A short history about Six Sigma you need to know

As it has been said before in this blog, Six Sigma is the process improvement methodology proposed by Motorola’s engineer Bill Smith in the 1980’s. This methodology aims to reduce variability during the manufacturing processes. This way, mistakes, and defects will be reduced as well and could even disappear.

Six Sigma secret is to measure defect every thousand units or opportunities, trying to reduce the number of defects to 3,4 units every one million opportunities. It is considered as a defect any event that does not meet the standards required by the final consumer. Thanks to this, the six sigma methodology has actually become a great deal during the past decades.

However, it has not always been the same. As in many other circumstances, there is history around Six Sigma that is worth being told. In this article, we will share a brief history of Six Sigma with all the important details you need to know about it.

First Approach to Six Sigma

Six Sigma was first proposed during the 19th century by Carl Friedrich Gauss, a mathematician who introduced the concept of the normal distribution curve (commonly known as the bell curve). This concept talks about probability, and it became the first statistical tool to measure errors.

However, it wasn’t until the 1920’s when Walter Shewhart, an American statistician, and engineer proposed the three sigma theory, where results can be measured and mistakes traced to the point where they were made in order to make corrections. Thanks to this input, many methodologies and concepts were introduced to help detect and correct mistakes, such as CPK and Zero Defects.

It was only during the 1980’s that the engineer Bill Smith proposed the well-defined concept of Six Sigma to try to reduce errors. By the time he was working at Motorola and thanks to this the concept of Six Sigma was officially registered as a trademark for the company in the end.

Six Sigma

During the early 1980’s the engineers working for Motorola (under Bob Galvin’s lead), were highly interested in improving the quality levels of the products that were being sold in the market. This way, they decided to start measuring defects for every thousand events or opportunities. They noticed that the company wasn’t being as productive as it should be.

Given this situation and the general unconformity, Motorola decided to create and set a new methodology that could allow the company to improve its quality standards. This methodology aimed to change the company’s culture in order for it to have an actual impact on the way it was operating. This methodology was the Six Sigma methodology.

After putting in practice Six Sigma, results were palpable along the entire company. Motorola was able to document more than $15 Billion in savings after the methodology was operating. Also, the way the company’s culture work was also changed and somehow everyone who was involved in every process would work really hard to make things better and reduce errors.

What happened next

After Motorola’s success with Six Sigma, many companies around the globe decided that is was also time for them to do something about the way they were operating and Six Sigma became a big deal. Many organizations adopted Six Sigma as their preferred way of doing businesses.

The reason to this was because it allows the company to become more productive by focusing its energy on the things that needed to be improved, instead of constantly wondering about why the manufacturing process as a whole wasn’t being as productive as it should.

In a way, the greatest business leaders in America started to recognize the benefits and advantages of using business models based on Six Sigma. Thanks to this, some of the biggest companies in the world, such as General Electric, changed their entire structure and moved to Six Sigma. Results in these companies were also tangible and savings were definitely there.

Six Sigma Today

In time, like most things, Six Sigma evolved. It grew to become something bigger than a mere quality system. It evolved into becoming some of the most sophisticated quality systems available today, such as ISO or TQM. In other words, it became a new way of doing businesses.

Viberg Boot factory_manufacturing_logistics
Image courtesy of Hugo Chisholm at Flickr.com

Nowadays, many authors have described Six Sigma as the right way for companies to be aware of all their processes and needs, making it easier for them to spot where improvement should take place in order to reduce errors. Also, it became a business philosophy that allows companies to do things in a better way.

Just as many other good ideas, Six Sigma became the answer manufacturers had regarding many subjects. To a certain extent, business leaders even started to see Six Sigma as the methodology they needed to agree with in order to achieve their goals and change the dynamics inside their companies.

Related: The unorthodox implementation of Six Sigma in the services industry by David Kiger

* Featured Image courtesy of TheLeadSA at Flickr.com

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