be marketed worldwide.

Six Sigma Statistics_evolution of six sigma method_David kiger
Image courtesy of wild.sproket at

Harry and Schroeder moved to Allied Signal and its CEO, Larry Bossidy, decided to adopt the method, by adequately selecting the right Six Sigma projects and promptly providing the right support for them, Bossidy suggested that high level executives should also understand Six Sigma tools. To respond to that, Harry developed a methodology for a leadership team to select high financial leverage projects. At Allied Signal, an entire system of leadership and support systems began to form around the statistical problem solving tools of Six Sigma.

Not long after General Electric, influenced by Bossidy, began to get interested in Six Sigma. In fact, before Six Sigma, according to Welch, neither he nor Bossidy quality enthusiasts. GE conducted a cost-benefit analysis on Six Sigma implementation. The analysis showed that if GE, then running at three to four sigma quality level, were to raise its quality to six Sigma, the cost saving opportunity was somewhere between 10 to 15 percent of sales. Then, in January 1996, teaming with Six Sigma Academy, Welch announced the launch of Six Sigma at GE. At that time, he called Six Sigma the most ambitious undertaking the company had ever taken on. From that moment, Jack Welch became the global promoter of Six Sigma.

Before 1987, Six Sigma was solely a statistical term. Since then, it has spread to other companies who are continually striving for excellence. While it is progressing, it has expanded and evolved from a problem-solving technique to a quality strategy and ultimately into a sophisticated quality philosophy. Now is the fastest growing business management system in industry.

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